Written by guest blogger, Verna A. FosterVerna Foster_MD_Blogger

A happy combination of circumstances led me to write about An Octoroon. I have been working on contemporary dramatic adaptations, especially plays that adapt other plays, for some years. I also take a perhaps critically unfashionable pleasure in nineteenth-century melodrama. So I was excited to read a couple of years ago that a young African-American dramatist, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, had written an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon. If I like this play, I decided, I will write about it.

Before I had even finished the Prologue, in which Jacobs-Jenkins as the character BJJ explains his feelings about being a black playwright and talks about melodrama with intelligence and an appreciation that appealed to my own pleasure in the genre, I was hooked. “I love this man,” I thought. The journey to completing my article “Meta-melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon,” appearing in Modern Drama this fall, proved even more exciting than I had anticipated, allowing me to adopt all the approaches to drama that I find most fruitful.

I could work comparatively with Boucicault’s and Jacobs-Jenkins’s texts: the adaptation retains the plot (white hero falls in love with beautiful “octoroon,” who poisons herself rather than being sold to white villain) and much of the language of its source but also incorporates striking innovations, updating, for example, the dialogue and personality of the enslaved characters. I could demonstrate how An Octoroon worked in performance in Soho Repertory Theatre’s brilliant production of the play, staged in 2014 and 2015. And though semiotician Marco De Marinis once described the spectator as the “black hole” of theatre studies, I could fortunately ground my discussion of audience response (important to both Boucicault and Jacobs-Jenkins) in a huge number of reviews, blogs, and interviews engendered by Soho Rep’s production.

An Octoroon is a “meta-melodrama” (Jacobs-Jenkins’s own term). By drawing on Boucicault’s aesthetic techniques, Jacobs-Jenkins makes his play work as a melodrama, arousing in its audiences contrasting emotions of laughter, pity, excitement, and horror. At the same time through refocalization, an updated sensation scene, racial cross-casting, and other Brechtian techniques, he deconstructs Boucicault’s racist assumptions, making the nineteenth-century melodrama both appropriate and often uncomfortable for a racially mixed audience in the twenty-first century. Spectators found themselves getting involved in the action, laughing, and then questioning their own and other audience members’ laughter.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ well-attested manipulation of his audience’s response adds a new wrinkle to adaptation theory. For his own contemporary political purposes, he adapts not only his source play and the melodramatic genre in which it is written but also the response that genre typically elicits. Effectively, he adapts the audience.

Since writing my article on An Octoroon, I have become even more conscious of the valuable cultural work productions of the play can perform in creating a space for the often difficult discussion of race relations in America, a discussion that seems to be more necessary now than ever. In particular, Jacobs-Jenkins’s call for a multi-racial cast and for racial cross-casting (a black actor in whiteface, a white actor in redface, and a Native American actor in blackface) suggests both a comic undermining of stereotypes in the manner of Brecht and the kind of cultural and racial inclusiveness that has inspired audiences of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop Hamilton. If one wants to change the present, it is possible, in the theatre at least, to transform the past.

Verna A. Foster’s article, “Meta-Melodrama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Appropriates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon,” is published in MD 59:3, 2016.


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With this post, we introduce a series by the new editors of IJFAB: International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics addressing issues of importance to feminist bioethicists around the world. We hope to pique your interest and that you’ll participate in the discussion by lending your voice to it.

This month’s contribution comes from Jackie Leach Scully, a professor of Social Ethics and Bioethics at Newcastle University and the director of its Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre. Scully is the author of Disability Bioethics: Moral Bodies, Moral Difference and Quaker Approaches to Moral Issues in Genetics and coeditor of Feminist Bioethics: At the Center, On the Margins. She considers the past and the future of publishing feminist bioethics and IJFAB.

September’s contribution will come from Jamie Lindemann Nelson, a professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, where she is also a faculty associate at the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and core faculty at the Center for Gender in Global Context. Nelson is the author of more than 200 publications in philosophy, bioethics, law, and medicine, including three books (two coauthored with Hilde Lindemann), and two edited volumes. She will discuss the future of IJFAB and the topics and issues she expects the journal to explore in the coming years.

