HoW: History on Wednesday | Biography in a Digital Age – School of Humanities HoW: History on Wednesday | Biography in a Digital Age – School of Humanities

HoW: History on Wednesday | Biography in a Digital Age

Deidre o’Connell

Biography in a Digital Age: Recovering the lives of a Band of Black Traveling Performing Artists in interwar Europe

Until the advent of digital archives, evidence about people on the peripheries of written records has been too atomised and fragmented to capture in a coherent fashion. Once collated and synthesized, the stories of traveling people reveal hidden connections and serve as allegories for broader cultural patterns. This paper traces the transnational journeys of a small band of African American musicians whose lives spanned from the end of Reconstruction to the first stirrings of the Civil Rights movement. Each a child of the 1879 Exoduster migration from Tennessee to the Midwest, the Jazz Kings introduced ideas and practices to Paris and Moscow that fashioned the culture of the modern world. Their knowledge was absorbed by like-minded white people, yet they have only been remembered as people who influenced the vanguard—if they have been remembered at all. Despite the extraordinary scope of the Jazz King’s musical network and depth of engagement with the commercial, avant-garde, and anti-colonial world, their lives have barely dented the received narratives of modernism – an absence that speaks to the racialized nature of remembering and forgetting.

Deirdre O’Connell is a historian whose work explores the intersection of race, popular culture, the performing arts, and modernism in Australia and the United States. She is the author of The Ballad of Blind Tom (Overlook 2009) and Harlem Nights: The Secret History of Australia’s Jazz Age (MUP 2021). Previously, she worked in environmental journalism and music documentary.


The Department of History hosts a lively departmental research seminar series. Everyone is welcome to attend.

12:10-1:30pm Wednesday 22 September 2021

On Zoom. An invitation will be sent to everyone registered for the seminar series on the day before the event.

Click here to register for the History seminar series email list

The Department of History is part of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI)

The Convenor of History on Wednesday is Dr Hélène Sirantoine | Click here to email

Image: Sternberg Brothers, 1926.

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Sep 22 2021


12:10 pm - 1:30 pm





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