Melodrama

We often misuse the word melodrama with abandon, especially to characterize other people’s behaviors, but Greg Vargo defines it for us once and for all. Emerging in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the predominant Western theatrical form, it is a genre of crisis. To that end, it employed hyperbolic language, extreme situations, extraordinary coincidences, stark oppositions and so on. Greg talks about his own ongoing work on melodramas about race, their histories of performance, and the storied career of the African American actor Ira Aldridge.

Greg Vargo is Associate Professor at the Department of English, New York University. His research focuses on the literary and cultural milieu of nineteenth-century British protest movements and the interplay between politics, periodical culture, the novel and theater. His first book, An Underground History of Early Victorian Fiction: Chartism, Radical Print Culture, and the Social Problem Novel (Cambridge UP, 2018), won the 2019 North American Victorian Studies Association’s award for best book of the year in Victorian Studies. He has recently edited Chartist Drama (Manchester UP, 2020), a collection of four plays written or performed by members of the working-class movement for social and political rights known as Chartism. A new project focuses on anti-imperialism in nineteenth-century popular culture (across such media as penny novels and stage melodrama) as well as in radical politics.

Image: © 2024 Saronik Bosu

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Monuments

Erin L. Thompson talks about monuments, and their role in American public life. Public art intervenes in directly in politics, shaping social behavior in the present. Monuments, in her account, are a bid for immortality that says “this is how things are” but often means “this is how things should be.”

In the episode she talks about The Houston Museum of African American Culture. They are engaged in a super exciting project reinterpreting the cultural memory of the US Civil War, as the first Black cultural institution that has re-housed a Confederate monument.

If you’re keen on the history and politics of monuments, check out her brand new book: Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments. It’s coming out from Norton this Tuesday (Feb 8)! You learn more about the book, and her upcoming talks on her website: artcrimeprof.com

Erin L. Thompson is an associate professor of Art Crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. Her first book Possession (Yale UP, 2016) studied the history of theft at the heart of private art collections from the Ancient World to the present.

Image: Statue of a man on a horse, part of the the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial at the US Capital, described in this article from the Architect of the Capital, US government website.

Music used in promotional material: ‘Morrisson’s jig – Leslie’s march’ by Aislinn

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The Hyperlocal

Nicholas Birns talks about ‘the hyperlocal’, a modality of American journalism in the early 1990s that he adapts to characterize a flexible and transposable concept of the local used in eighteenth and nineteenth century British and American literatures.

Nicholas Birns teaches at the Center for Applied Liberal Arts at New York University. He is the author of The Hyperlocal in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Literary Space (Lexington, 2019). With Louis Klee, he is currently coexisting a companion to the Australian novel to be published by Cambridge University Press. 

Image: “The Hyperlocal” © 2021 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘It All Begins Here’ by Borrtex

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