Blackface Photography and Performance Remains – Inaugural Winner of the ASTR-CUP Prize
Christian DuComb, Assistant Professor of English in the University Theater at Colgate University, was recently awarded the inaugural American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR)-Cambridge University Press Prize for the Best Paper by a First-time Plenary Presenter at the 2012 ASTR Conference.
The Prize Committee (Susan Bennett, chair; Esther Kim Lee, Editor of Theatre Survey; and Michael McKinnie) unanimously selected Prof. DuComb’s paper as the winner. They felt it explored the 2012 conference theme (Theatrical Histories) with inventiveness and originality.
Prof. DuComb shares his thoughts on the Prize and provides a summary of his winning article.
“Blackface Photography and Performance Remains” addresses the photographic representation of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, a local New Year’s Day celebration with a long history of cross-racial masking. In 1987, twenty-five years after the city prohibited the mummers from wearing blackface makeup, an exhibit called Mummery opened at City Hall with several black-and-white photographs that appeared to show mummers in blackface. The mayor and city council ordered that the photographs be removed from the exhibit, sparking a controversy that garnered local, national, and international media attention. My paper argues that the tonal spectrum of black-and-white photography makes the ghosts of blackface visible, representing the vexed history of racial impersonation in the Philadelphia Mummers Parade.
I am honored and humbled to be the first recipient of the ASTR-CUP prize, especially in light of the Prize Committee’s generous assessment of my paper as “an excellent example of the 2012 conference theme (Theatrical Histories)” that “raises key questions about how we think about evidence in theatre history.”
To access Christian DuComb’s paper, please click here.
You can find out more about the ASTR-CUP Prize here.
The above image of the Vaudevillains New Year’s Brigade was taken by Zia Hiltey just after the parade on 1st January 2013.