Seminar, Digital History

“Would It Play in Peoria?”: Digital Data & Mass Culture in Progressive America

Author: Samuel Backer, Johns Hopkins University
Comment: Derek Miller, Harvard University

Tuesday, March 22, 2022, 5:15PM - 6:30PM

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States saw a massive expansion of popular entertainment. Scholars have long pointed to the importance of this burgeoning industry, linking its products to the changing racial dynamics, gender relations, and structures of consumption that defined the Progressive era. However, research has struggled with the sheer size of the phenomenon under description. Despite the ready availability of evidence documenting the evolution of such forms, researchers have lacked the ability to analyze trends at scale. Using computational techniques and data mining to reconstruct the touring patterns of American Vaudeville, this project examines the interaction between local demand and centralized decision-making that structured the early years of mass entertainment in the United States. In doing so, it considers the potential of the digital humanities to generate new possibilities for cultural history and the history of capitalism.

The L. Dennis Shapiro and Susan R. Shapiro Digital History Seminar invites you to join the conversation. Seminars bring together a diverse group of scholars and interested members of the public to workshop a pre-circulated paperLearn more.

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