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Online Discussions of Revolutionary Theater and Civil War Statuary

Here are a couple of online historical events coming up this week.

The Massachusetts Historical Society hosts the next session of the Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar on Tuesday, 6 October. Prof. Heather S. Nathans of Tufts University has shared a paper titled “‘Our Turn Next’: Slavery and Freedom on French and American Stages, 1789-99.”

As the French abolitionist movement gathered momentum alongside the Revolution, Parisians could have seen hundreds of theatrical performances on themes related to race and slavery. By contrast, the American stage grappled with the choice to perpetuate a slave system within a democracy. Some performances hinted at slavery’s cruelty, some depicted newly-freed black characters living happily alongside whites, and others proposed returning blacks to the continent as the solution for a dilemma Thomas Jefferson described as holding “a wolf by the ears.” This paper explores the black revolutionary figure on the U.S. and French stages during the last decade of the eighteenth century, as both nations struggled to put their principles of universal freedom into practice.

Jeffrey Ravel of M.I.T. will comment on the paper, and then attendees can submit questions through by chat or video.

This seminar is scheduled to run from 5:15 to 6:30 P.M. Attendees must register in advance. This event is free, but to get a P.D.F. of Prof. Nathans’s paper and others in the series I recommend the $25 subscription.

On Wednesday, 7 October, Historic New England will host an online talk titled “Monuments, Memory, and Racial Justice” by Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders.

Historically, African American engagement with Civil War legacy has spiked during broad social movements and periods of civil unrest. The calls to remove Confederate monuments in the wake of the 2015 massacre at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., therefore cannot be viewed simply as a reaction to that one specific incident. They were a product of the broader, ongoing Black Lives Matter movement that was founded in 2013, which has longstanding ties to local anti-monument organizing. Conversations about local history and public commemoration beyond the Civil War are increasingly becoming part of community-wide goals toward racial justice and antiracism.

Dr. Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders is an Assistant Professor of African American History at the University of Dayton. Her online talk will cover the historical legacy of Civil War monuments and why the current movement centered on racial justice has spread to conflicts over historical memory and the commemorative landscape all across the nation.

This event costs $15, less for Historic New England members. Register here.

(The picture above shows the burning of Boston’s first theater on Federal Street in 1798, only five years after its controversial opening. It had become so popular that it was rebuilt by the end of the year and remained a landmark for decades.)

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