April F. Masten
- Associate Professor
- Curriculum Vitae
- SBS S-313
- Research Interests
- Masten’s scholarship explores the interplay between cultural production and political economies. Her current research is on challenge dancing in the 1840s and 1850s. Part theatre, part sport, challenge dances were jigging contests among white and black men, and sometimes women. They took place on street corners and plantations, in halls and taverns, and in theatres and circuses as part of blackface minstrel shows. Challenge dances drew large, raucous crowds and were viewed, judged, and bet on like boxing matches. These matches were the product of decades of exchange among Irish, English, and African sailors, slaves, and immigrants moving through the Atlantic world.
Masten's book, Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York (Penn Press, May 2008), reconnects the accomplishments of the hundreds of women artists who studied and worked in New York City between 1850 and 1880 to the city's conspicuously democratic art institutions, burgeoning illustrated press, and the prevailing aesthetic ideal - the Unity of Art.
In April 2010 Masten was invited to speak as a Master Scholar at the NEH Picturing America/School Collaboration Project at Newark Museum. Her article “Shake Hands? Lilly Martin Spencer and the Politics of Art,” which connects the nationalism inspired by Jacksonian democracy to the success and decline of a female visual artist, won the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association Article Prize in 2005. That year Masten was also invited by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals to speak on the challenges of interdisciplinary writing at the Modern Language Association Conference in Washington D.C.
For her project on the challenge dance in Antebellum America, Masten has received a John M. Ward Fellowship in Dance and Music for the Theatre from Harvard University’s Houghton Library, a Kate B. and Hall J. Peterson Fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society, and a John Hope Franklin Fellowship from the American Philosophical Society for research travel to Ireland and England. She was also awarded a residential fellowship at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, Spring 2009.
The Davis Center’s focus for the academic years 2008-09 was the problem of “Cultures and Institutions in Motion.” Masten’s project, “The Challenge Dance: Transatlantic Exchange in Early American Popular Culture,” explored the form, content, and context of challenge dancing to show how the aesthetic and global movements of people contributed to the formation of America's cultural identity. An article based on that paper is forthcoming in the edited collection Cultures in Motion (Princeton University Press).
- Scholarly Works
- “The Challenge Dance: Black-Irish Exchange in Antebellum America” in Cultures in Motion, ed. Daniel T. Rogers, Helmut Reimitz and Bhavani Raman (Princeton University Press, 2013).
"Partners in Time: Dancers, Musicians, and Negro Jigs in Early America," Common-Place 13.2, March 2013. http://www.common-place.org/vol-13/no-02/masten/
Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
“Dancing Through American History,” Common-Place 6.1, October 2005. http://www.common-place.org/vol-06/no-01/school/
“Shake Hands? Lilly Martin Spencer and the Politics of Art”, American Quarterly 56:2 (June 2004), 349-394.
“Model into Artist: The Changing Face of Art Historical Biography,” Women’s Studies 21: 1 (1992), 17-41.