In October, Robyn Bluhm will discuss feminist bioethics and interdisciplinarity, as well as the relationships among feminist bioethics and other areas of philosophy. Bluhm is an associate professor at Michigan State University with a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and Lyman Briggs College. She has coedited two issues of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine on evidence based practice and is the coeditor of Neurofeminism: Issues at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Cognitive Science.

Written by IJFAB Editor, Jackie Leach Scully.

IJFAB is turning ten, and a new editorial team taking over after a decade of skillful leadership by Mary C. Rawlinson, our founding editor. It’s a good moment to reflect on a number of things, including how feminist bioethics has changed in that time, and where feminist bioethics and this journal are heading.

When I first became active in feminist bioethics in the late 1990s, it was dominated by discussion of obviously gendered reproductive issues like abortion, surrogacy, and various kinds of assisted conception. The ten years since IJFAB 1.1 was published in 2006 have seen gradual acceptance that feminist bioethics is not solely concerned with those ethical problems rooted in the specifics of female reproduction. Of course, feminist scholars are still interested in, and writing about, those issues, and as novel reproductive interventions continue to move from the laboratory to the outside world, feminist bioethics has not ignored its responsibility to examine their implications for women. To take just two examples, the ethics of mitochondrial replacement or of uterus transplants has been extensively discussed on the IJFAB Blog and elsewhere.

But we’ve also seen a marked opening up of the range of topics considered legitimate issues for feminist bioethics to consider—and IJFAB has been instrumental in this shift. Alongside papers on mothering, new reproductive and genetic technologies, and infertility, volume 1, number 1 also focused on a feminist examination of heart transplants and a commentary on the Declaration of Helsinki “through a feminist lens.” Later special issues dealt with disability, biomedical research, psychiatry, and food. Papers in the open issues have tackled topics such as care worker migration, pandemics, vaccination, conscientious objection, and climate change, alongside broader theoretical work on vulnerability, epistemology, and autonomy.

So, feminist bioethics’ remit—or, at least, our understanding of it—has enlarged. But, of course, the world itself, and its concerns, hasn’t remained static either. In the last ten years, we’ve seen major biomedical and biotechnological developments, the emergence of new practices in health care and research, and issues of public health governance that all demanded bioethical and feminist scrutiny. (How successful any of that scrutiny was is a question for another time.)

As always, such field specific changes take place within social and political contexts – and the contexts themselves have undergone significant evolution too. To try to pick out “the most important” of these would be impossible, not least because of the interwoven complexity of the real world (something that feminist bioethics has always been rigorous about taking into account). High on any list would be the impact of globalization on health care, employment, migration, and communications; shifting patterns of inequality, and the increasing economic gulf in many parts of the world between classes and countries; and the rise of new states and economies, bringing different and often unfamiliar players to the landscape of international bioethical regulation and law. This last raises particular dilemmas for the North/Western scholars who make up the bulk of feminist bioethics, as we struggle to respond appropriately to cultures that we see marginalizing and oppressing women without perpetuating either that marginalization or the myth that the position of women in “our” societies is always and inevitably better than elsewhere.

Thus, it’s a fairly safe prediction that, over the next ten years, the world will continue to change, and the work of feminist bioethics will continue to respond to those technological, social, and political transformations. As one member of the new editorial team, I know I can speak for all of us in saying that we want to see IJFAB continue the tradition of our feminist foremothers: pushing at the taken-for-granted boundaries of the discipline and reaching into territory that might not seem, at first sight, to be obviously feminist or, indeed, bioethical. At our first editorial meeting earlier this summer, we discussed a number of ideas on possible subjects for special issues, including climate change and environmental catastrophe, war and conflict, the role of activism in bioethics, and more. We welcome offers from anyone interested in editing issues addressing these themes that take our substantive interests in exciting new directions.* There are other ways in which IJFAB has and will continue to be groundbreaking in bioethics: as someone with a background in life sciences who now works in philosophy and social science, and who has “done bioethics” around the world, I’ll be particularly happy to see us strengthening our interdisciplinarity and international cover. We’re open to suggestions for new features and formats as well.

We’re confident the upcoming generation of feminist bioethicists will be ready to tackle the emerging crucial bioethical issues of the years to come. IJFAB has an important role in that conversation, and we hope you will help us fulfill your expectations.

