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Citizenship on Catfish Row: Race and Nation in American Popular Culture

Citizenship on Catfish Row focuses on three seminal works in the history of American culture: the first great film, D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915); the first musical film, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s Showboat (1936); and the first great American opera, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1935). Each of these works sought to make a statement about American identity in the form of a narrative, and each included in that narrative a prominent role for black people. The result in all cases was a flawed work whose jarring or discordant elements pointed to a deeper irreconcilability between the kind of stories Americans wish to tell about themselves and the historical and social reality of race. Each work has been widely criticized, but the very failure of their efforts to think nation and race together are not only instructive about the history of the American imagination, but also provide unexpected resources for contemporary reflection.


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Is any information on this page incorrect or outdated? Please notify Ms. Nel-Mari Loock at [email protected].