Week 9. Amusement Parks and World Fairs
Week 9. “The Problem of the Twentieth Century is the Problem of the Color Line”: Jack Johnson & Segregated Entertainment
- Required reading this week: John Kasson, Amusing the Millions: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (New York: Hill & Wang, 1978).
- Required reading this week: Nancy Yunhwa Rao, Chinatown Opera Theater in North America
- Required watching this week in addition to lecture: Ken Burns, “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.” You are only required to watch “Part I,” or the first hour, though I highly recommend the full film if you find it interesting.
- The Great White Hope
- Reno – July 4, 1910
- Mann Act
- The Exhibit of American Negroes
- Women Adrift
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- Kinetoscope Parlors
- Sprocket Holes/ Advance Film
- Aunt Jemima
- Rough Dancing / Dance Halls
- White City
- City Beautiful Movement
- Turner Thesis
- The Midway
- Dahomey Village
- Samoan Village
- Ferris Wheel
- H.H. Holmes
- Maps as Political Documents/ Collectible Ephemera
- George Tilyou
Required: Tuesday’s Lecture – March 31, 2020: World’s Columbian Exposition
I broke up our first lecture into three videos. As always, take notes on your key terms paying attention to the who, what, when, where, why, and historical significance or meaning for American cultural history.
Required Lecture Part 1: Urban Amusements: Coney Island, World’s Fairs, and Dance Halls
Both “Electrifying Manhattan” and “The Kinetoscope” are clips that I reference in Part I and would normally show in lecture. Please watch them.
Here are some of the original kinetoscopes. I screen these in lecture. Notice that the camera is stationary–it cannot pan, zoom, or track.
Required Lecture Part II: 1893 World’s Fair
Required Lecture: Part III: “Puck” (1899)
Primary Source: Map: World’s Columbian Exposition 1893 made by Rand McNally & Co.
Here are the two map details discussed at length in the second lecture above on the 1893 World’s Fair.
Active Learning Questions
You do not need to formally write your answers or turn these in, but as some of you have expressed a desire for guided questions to help kick start your thinking, here are some questions below to guide you through thinking about this primary source.
- Compare the list of countries on the “Index to Foreign Sites and Buildings” (buildings located in the White City) to the foreign countries referenced in the “Index to Midway Plaisance.” Which countries appear on only one list? Which countries appear on both lists? What do you think visitors were supposed to conclude about these countries, depending on where their buildings were located (and how they were represented) in these two parts of the fairgrounds?
- Read through the indexes on this map to find the location of the “Indian Village” (in this context, Indian refers to Native American). Considering the historical context of 1893 — in particular, the fact that the Wounded Knee Massacre was less than three years before the World’s Columbian Exposition began — what is the significance of this Village’s location at the world’s fair? Here is a visual representation of Indian Village if you’d like to check it out.
- Imagine you visited the World’s Columbian Exposition and walked through the White City; consider the size and scale of the buildings, their placement on the fairgrounds, the location of the waterways, and the proximity of Lake Michigan. What do you imagine visitors were supposed to conclude about the United States after visiting the fair?
- While the World’s Fair was supposed to dramatize and put American progress on display, it excluded contributions made by African Americans. Take a look at the pamphlet “The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition” and see if you can identify what major concerns the famous black authors (Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass among others ) are protesting and why they feel racial representation matters.
Required Film: April 2, 2020 Lecture Screening: “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson”
I usually screen this documentary in class as Thursday’s lecture that would take place on April 2, 2020. Please watch it at home and take notes. The documentary is below, the user just forgot to upload a preview thumbnail.
Required Weekly Mini Assignment and Guided Reading Questions for Thursday
Discussion Questions for This Week’s Readings
- What role does audience participation play at Coney Island?
- Previously we’ve discussed games and sports that emphasized “self-control.” What did the games at amusement parks and world fairs encourage?
- How is the human body being used in popular culture in new ways at Coney Island? What revolutionary change took place?
- What inspired George C. Tilyou and what major innovation did he make to American popular culture and entertainment?
- What technological innovations had to happen to allow theme and amusement parks?
- Were these places of urban ills or safe and clean places for family amusement?
- Who went to Chinatown theaters? Why did they go? What did they see or hear or experience there?
- Chinese performers were allowed to enter the United States during the era of Chinese Exclusion, a significant exception to that policy. Why?
- How did Chinatown theaters participate in and help to shape the cultural experience of the “Roaring Twenties”? And how did the 1920s shape or change Chinatown theaters?
- Choose one formal element of Cantonese opera to think about more deeply: a costume, a character, a choreographed sequence, an aria, etc. Describe this element in as much detail as you can. Then consider: how did this particular element shape the opera? What did it do specifically, for spectators or performers?
- What kinds of sources did Rao used to reconstruct the world of Chinatown theaters? Which, to you personally, did the most to bring this world to life?
Required Mini Weekly Assignment
Write a 350-500 word comparison between the forms of entertainment discussed in Amusing the Million and Chinatown Opera Theater in North America OR Unforgivable Blackness and Chinatown Opera Theater in North America. Be sure to provide a clear thesis statement or argument and cite your claims. E-mail your response to Dr. Matherly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OPTIONAL ONLINE LEARNING
What follows, below, are optional multimedia sources if you are interested in diving further into this week’s topics. You are not required to listen to or watch anything below “optional online learning.” I am simply curating these options as many students have expressed they feel cut off from the learning culture on campus, library, and office hours so I will provide more ways to learn if you want them.
The Fantastic Worlds of Chinese North American Opera Theater
Below, Prof. Nancy Yunhwa Rao gives a lecture on her research.
Additional Footage of Jack Johnson
As the documentary discusses, Jack Johnson was a dynamic figure far beyond the boxing ring. Here is some primary-source footage of him in these other capacities.
Coney Island Multimedia to accompany Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century
Photographs of Coney Island’s Visual Culture
Some of these photographs are provided in Kasson’s book. I am providing enlarged digital copies for you here so you can see their details.
W.E.B. Du Bois and the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris (1900 World’s Fair)
I personally love learning about W.E. B. Du Bois’ photography exhibition at the 1900 Fair in Paris. If you take my History 400 class on Black Paris, this is one of the topics we explore by looking at the 400 photographs he curated.