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Street Scenes

Staging the Self in Immigrant New York, 1880–1924

2008
Author:

Esther Romeyn

Street Scenes

Negotiates the complex relationship between modern urban culture and immigrant identity

Street Scenes focuses on the intersection of modern city life and stage performance. From street life and slumming to vaudeville and early cinema, to Yiddish theater and blackface comedy, Esther Romeyn discloses racial comedy, passing, and masquerade as gestures of cultural translation. Ultimately, she demonstrates how these diverse and potent immigrant works influenced the emergence of a modern metropolitan culture.

Richly researched, analytically sharp, and written with grace and wit, Street Scenes is an ambitious and thoroughly original contribution to the field.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage

The turn of the twentieth century in New York City was characterized by radical transformation as the advent of consumer capitalism confronted established social hierarchies, culture, and conceptions of selfhood. The popular stage existed in a symbiotic relationship with the city and uniquely captured the contested terms of immigrant identity of the time.

Street Scenes focuses on the intersection of modern city life and stage performance. From street life and slumming to vaudeville and early cinema, to Yiddish theater and blackface comedy, Esther Romeyn discloses racial comedy, passing, and masquerade as gestures of cultural translation. In these performances she detects an obsession with the idea of the city as theater and the self as actor, which was fueled by the challenges that consumer capitalism presented to notions of an “authentic” self.

It was exactly this idea of “authentic” immigrant selfhood that was at stake in many performances on the popular stage, and Romeyn ultimately demonstrates how these diverse and potent immigrant works influenced the emergence of a modern metropolitan culture.

Street Scenes

Esther Romeyn is assistant scholar at the Center for European Studies at the University of Florida.

Street Scenes

Richly researched, analytically sharp, and written with grace and wit, Street Scenes is an ambitious and thoroughly original contribution to the field.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage

Romeyn should be commended for providing a comprehensive and masterful study and for providing us with an intricate scholarly apparatus that greatly enhances our understanding of the intersection of ethnicity, race, and performativity.

American Jewish History

The history is admirably researched, drawing together information from hard-to-find plays, popular magazines, newspapers, memoirs, and song lyrics, as well as from secondary sources from a wide variety of disciplines. Romeyn’s work is an immensely useful resource for interdisciplinary scholars interested in the convergence of immigrant lie and popular culture forms.

Theatre Research International

Those interested in the subject of immigrant identity and how it has changed over time in the face of pressures brought on by the particulars of their new homes would do well to consult this work.

Journal of American Ethnic History