Research Student Seminar IV: Caroline Bressey & Gemma Romain on gender, identity and belonging in London 1919-1939

birkbeck_research_4Date: Tuesday 7 May 2013
Time: 6-8pm (followed by dinner and drinks)
Venue: G15, Malet Street (see map here)

The fourth Research Student Seminar of 2013 will feature a paper from Dr Caroline Bressey and Dr Gemma Romain – both of UCL – on ‘Drawing over the Colour Line: gender, identity and belonging in London 1919-1939’.

During the 1920s ‘Blackbird’ mania took hold of British cultural life. The most popular member of the black American cast who performed at the London Pavilion on Piccadilly Circus, across Britain and Europe was the lead performer Florence Mills. This paper will explore how Mills’ presence in Britain, as a performer, a civil rights activist and artists’ muse, influenced public debates and personal reflections on racial identity, sexual desire and senses of belonging to Britain and an emerging idea of an African diaspora. The paper is framed around three letters sent to Mills by British fans who connected to Mills through her performances and photographic representations of the star. Although short and intimate their letters illustrate a number of broader themes including the hardening of racism or ‘the colour line’ in Britain between the wars; the importance of the arts, particularly popular culture, in the formation of black identities and challenges to racism; the developing formation of ideas around an African Diaspora; the intersections of race, sexuality and desire, and the important role of black cultural expression in the making of popular culture in its broadest sense in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s.

The seminar takes place in G15, Malet Street (see map here) and will be followed by drinks and dinner at the Norfolk Arms, so please let Emma (elundi01@mail.bbk.ac.uk) or Janet (janetlweston@hotmail.com) know if you’re planning on joining us there (we’ll be booking a table).

The whole seminar schedule can be seen here: next up is Professor Cornelie Usborne (University of Roehampton) on dealing with women’s experiences filtered through hostile (police and criminal court) sources – with reference to abortion and women’s illicit relationships with prisoners of war – on May 21, followed by Dr Thomas Dixon (Queen Mary) on ‘Weeping Britannia: How and Why to Write the History of Tears’ on June 4.

We hope to see as many of you as possible on Tuesday!

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