Harry Watkins and His Diary

If the career of any one man covered the range of American drama during the two decades before the Civil War, it was that of cocky Harry Watkins.
--Carl Bode

Harry Watkins (1825-1894) was a US American stage actor, manager, and playwright. Despite his constant employment and collaborations with the most celebrated performers and producers of the day, including P. T. Barnum, Junius Brutus Booth, and Edwin Forrest, he never became famous. From 1845 to 1860, Watkins wrote religiously in his diary, detailing his daily activities, the roles he performed, the plays he saw, the people he met, the books he read, and his impressions of current events. This is the only known diary of its size and scope by an American actor during the decade prior to the Civil War.

A Player and a Gentleman: The Diary of Harry Watkins, Nineteenth-Century US American Actor seeks to make this fascinating diary available to researchers, students, and general readers in print and electronic format.  At the conclusion of this project, we will have created a one-volume critical edition of Watkins's diary featuring the most widely relevant selections as well as a critical introduction providing historical context and biographical information; the volume was published by University of Michigan Press in October 2018. It will be accompanied by a digital edition (freely accessible to the public) of the full text of the manuscript, accessible through U-M Library Digital Collections.

This project has been made possible through awards and grants from CUNY (Collaborative Incentive Research Grant and PSC-CUNY Research Award programs), The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Society for Theatre Research (STR), Association for Documentary Editing (ADE), New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC), Leonard and Claire Tow Faculty Travel Fund (Brooklyn College), LaGuardia Community College's Department of English, and the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation.

Editorial Staff

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Shane Breaux (Editorial Associate) holds an MA in theatre history and criticism from Brooklyn College and is currently working on a doctorate in theatre at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he researches popular entertainments focusing on nineteenth and early-twentieth century blackface performance, musical comedy, and the formation of national identities through live performance. Shane is the former Managing Editor of Journal of American Drama and Theatre and is the co-founder and co-editor of Emerging Theatre Research, an online peer-reviewed journal for emerging scholars. Shane is also an active theatre maker working as a playwright, actor, dramaturg, and director. Shane grew up in Lake Charles, LA and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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Dr. Scott D. Dexter (Director of Technology), Professor of Computer and Information Science at Brooklyn College, has long been intrigued by the many intersections between computing and the humanities. He is co-author of Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open-Source Software; he has received funding from the National Science Foundation to investigate programming, creativity and aesthetics, as well as computing and ethics; and he has implemented a Random Sonnet Generator for Robert Viscusi's epic sonnet cycle, Ellis Island. With support from Brooklyn College's Wolfe Institute for the Humanities, he is completing a book project tentatively entitled American Android: Race, Gender, and Artificial Humans in the US, 1835-2719. For the Harry Watkins Diary project, he develops and maintains the Drupal infrastructure and advises on XML and electronic publishing.

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Dr. Amy E. Hughes (Co-Editor) is Associate Professor of Theater History and Criticism at Brooklyn College (CUNY). She brings to this project technical skills developed at the Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents (coordinated by the Association for Documentary Editing) as well as expertise in antebellum US theater and culture. Her first book, Spectacles of Reform: Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Michigan Press, 2012), received the 2013 Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History from the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR). The book investigates the relationship between the theater and visual, print, and material media in order to illuminate how spectacle was central to the “dramaturgy of reform” in the antebellum United States. Her essays and reviews have appeared in J19: Journal of the Society of Nineteenth-Century AmericanistsJournal of American Drama and Theatre, Journal of American CultureTheatre Journal, Theatre Survey, and Theatre Topics as well as four edited collections. In addition to serving as co-editor of A Player and a Gentleman, she is writing a monograph inspired by Watkins’s diary, An Actor's Tale: Theater, Culture, and Everyday Life in Nineteenth-Century US America, which explores how Watkins’s account constitutes an “alternative theater history” centered on workaday labor. For more information, visit her web page.

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Dr. Naomi J. Stubbs (Co-Editor) is Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY). Her research interests include critical editing and nineteenth-century American theatre and popular entertainments, and her first book Cultivating National Identity Through Performance: American Pleasure Gardens and Entertainment was published with Palgrave in 2013. Her articles and chapters have appeared in Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America; The Pleasure Garden, from Vauxhall Gardens to Coney Island; Theatre, Performance and Analogue Technology: Historical Interfaces and Intermedialities, and Popular Entertainment Studies. She is the Co-editor of the Journal of American Drama and Theatre. Stubbs completed her BA in English and Drama and MRes in Editing Lives and Letters and Queen Mary, University of London, and her PhD in Theatre at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Stubbs’s background in both critical editing and nineteenth-century American theatre and popular entertainments allows her to bring a variety of expertise crucial to the completion of this project.

Advisory Board

Sarah Bay-Cheng, Professor, Bowdoin College
Christopher Brick, Director, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers
John W. Frick, Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia
Barbara Wallace Grossman, Professor, Tufts University
Beth Luey, Association for Documentary Editing (ADE)
David Mayer, Professor Emeritus, Manchester University