Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Performing the past: Two pageant traditions in Nauvoo, Illinois
by Austin, Jill Hemming, Ph.D., Indiana University, 2015, 328; 3715827
Abstract (Summary)

The founders of American historical pageantry were keenly interested in the social effect of pageant performance on audience and participants. Their vision for social transformation through performance endures into the present day with those who continue to promulgate the form. Examining two enduring pageant traditions in Nauvoo, Illinois affords a better understanding of how the formal features of outdoor historical pageant production and the social relations that underlie them are still potentially powerful for those who participate in their production and performance. This dissertation encourages serious study of pageants as a unique performance form particularly attuned to the tasks of building continuities and tradition, the reinforcement of group sentiment, and the propitiation of group myth.

Nauvoo, Illinois is a historically contested site boasting two historical pageants dedicated to the portrayal of the Nauvoo story: The Grape Festival Pageant and The Nauvoo Pageant. Christened "Nauvoo" by Mormon [LDS] refugees in the mid-19th century, the thriving city's overwhelming social discord drove the Mormons west, and the town was resettled and reclaimed by new seekers and settlers. The legendary quality of Nauvoo continued to grow in the Mormon imagination, eventually leading to a reclamation process including heritage development. Competing claims on local history has led to a heightened historical consciousness among townsfolk and ongoing public presentation from multiple perspectives. The two pageants are cultural displays that influence this ongoing social process. Both derive from distinct traditions--the local drama squarely planted in American historical pageantry and the Mormon-sponsored pageant deriving from LDS social and religious culture.

Historical pageants have some unique formal features that make them particularly interesting to folklorists. They depend heavily on sacred localities, tradition, legend, and large-group participation for their success. The story told gains power from familiarity and reinforcement of cherished group values. However, changing tastes and sensibilities have challenged the survival of pageants as a relevant cultural form into the present. Drawing on interviews, field observation, and historical research, the contemporary context of the town and its two performances is fleshed out in the voices of four individuals who have participated in the pageants.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jackson, Jason Baird
Commitee: Carpenter, Inta G., Foster, Michael D., Sandweiss, Eric
School: Indiana University
Department: Folklore and Ethnomusicology
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, American history, Folklore, Theater
Keywords: Local history, Memory, Myth, Pageant, Performance, Tradition
Publication Number: 3715827
ISBN: 978-1-321-94139-5
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