This summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to work with Professor Michael Gamer on the Penn Playbills Project. Crossing the boundaries between the humanities and science--once seen as polar opposites--our team focused on digitizing and analyzing 18th and 19th century British Playbills into a homemade database. The British Library recently uploaded a host of playbills from theatrical productions of this era, and our goal was to make them accessible to scholars and the public alike. Alongside this necessary work that will undoubtedly fuel the work of many intellectuals upon its completion, my co-research assistant Samantha Claypoole and I leaned into the mechanics of 19th century theatre. In order to keep ourselves engaged with the plays themselves, we read any and all that peaked our interest, as well as recent research done on them.
Dr. Gamer encouraged us to pursue personal projects within the vast library of playbills. My focus was on the representation of Blackness in the theatre during this period. I concentrated on the plays Obi, Inkle and Yarico, and The Slave, the most popular plays grappling with Black representation on the stage during this time. From reading both into and around these works, I garnered a better understanding of the ways in which Blackness in blackface (as opposed to actual Black people) changed the British perception of Africa and foreigners as a whole. In a way, the British stage functioned as a lens through which the people saw the rest of the world, serving a similar purpose as modern television. I intend to pursue this research into the school year as an independent study, ultimately culminating in publishable work to stand alongside our playbill database.