Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture

Article excerpt

Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. By William J. Mahar. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, c. 1999. Pp. xxii, 444. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 0-252-06696-0; cloth, $60.00, ISBN 0-252-02396-X.)

During the past decade, antebellum blackface minstrelsy has been the subject of a number of groundbreaking studies, most notably Eric Lott's Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York, 1993) and Dale Cockrell's Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World (Cambridge, Eng., and New York, 1997). William Mahar's Behind the Burnt Cork Mask is yet another pioneering study on the topic. His meticulous research on blackface minstrelsy focuses on song texts, playbills, newspaper advertisements, and articles published between 1843 and 1860. In addition he cites numerous minstrel parodies of lectures, sermons, and "stump" speeches. This is a must-read book for scholars interested in the ongoing research in the field.

The book is divided into six thematic chapters. The first revisits the history of antebellum blackface minstrelsy in light of the author's new research of playbills and other "contextual evidence" (p. 9). He concludes that the scope of the subjects burlesqued went well beyond the racial parodies that are most often associated with the blackface tradition. The second chapter examines blackface parodies of American speech and rhetoric; based on this study, Mahar's assessment is that the dialects used in these parodies bore at least some resemblance to the reality of antebellum "black english" (p. 100), and that these same dialects were becoming obsolete on the minstrel stage as the Civil War approached. The third chapter focuses on minstrelsy's burlesque of English and Italian operas; Mahar concludes that these endeavors, which exploited class rather than race distinctions, were a "nativist critique" (p. 156) of European cultural imports. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.