Jackie Leach Scully

* Editor’s Note: Please send expressions of interest to editorialoffice@ijfab.org.

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Paradoxes, Politics, and Calculated Silence

by Lauren Naus on July 22, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Patrick Lacroix

Immigration and immigrant integration made a sudden and unexpected eruption into Canada’s federal election in 2015. The Conservative Party was determined to prevent Muslim women from wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. The New Democratic Party’s commitment to civic nationalism and its openness on this issue may have cost it valuable votes. The “niqab issue” set the NDP apart from the Conservative and Liberal parties and seemed to contribute to its rapid fall from grace in Quebec.

In a recent contribution to the Canadian Journal of History, I study some of the antecedents to the place of immigration policy in Canada’s current partisan debates. This interest stems from my major research paper as a graduate at Brock University in 2009-2010. I was then studying the Catholic Church’s approach to minority rights in post-war Canada, a project that demanded attention to political parties’ and religious stakeholders’ views of immigration policy.

Early on, I was struck by the richness of the literature on the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the CCF, the predecessor to today’s NDP), especially its advocacy of human rights. But few scholars have studied the party’s approach to immigration, something I found puzzling. Ever curious, I went back to the sources—the party’s founding documents, official newspaper, manifestos, and campaign platforms. Scholars’ silence began to make sense: the party itself had sometimes been wholly silent on immigration policy. This was, I suggest, a calculated silence that reflected divisions within the party and commitments to contradictory principles.

Lacroix_Woodsworth J.S.Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN no. 3193170 Title: J.S. Woodsworth at work.

The founders and early leaders of the CCF were staunch allies of the labour movement. They opposed any vast influx of people—especially those seen as racially subaltern—as a way of protecting “old-stock” Canadians’ working conditions. Yet many of the same leaders embraced a universalism influenced by socialist theory and, paradoxically perhaps, the Social Gospel.

These contradictions forced difficult debates upon the CCF during the Depression, but its future tack became apparent as it pressed the Canadian government of Mackenzie King to accept Jewish refugees from Europe on the eve of World War II. Following the war, the party called for an end to ethnic and racial discrimination in admissions to Canada. It remained committed to economic nationalism—with its attendant protection of Canadian workers—but now embraced a civic nationalism that became most evident in its human rights advocacy.

I hope that my CJH article and some of our more recent political developments will spur scholars to further investigate the place of immigration policy in the history of Canadian partisan politics.

A graduate of Bishop’s University and Brock University, Patrick Lacroix is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New Hampshire. His dissertation reconsiders the intersection of faith and politics in the United States under John F. Kennedy.

Patrick Lacroix’s article, From Strangers to “Humanity First”: Canadian Social Democracy and Immigration Policy, 1932–1961” is available in the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire Vol. 51 Issue 1. Read it at CJH Online or on Project MUSE.

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Written by guest blogger, Scott Johnston 

As I discovered in graduate school, and while researching the article I wrote for the CJH called “Boy Scouts and the British World: Autonomy within an Imperial Institution, 1908-1936,” identity is a curious thing. It is flexible beyond all logical reasoning, even allowing humans to simultaneously hold multiple contradictory beliefs. Group identity is just as complicated, because those who share an identity often disagree about what it means to be part of that group, be it or ‘Canadian,’ or ‘British,’ or a ‘graduate student.’ But identity is a concept that academics need to engage with. From Brexit to Black Lives Matter to Truth and Reconciliation, identity politics continue to dominate current affairs. In all these cases, it is clear how contested and changeable identities are. I find this flexibility absolutely fascinating to explore.

It is very easy to equate a shared identity with unity. As historians, we would be lost without using groups’ monikers as shorthand to examine motivations, causes and effects. But divisions within identities can be just as revealing. “Boy Scouts and the British World” exposes some internal divisions in identity by demonstrating how fractured the Boy Scout movement was in the first thirty years of its existence. The Boy Scout organization is often considered a monolith of imperial culture, a tool for extending Britishness to Canada and colonies across the globe. This ‘Britishness’ was a vision of middle class masculine vigour, infused with racial rhetoric of a people restored and reinvigorated by experiencing comradeship in the great outdoors. A parallel organization, the Girl Guides, offered a similarly charged version of femininity. Children in these organizations were meant to find fellowship in doing their bit for the mighty project of empire. But this vision of Scouting was far from universally accepted. James Robertson, the Chief of the Canadian Boy Scouts, was constantly at odds with the movement’s founder, Robert Baden-Powell. Their conflicting understandings of what it meant to be a Scout, let alone what it meant to be ‘British,’ ‘Canadian,’ and ‘French Canadian,’ made for some spectacular clashes and crises. These crises are the focus of my article.

