Theatre Etiquette (1833)

I’m a big fan of nineteenth-century etiquette manuals but few of them take the time to describe an etiquette of going to the theatre, so I was overjoyed to come across The Gentleman and Lady’s Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment, Dedicated to the Youth of Both Sexes (translated from the 6th Paris edition) from the Two Nerdy History Girls blog post on “the fine art of walking city streets in the 19th century” from the same book.  Along with sections on the usual repertoire of c19 advice (dining, receiving visitors, conversation, carriage of the body, letter-writing, hosting, etc.), there is a rather lengthy section on home and public amusements, including parties, parlor games, concerts, and theatre.  According to the editors, the book is faithfully translated so as to remain true to French culture, part of the theatre advice seems distinctly American, with a reminder of how class was reformed in theatre audiences during the early 1830s. Continue reading

Helen Jewett, or Notes on Procrasto-Reading

When I have WAY too much to do, I tend to do one of three things: 1) clean the apartment, 2) play Minecraft (more on that in another post), 3) rummage about in the 1830s.  Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of the latter.  I have an enduring fascination with the Bowery Theatre, having written about it previously.  One of the city’s longest-living theatres, it opened in the 1820s and lasted for about a century.  In its heyday of the 1830s, the theatre, located just below Canal St. on the Bowery, was a focal point of New York culture.  Historians like to talk about the theatre (nicknamed “the Slaughterhouse” due probably to its high degree of “Blood and Thunder” melodrama) as a place dominated by local roughs with coarse tastes.    And while some elite contemporaries agreed, it was still a fabulously decorated, fine-looking establishment.

Which brings me to my current research on brothel life in the 1830s and the famous murder of Helen Jewett, a prostitute at a nearby brothel who was known to be an avid reader, theatregoer, and patron of the Bowery.  Her case is well-written about in Patricia Cline Cohen’s The Murder of Helen Jewett.  At the time, Jewett’s murder on April 10th 1836 was front-page news, and many of her letters to a young lover were printed in the days after her trial, more for their emotional outpouring than lurid details as one might expect from a woman of her status in society.  According to the New York Herald, 20 April 1836, actors at the Bowery recited her letters to each other during rehearsal as if it were grand drama.  Which begs the question: what show were the Bowery actors rehearsing at that time?

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Following my previous post on humanities and satellites, I had an experimental day in one of my NYU Introduction to Theatre Studies classes where we explored Shakespeare from and overview perspective.  The course is intended to be an introduction to theatre as an academic discipline, and what better way to conclude a section on dramatic literature than doing some experimental work with a little-known and little-respected (but very stage-worthy!) play, Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

I wanted an assignment that would look at a text that traveled, and that could be said to be about moving through time and space.  Pericles fit the bill perfectly, and since I’ve always loved his messy plays best, this was a good one.

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Space For Humanities

One of the most exciting development in the past several years has been the rapid democratization of space. Whereas during the cold war and its immediate aftermath, access to space was tightly controlled, this hegemonic access to space has been rapidly shifting in recent years (succinctly put here and here).  With technological leaps in miniaturization and industrial changes towards privatization, the ability to view the world from a low earth orbit and place objects there is opening up at a fantastic pace (a low earth orbit is roughly between 100 miles and 1,200 miles; the International Space Station is usually orbiting at around 260 miles.  If you want to look at the earth from space right now you are blessed with a range of options:

1) Google Earth: Although it is not anything close like live images, GE is a kind of archive of satellite imagery.

2) The ISS livecam: cameras have been placed on the International Space Station to test their resilience to the harsh environment of space.  If the picture is black, the ISS is in night and the resolution is not good enough to pick out cities in the dark.  If it is grey, the feed is switching cameras.  Hang around to watch a sunrise!

3) The LANDSAT program

4) DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 ()

and many more via the web and apps, such as streams of earth, mars, the Sun, etc.

And why be restricted to pretty pictures (check out the art of The Daily Overview!)?  There’s plenty of places to acquire data about the earth as well.

But this is all changing.

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DH Class Final Projects

This Spring, I taught at class on Digital Humanities for Theatre at NYU.  It was the first strictly DH class I had taught and it was a fascinating experiment.  The class was set up to be collaborative, project-based, and exploratory.  Typically, each class session would have us examining other projects or tool, writing about them in a class-wide Google Doc, and commenting on each others’ notes.  The class was a great mix of computer-savvy users and newcomers.  For the most part, we learned that good DH is really hard!

Students’ final projects let them apply something we practiced to a research project of their choices.  While most projects were map-based (i.e. looking at Ziegfield’s productions, Chicago jazz bars, Civil War battles, among a few), there were XML documents made and plenty of very creative projects that I would fund if I had the money.  Below are a few examples of projects that were executed in a spirit of fun but have a lot of promise:

Map: “Brothels of 1870”

One student began with an 1870s guidebook to New York houses of prostitution (brothels were closely allied to the theatrical life of the city), put it in a map, adding layers that showed nearby theatres, churches, and police stations.  This type of work, showing intersecting layers of culture and society provides a fascinating look at life in the city at the time.  And it’s fun.

Minecraft Globe

There is increasing interest in virtual reconstructions of historic theatres, but I doubt many students could learn to build a detailed virtual space in a couple of weeks, so: Minecraft.  I experimented with Minecraft extra credit in an ancient Greek theatre course with some interesting result, so two students built a scale version of Shakespeare’s Globe, following the basic rule of 1 block = 1 meter.  The result is rougher than any detailed reconstruction, but it allowed the user to enter the space, move through it, and be in the environment.  Plus, you get to fight zombies in the Globe.



Who doesn’t want a game where you kill each character in Hamlet, while making sure not to kill Harry Potter?  Isn’t that a traditional part of theatre pedagogy?

Hamlet Mole

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* note: there are only a sampling of excellent projects, and by no means represent what were the best.  Each student has given me explicit permission to post about their project.