2/17/21: Fiona Maxwell, “Bringing Literature to Life”

The Theater and Performance Studies Workshop and the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Cultures Workshop
are pleased to present
Elocution engraving cropped.jpg
“Bringing Literature to Life: Literary Performance in the
Post-Civil War American Midwest”
Fiona Maxwell, PhD Student, History, University of Chicago
WEDNESDAY, February 17, 5:00-6:30pm
Zoom Link: https://uchicago.zoom.us/s/99005283838 (Passcode: 657562)
This paper explores the ubiquitous practice of literary performance in the post-Civil War American Midwest. Using Evanston, Illinois and its schools as a case study, I uncover the ways in which students, faculty, and residents mobilized literary and oral culture to create a vibrant community of readers and speakers. Evanston was a very Protestant, very “temperate,” and very talkative town with a zest for literary performance and female education – and a moral suspicion of the commercial theater. Evanstonians embraced an alternative form of participatory drama centered on literature and game play. Robert Cumnock, a renowned Scottish-born elocution instructor and dramatic reader, developed a nontheatrical approach to “dramatic expression,” and his students and graduates established a professional network of performers and educators. Originally my second-year seminar paper, I intend for this essay to feed into the “prologue” chapter of my dissertation. My larger project examines the evolution of ensemble-based drama at Chicago settlement houses, concentrating on the period between 1890 and 1920. Based on my research so far, I contend that Chicago settlement house workers and participants drew on the collaborative and participatory nature of parlor culture to construct a new vision of “ensemble-based democracy” that was rooted in everyday acts of cultural production.
The paper can be accessed here on the 18th/19th Century Workshop website with the password “elocutionary”. Please do not cite or circulate works in progress without authorial permission. If you have any questions or require assistance, please contact Catrin Dowd (catrindowd@uchicago.edu) or Arianna Gass (ariannagass@uchicago.edu).

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