Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Judith Milhous

Subject Categories

Theatre History | United States History


capitalism, celebrity, cultural geography, material culture, theatre, touring


Employing methods from print and material culture studies, this dissertation explores the economic, social, and cultural dynamics of theatrical touring during a period, 1835-1861, when the ultimate symbols of anxiety over rising industrialization, migration, and urbanization--con artists and prostitutes or "confidence men and painted women"- were associated with both theatre and transportation. I argue that touring was central to the spread of theatre culture and is therefore critical to understanding U.S. popular culture. This project examines how geographic movements, as well as the circulation of extra-theatrical materials like newspapers and photographs, were instrumental not only for performers who attempted to solidify and enhance their status as stars, but also for utility actors not permanently attached to companies and for whom itinerancy became a necessity. It considers how performers responded to new modes of transportation and how managers developed circuits in the South, the Midwest, and the West to both accommodate and generate new entertainment markets. And it explores how "legitimate" systems of touring contended with informal or ostensibly "illegitimate" entertainment practices. Ultimately, my research examines acts of circulation within nineteenth-century theatrical culture as expressions of both capitalist expansion and of individual, sometimes oppositional, agency.

In each of my three chapters, I explore a different scale of touring as antebellum theatre culture: as a set of practices through which celebrity was negotiated (Chapter 1), as a generator of artifacts (Chapter 2), and as a tool for developing regional identity (Chapter 3). In each chapter I approach theatre not only as a set of events that took place inside theatres, but also as a channel for the circulation of ideas, people, and objects throughout the country. My case studies interweave close readings of archival materials, including diaries, newspapers, and ephemera; I am attentive to how print and material artifacts helped to construct notions of movement and agency, as well as regional differences, in the nineteenth-century cultural imaginary. By examining touring, I fill a noteworthy gap in theatre historiography and contribute to the growing body of work on the circulatory patterns of popular culture. I recover some of the market maneuvers and details of lived experience that occurred in what we might call the margins of theatrical life--in the transitions between theatrical events, in epistolary exchanges across distances, and in locations that have been largely neglected by theatre scholars.