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Publication Detail
Blackface and Black faces on German and Austrian stages, 1847-1914
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Bowersox J
  • Publisher:
    University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date:
  • Place of publication:
    Ann Arbor, USA
  • Series:
    Social History, Popular Culture, and Politics in Germany
  • Editors:
    Tonger-Eck L,Layne P
  • Status:
  • Book title:
    Staging Blackness
There is a widespread perception in Germany and Austria that there is no meaningful history of blackface in central Europe. This perception has structured public discourse on the subject, most notably since 2012 in the wake of protests against the practice of Blackfacing in German theater. But there is also a scholarly version of this perception. Drawing from an American commentary from the 1880s and reproduced during the First World War that mocked Germans for being too serious to appreciate the fun of blackface minstrelsy, scholars have presumed that Germans have had a certain resistance to the form. But this presumption has led scholars generally to underestimate its appeal as an American import and also to overlook Germans’ appropriation of the genre for their own purposes. This chapter surveys the history of blackface performance in the German lands starting with the tour of the Lantum Ethiopian Serenaders in 1847-1848, passing through a craze for touring American blackface acts in the 1870s and 1880s, and through a declining interest in the face of competition from African-American entertainers up to 1914. It explores the degree of resistance and the extent of the appeal among German and Austrian audiences and provides a close reading of German and Austrian appropriations. It illustrates how how blackface was “Germanized” in the years leading up to 1914, appropriated to comment on the morality of modern entertainments and intra-racial contacts in an imperial age. Rather than illustrating any particular resistance to blackface, these appropriations demonstrate comfort with the form, as entertainers and commentators used it to produce and reinforce racial boundaries brought into question by the migration of black entertainers and the entertainments popularly associated with them.
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