Rhae Lynn Barnes
Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University and 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. Her research and teaching focus on the histories of racism, racial formation, gender, sexuality, book history, and cultural representation, especially in the American West.
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 where she created an immersive digital humanities study abroad program “Sojourners: Black Popular Culture in Paris Noir from Sally Hemings to Beyoncé,” grounded in global African American, colonial, and cultural studies. Barnes was a visiting scholar and writer-in-residence at the American Library in Paris and at 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 is executive advisor with 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 President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia and serves on the Executive Committee for the Center for Digital Humanities and the Program in American Studies at Princeton.
At Princeton, Professor Barnes is regularly offering courses on American Popular Culture 1800-1980; History of Racism in America; America and the Homefront in World War II; Jim Crow America; the Multicultural West; and the History of the Book in the Americas. Barnes will also periodically offer iterations of “Sojourners: Black American Culture in Paris” as a junior seminar, through study abroad, and Princeton Journeys. An abiding commitment to reconstructing the culture and lived experiences of diverse Americans shapes her scholarship and teaching. 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, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Paris, while learning how to use cutting-edge digital tools to tell stories about the American past.
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 crucial role the United States government played 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:
- Rhae Lynn Barnes, “Yes, Politicians Wore Blackface. It Used to be All-American ‘Fun’: Minstrel Shows Were Once So Mainstream That Even Presidents Watched Them.” The Washington Post, February 8, 2019.
- Rhae Lynn Barnes Interviewed by Amy Goodman, “Historian: Americans Must Face Violent History of Blackface Amid Virginia Gov. Racist Photo Scandal” on Democracy Now! February 4, 2019. 14 minutes on live television; syndicated nationally on public radio.
- Rhae Lynn Barnes Interviewed by Nathan Connolly (Host), “The Faces of Racism: A History of Blackface and Minstrelsy in American Culture” for Back Story Radio, February 8, 2019. 35 minutes for national and online radio programming.
American Contact: Intercultural Encounter and the History of the Book is a multi-disciplinary symposium and book project that invites scholars to discuss the use of material texts in cross-cultural encounters in the Americas. We seek to explore how texts—broadly defined to include not only books but textual artifacts and material culture including visual art, musical scores, and various kinds of handwork—have facilitated (1) communication across cultural divides, (2) the creation and transmission of knowledge globally, (3) the performance of both colonization and resistance, and (4) the creation of alphabetic and alternative literacies from the eras of contact, conquest, and colonization through the twentieth century in both North and South America. American Contact proceeds from the fact that “text” was put under particular pressure in the Americas, where we find rich histories of negotiation between cultures defined by widely divergent linguistic and notational traditions. It is for this reason, we suggest, that the manifold ways that texts operate come into focus precisely at such moments of intercultural encounter. Although they have often remained marginal to studies of “the book,” historically centered on Europe, material texts from the Americas emerge as central to their material, geographic, and conceptual reorientation.
This multiyear project is funded by the Humanities Council Global Initiative and will include a symposium held at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania on April 23-25, 2020 and November 2020.
American Slavery / American Entertainment, a new book project, argues that the imperialist expansion of America’s “peculiar institution” of slave-based capitalism, the process of settling and conquering the American West, and the rise of American mass media and popular culture—three nineteenth-century stories that are often told separately—were integral to each other’s development. It reveals how slavery operated as a complex form of mass entertainment unto itself. To launch this project, I co-organized an upcoming workshop with Glenda Goodman (University of Pennsylvania) called Early American Music and the Construction of Race at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.
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