In a similar way, graduate school is full of crises of identity. Trapped between the knowledge that you are pursuing a prestigious degree at the highest level of education, and on the other hand feeling inadequate and unprepared to share your work with ‘real’ scholars can be challenging. The CJH’s graduate essay competition is a fantastic opportunity for graduate students to get a feel for academic publishing without the pressure that can often accompany submitting work to a journal. I am honoured to have won the award this year, and to have my work published in the CJH, but I feel that (having lost in previous years), the process itself was just as valuable as winning. Going through peer review and corresponding with the editing staff are useful experiences for any graduate student, and my work has improved because of it. I strongly encourage graduate students to take a chance and submit their work to the competition. I am sure there are many gems of well-written and well-researched papers out there that do not see the light of day because of the fear of failure. Click submit. It will be worth it!

Scott Johnston’s article, Boy Scouts and the British World: Autonomy within an Imperial Institution, 1908–1936“is available in the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire Vol. 51 Issue 2. Read it at CJH Online or on Project MUSE.

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Medical History on the Move

by Lauren Naus on July 15, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Lucas Richert

The most recent issue of Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine is now available and it’s thrilling times for the new editors, Erika Dyck and Kenton Kroker. Tackling such engaging and topical subjects as transfusions in France, eugenics, HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, and Thalidomide, among others, the journal is on the cutting-edge.

For the uninitiated, CBMH/BCHM is Canada’s leading history of medicine journal. It’s been around since 1984 and its aim is to situate the history of health, medicine, and biomedical science within local, regional, and international contexts. There are many terrific years ahead.

I’m incredibly excited to be working with CBMH/BCHM and University of Toronto Press over the summer months. It will be my pleasure to help out with journal’s migration to the UofT’s publishing platform. As part of this transition, we are moving all of the back issues onto UofT’s server, and in some cases enhancing them, with abstracts and keywords. The journal is about to publish its 66th issue, so there are lots to consider!

As the journey commences this summer, I’ll be posting and tweeting about the process – all of the amazing stops and bumps in the road, as well excellent articles and contemporary health and medicine issues dating back to the mid-1980s. I’d guess holidays would come first, but I encourage you to share and participate in the voyage as much as you can!

For more updates, follow @DrLucasRichert on Twitter and visit LucasRichert.com.

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Truth and Reconciliation – Where Do Historians Fit?

July 13, 2016

Written by guest blogger, James Carson I recently attended my son’s high school graduation. At the end of the emcee’s recognition of territory the audience stood and erupted in a raucous ovation. There were even whoops, hoots, and hollers, a joy in something right was being done. Would this have happened ten or twenty years ago? […]

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Coming to Terms with the Murderer

July 7, 2016

Written by guest blogger, John Dale My essay grew out of work undertaken at York University on American novels with protagonists who were murderers. I found myself interested by the degree to which the reader became sympathetically engaged with the murderers and by the variety of methods employed by different authors to achieve this engagement; these […]

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Why I Write About Satanic Panic

July 5, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Joseph P. Laycock As a scholar of American religious history and new religious movements, the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s has been a recurring theme of my work.  In the 1980s it was widely believed that organized cults of criminal Satanists operate throughout America, murdering hundreds of people a year in human […]

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Happy Pride!

June 30, 2016

Toronto’s Pride Festival has quickly evolved to be the largest Pride celebration in North America. To celebrate we’ve made a select collection of articles on the history, culture, and diversity of the LGBTQ community available for FREE until Monday! There are some really interesting reads below, make sure to check them out! “Love is love […]

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June 20, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Joel Fishbane @joelfishbane   In 2006, some prognosticating theatre critic from the Montreal Gazette named the six “lions of indie theatre”. I was one of them; playwright Annabel Soutar was another. Nearly all those artists have moved on from producing theatre (myself included), but Annabel has persevered and so it is […]

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