Rhae Lynn Barnes

Assistant Professor of History

Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American cultural history at Princeton University and the Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. Barnes is the leading expert on the history of amateur blackface minstrelsy and its role in the history and legacy of racism. 

She is a historian, public speaker, writer, editor, documentarian, and onscreen commenter specializing in the globalization of American popular culture and American music. Her research and teaching focus on the histories of racism, the history of white supremacy, racial formation, gender, sexuality, book history, material culture, and cultural representation, especially in the American West and California.

Rhae Lynn Barnes grew up in a white Teamster household in Anaheim, California. She attended public schools in Anaheim and Santa Ana (the fourth generation in her family to do so). Barnes earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University and B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley. Before joining the Princeton faculty, she held an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in Digital Humanities at the University of Southern California’s Society of Fellows. Barnes was a visiting scholar and writer-in-residence at the American Library in Paris, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the NEH Summer Institute at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, focused on nineteenth-century American material culture. She is co-founder and editor of U.S. History Scene (ushistoryscene.com), which provides open-access teaching resources to thousands of public schools in the United States through partnerships with documentary filmmakers, university libraries, and special collections. Content on U.S. History Scene has been used by The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, GQ, Smithsonian Magazine, Harvard University Press, California University Press, the Journal of African American History, Slate, Huffington Post, Clarity Films, PBS, CSPAN, MTV, Vice, the United States Census, and in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

A vocal advocate for public and multimedia history education, Barnes was a senior consultant for Henry Louis Gates Jr. to the four-part PBS documentary series Reconstruction: America after the Civil War which is now streaming online.

Rhae Lynn Barnes is the Immediate Past President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. 

Teaching Interests

At Princeton, Professor Barnes regularly offers courses on American Popular Culture 1800-1980; America and the World War II Homefront; California History; Jim Crow America; the Multicultural West; and the History of the Book in the Americas. Some of her advanced research seminars for juniors have included “Sojourners: The Cultural History of African Americans in Paris,” “Dancing in the Streets: The Political Uses of American Streets,” and a forthcoming course on the long cultural history of true crime. 

Professor Barnes fosters a safe classroom where students learn how to analyze and engage hands-on with multimedia, historical sites, and objects created by diverse North Americans while thinking critically about race, gender, sexuality, narrative, memory, and their representation in popular culture and technology. Students will often work with collections on campus at Princeton, in local museums, or in New York City while learning to use cutting-edge digital tools to tell stories about the American past.


Current Projects

Darkology: When the American Dream Wore Blackface maps the political, economic, and cultural geography of amateur blackface minstrel shows by laying bare its unstudied bibliographic history. Marketed nationally as local entertainment, the nearly ten thousand published minstrel show plays—the bedrock of this project—are material remnants of white supremacy’s intellectual and cultural life between the Civil War and Civil Rights. This prolific and censored archive reveals the United States government's crucial role in accelerating, funding, and disseminating blackface minstrel shows in amateur form worldwide. The project has received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Library of Congress, the Council on Library Information Resources, the Western History Association, the Society for American Music, the Harry Ransom Center, the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and the Bibliographical Society of America. An interactive website will be released as a companion to the book.

For a preview of Darkology, please consult:

American Contact: Intercultural Encounter and the Boundaries of Book History Co-Authored/Co-Edited with Glenda Goodman (Assoc. Professor of Music, University of Pennsylvania) with the Material Text Series at the University of Pennsylvania Press. Expected Spring 2024. 

A Cultural History of Roe v. Wade: Fifty Years After Co-Authored/Co-Edited with Catherine Clinton (Emerita Queen’s University Belfast & Professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio) with the History in the Headlines Series at the University of Georgia Press. Expected Fall 2023. 

Notating Empire: Printed Music and the Frontiers of Knowledge Co-Authored with Glenda Goodman. Book in progress. 

American Music History 

Rhae Lynn Barnes and Glenda Goodman, Co-Authors, “Finding the ‘Frontier’ in a Page of Music: Imperial Evidence and the Legacy of Settler Colonialism,” American Music Issue 40 Volume 4. 

Rhae Lynn Barnes and Glenda Goodman, Co-Authors, “American Music and Racial Fantasy, Past and Present,” and Co-Editors, Colloquy “Early American Music and the Construction of Race,Journal of the American Musicological Society, the University of California Press. Published Fall 2021 Issue 74, Volume 3.



Ph.D. in History, Harvard University
A.M. in History, Harvard University
B.A. Highest Honors in History, University of California, Berkeley (Departmental Citation)


Teaching Certification, Certificate of Achievement in the Practice of Teaching in Higher Education, Derek Bok Center, Harvard University

Area of Interest
Book History
Cultural History
Digital History
Gender & Sexuality
Material Culture
Public History
Race & Ethnicity
Social History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century
American West
North America
United States