The Nineteenth Century Entertainment section of the John Johnson collection is a rich resource for examining the history and cultures of all different kinds of performance in nineteenth-century Britain. One of the types of performance feature in this collection is the minstrel show. These performances, in which white performers blackened their faces and sang British audiences ‘a distorted and appropriated form of black music’, had been popular in Britain since the 1830s. The blackface minstrel appeared on Victorian Christmas cards, and music from minstrel shows was regularly performed in Victorian drawing rooms—examples of both can be found in the John Johnson collection.
In using the John Johnson collection to put together this post, I found it fascinating to use the ‘Browse’ function. Upon clicking that tab at the top of the page, you are taken to an expandable menu featuring the five main collections:
- Nineteenth century entertainment: This includes both theatrical and non-theatrical performance. It can be used to study both the history and development of different forms of entertainment, as well as high and popular culture
- The Booktrade: Bookplates and publishing materials, useful to those studying the publishing trade as well as trying to look at the dissemination of different kinds of information during these periods
- Popular prints: This includes landscapes, topography and artistic works.
- Crime, murder, and executions: This includes broadsheets and pamphlets. It is useful for historians who study crime and punishment and well as historians of certain kinds of printing (such as woodcuts)
- Advertising: This section of the collection contains a wide variety of advertisements and can be used to study economic and social history as well as consumerism.
This is the first in a series of four posts about using library collections for the study of black history, literature and culture, in Britain and abroad. We would love to hear your comments and questions about the posts: please tweet us at (main library twitter), email us at email@example.com, or tell us your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the post.
James Douglass Bohee (1844-1897) and his brother George (1857-1930) were among the earliest black musicians to record their music. Even though these recordings are seemingly lost today, we can use the John Johnson Collection, a digitised archival collections to learn more about their performances and careers. Part 1 of this post explains what the John Johnson Collection is and part 2 explains how to use it. In part 3, I explore the evidence of the Bohee Brothers’ lives and careers found in the John Johnson Collection.
October is Black History Month! Our Students’ Union is running many wonderful events and the University Library will be celebrating with a number of events and activities throughout the month. Grains of Knowledge will be hosting a weekly series of posts about using the library to study Black history, culture, and literature. We hope that these will serve as a resource you will enjoy not just during October but throughout your studies and research with us.