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12 March 2008 PR 08/28

New book examines Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain

A new book that explores the history and culture of minstrelsy in Britain has been published by a Loughborough University expert.

Blackface minstrelsy is associated particularly with popular culture in the United States and Britain, and yet despite the continual two-way flow of performers, troupes and companies across the Atlantic, there is little in Britain to match the scholarship of blackface studies in the States.

In his book Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain, Michael Pickering, Professor of Media and Cultural Analysis, provides a convincing counter-argument to the assumption among writers in the United States that blackface was exclusively American and its British counterpart purely imitative.

“The historical study and cultural analysis of minstrelsy is important because of the significant role it played in Britain as a form of song, music and theatrical entertainment,” says Professor Pickering. “Minstrelsy had a marked impact on popular music, dance and other aspects of popular culture, both in Britain and the United States. Its impact in the United States fed into significant song and music genres that were assimilated in Britain, from ragtime and jazz onwards, but prior to these influences, minstrelsy in Britain developed many distinct features and was adapted to operate within various conventions, themes and traditions in British popular culture.”

Minstrelsy was not confined to its value as song, music and dance, however – jokes at the expense of black people along with demeaning racial stereotypes were integral to minstrel shows. As a form of popular entertainment, British minstrelsy created a cultural low that offered confirmation of white racial ascendancy and imperial dominion around the world. In his book Professor Pickering examines how this influence on colonialism and imperialism operated and proved ideologically so effective.

However, Professor Pickering also says British minstrelsy should not be reduced just to its racist and imperialist connections. “Enormously important as those connections are, it’s a very complex subject,” he says. “The minstrel show and minstrel performers also need to be recognised in terms of their own theatrical dynamics, talent and appeal.”

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Notes for editors:

  1. Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain (978-0-7546-5859-7) is published in hardback by Ashgate Publishing (www.ashgate.com), priced £50.

  2. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2007 National Student Survey, the University was voted fourth in the UK, with 23 out of 29 of Loughborough’s subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. Loughborough is also ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national league tables. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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