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Americans in London
For centuries, the trans-Atlantic relationship between London and North America has been central to our understanding of American history, religion, politics, economics, and culture. Americans traveled to and lived in London as diplomats and politicians as well as students, artists, and activists. Benjamin Franklin lived in England for almost two decades in the eighteenth century as a diplomat negotiating on behalf of the colony of Pennsylvania and the united American colonies. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott traveled to London for the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. Americans were drawn to England's power and allure. One particular cultural articulation of this national interdependency is, of course, the theatre. While the United States saw little home-grown theatre in its early years, relying on the English theatrical tradition, scholars suggest that the first significant American play was Royall Tyler’s The Contrast in 1787. Its subject was the cultural distinction between the United States and England and how that distinction would shape an understanding of culture that energized the American enlightenment and Renaissance.
Gradual expression of American theatrical identity announced itself most successfully in the development of musical theatre. While deriving from several European influences, primarily John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, and informed largely by the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, American musicals became, in the estimation of many critics, America’s most important contribution to world theatre. Though the American Revolution marked a dramatic fissure between England and America, the ensuing years saw two nations on parallel paths to confront the major issues of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the abolition of the slave trade and enslavement as well as universal suffrage for all people regardless of race or gender.
As part of the course's experience, students traveled to London the last time the course ran and had a hands-on experience of the culture. Below are a few thank you notes to the Barden Foundation, the donor who helped make this trip happen.
To the gracious donor who made this trip possible,
Thank you so much for the scholarship I received for my trip overseas with the “Americans in London” honors class. I have begged my parents for a trip to London ever since I saw The Parent Trap as a kid... it was something about those red telephone booths, the fashion, the cute black taxi cabs, and the beautiful cobblestone streets. I can say that that this trip was everything I dreamed it would be and more. I got to ride the London Eye at sunset, walk the River Thames, go to a high tea, see Hamilton, and watch Londoners protest Brexit. I also met some of my (new) best friends. I truly appreciate the scholarship I received, and I’m so happy that it made my trip possible. It was absolutely a week I will never forget, and I am so thankful to you. I have attached some pictures so you can see what a great time we all had.
Thank you again.
Thank you so much for your generosity in helping me and the other honors students pay for our trip. We had an amazing time; it was truly an eye-opening and surreal experience. I want you to know that your help has not gone unnoticed, and I am very grateful for your donation! I think it is wonderful that you are assisting us students so that we may have opportunities like these. Thank you.
Dear Honors Program Donor:
Dr. Donald Gagnon and I write to express our deep gratitude for your generous support of the Honors students in our course, Americans in London. We spent the Spring 2019 semester engaged in an exploration of transatlantic history and culture, from the early colonial period through the present. The course culminated in our week-long field study in London, an invaluable experience that was central to students’ understanding of the material we’d studied in the course.
Through core texts in theatre, history, and, politics, students examined the relationship between England and the United States and made links between the past and present. In the classroom and in our field study in London, we focused on shared and divergent cultures, often through the eyes of Americans who worked, lived, and reflected on their time abroad. Students examined the cultural context for Royall Tyler’s play, The Contrast, and explored sites where African American actor Ira Aldridge performed; we walked in the footsteps of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and suffragists Emmeline Pankhurst and Alice Paul; and we visited Benjamin Franklin’s house in London, among numerous other experiences. (We’d be happy to provide our itinerary if you’d like to see it!)
Students were enormously grateful for the opportunity to travel. Not only was the field study integral to the course, but for many students the travel itself was transformational. In their journals, students referred to the field study as “the experience of a lifetime.” Remarked one student: “…after having visited the United Kingdom myself, I’ve developed a new perspective….I had never left the country before this trip, meaning my view of the world has always been based on news, books, and websites… through this week-long trip abroad that I learned a lesson on the importance of travel in the development of a well-rounded perspective.” Another student wrote, “…[A]fter opening my mind and exploring, I returned to America with a new perspective.” Still another wrote “The importance of travel cannot be stated highly enough. Americans need to forge relationships with other countries in order to fully understand our own.”
Again, thank you. Your support made this vital academic work and rich cultural experience possible.
All our best,
-Donald Gagnon and Leslie Lindenauer