The Burnt Cork Symposium

MARCH 28-29, 2008
An Interdisciplinary Symposium

Dedicated to the highly contentious and richly complex tradition of blackface minstrelsy, this two day symposium aimed to provide an opportunity for exploration, discussion, and debate concerning the varied legacies of this performance idiom. All events took place at the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama’s Robert Gill Theatre.

For much of the 19th century, blackface minstrelsy–in which a group of performers wearing makeup made of burnt cork pretended to ‘delineate’ the culture of black Americans–was arguably the most popular entertainment in North America. A renewed scholarly interest in this contentious form has produced studies treating a range of issues: its contradictory depictions of class, race and gender; its relationship with an American popular street culture; its legacy in the development of racial stereotyping, with which we continue to live; and, its parallel legacy in a number of persistent performance idioms in humour, dance and music, in live performance, film and television. Although an American form, from its beginnings minstrel performers toured across North America and around the world, establishing a taste for American popular culture in all English-speaking colonies and in Western Europe. This symposium explored, from seven individual perspectives, and with plenty of time for open discussion, the complex and sometimes troubling issues raised by this tradition.

Featured Speakers:

  • Dale Cockrell ~ Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt College ~ Demons of Disorder
  • Catherine M. Cole ~ Theatre & Dance, UC Berkeley ~ Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre
  • Daphne A. Brooks ~ English and African American Studies, Princeton ~ Bodies In Dissent
  • Arthur Knight ~ American Studies, College of William and Mary ~ Disintegrating the Musical
  • W. T. Lhamon ~ English, Emeritus, Florida State ~ Raising Cain and Jump Jim Crow
  • Linda Williams ~ Rhetoric and Film Studies, UC Berkeley ~ Playing the Race Card
  • Original Dance Performance by: Dean Moss

Friday, March 28: 7:00–9:00 pm
Saturday, March 29: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Robert Gill Theatre
214 College Street, (St. George St. entrance) 3rd fl.
All events free of charge

This symposium was made possible by a generous donation from the Jackman Humanities Institute and sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Graduate Centre for Study of Drama, Cinema Studies Institute, Centre for the Study of the United States, Faculty of Music and Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies