Today, I found out that I received a Connect New York Fellowship, through two offices at the Graduate Center (CUNY): the Early Research Initiative and the Digital Initiatives. This award means that I have to produce a dissertation chapter by September 2018. During the summer, I am required to publish two 300-word blog posts about my progress. And at the end of summer, I’ll write a final longer blog post with accompanying visual materials about my work for the website.
I couldn’t be more excited.
I am currently working on a chapter about how New York City’s performers in the contemporary genre of “boylesque” create a dissident aesthetics by distancing themselves from the contemporary drag scene in Manhattan. To show this relationship and difference between the two performance cultures, I start by scraping events from websites and social media accounts of drag and burlesque performers and nightclub venues, theatres, and other locales that host burlesque and drag. I then use Gephi to visualize the social networks of the two genres in the city. In-depth interviews with burlesque and drag performers about their perspectives on their aesthetics, their gender politics, and their views on the two respective genres will ensure that the claims from the “distant reading” of the first part of the study are well-founded.
For the Connect New York Fellowship, I’d like to finish a similar study for another dissertation chapter. For this project, I will use the methodology I’ve developed and described above and apply it to performers and venues of 1930s New York. Specifically, I want to visualize the networks between performers in the city’s burlesque and vaudeville theatres as well as the city’s nightclubs and their “pansy performers” (of the Pansy Craze). It will also entail mapping the theatres and other venues where such performers regularly performed. I am planning on using Gephi for the visualization of the social networks here as well, and Carto to map the theatres and nightlife venues.
To find names and locations, I will consult primary sources at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts as well as secondary sources such as George Chauncey’s influential Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 and Chad Heap’s Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940.
While (social) network analysis is often applied to contemporary phenomena, it can, of course, also be applied to historical relationships. It has been done in many other disciplines, especially those based on literature and written text. However, digital research methods are still not common in the field of Performance Studies. Thus, bringing a project such as the one described here to fruition would hopefully be of great significance to the field. The project will also have a direct impact on the city in its concern with the history of its nightlife. Nightlife performance is a topic which has not been studied enough, mostly because of a lack of documentation. However, I believe that digital research methods can help us see beyond this lack and surmise conclusions based on general structures drawn from a larger body of data points-in this case found in the primary and secondary sources mentioned above.
I will post more updates here on my website in regards to this research project.