In my research and teaching, I explore the relation between theater—understood simultaneously as a medium, a practice, an industry, an institution, a social force, and a vibrant malleable set of literary forms—and the social, political, and cultural struggles of early modernity. At the core of those struggles and of my interests lay crucial processes of racial, gender, and identity formation, which I study within a framework that is comparative, transnational, and often transhistorical. My work is thus at the intersection of early modern literary studies, critical race studies, theater and performance studies, and comparative literature.
In my book in progress, Racecraft: Early Modern Repertoires of Blackness, I dissect the stagecraft used in early modern theater to represent and racialize Africans and Afro-descendants across borders in early modern England, France, and Spain. At the end of the 16th century, in a context of global expansion, the racial matrix produced a new paradigm: the word race started referring to phenotypical differences for which skin color quickly became a shorthand. Racecraft explores how that long-reaching epistemological shift was brought about, how it slowly infiltrated people’s reading of human bodies, and how the racialization of blackness was absorbed into early modern European popular cultures. Theater, located within a larger performance culture that permeated everyday life, is a privileged site for analyzing the operations of this epistemological shift. Racecraft argues that, from the beginning of the 16th century to the beginning of the 18th century, the cosmetic, vocal, and kinetic techniques of racial impersonation used by white actors, amateurs, and enthusiasts to represent black characters effected ideological work by fostering new habits of mind among spectators across Europe. This book is based upon my doctoral dissertation, which won the Shakespeare Association of America’s J. Leeds Barroll Dissertation Award for 2018.