The Trouble Begins: Race and Nation in Gilded Age Spa Towns (In-Person and Streaming)

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June 14 • 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm


The Mark Twain House & Museum welcomes Will Mackintosh to the Trouble Begins stage for his lecture: Imagining Indian Maidens in Pure Springs: Race and Nation in Nineteenth Century Spa Towns.

Mark Twain’s enduring popularity as a writer lies at least partly in his ability to confront the stories Americans tell themselves about themselves as a people, to articulate them, analyze them, and satirize them if necessary. In the spirit of Twain, this lecture traces the origin stories that nineteenth-century Americans told themselves about the mineral springs and spa towns where they took their vacations. Elite Europeans had traveled to mineral and hot springs for pleasure and health since the 17th century. In the late colonial period, elite Americans began to imitate this practice, establishing nascent American spa towns, often named after their British forbears. But after independence, the explicit anglophilia of places like Bath, Virginia became problematic. As a result, nineteenth-century elite Americans began to tell themselves that their mineral springs had Native American origins, rather than British origins, despite the fact that their architecture, medical discourse, and social rituals remained far closer to British examples than to any actual Native American practice. This new imagining of Native American origins appeared quickly and ubiquitously, in popular histories, fiction, and guidebooks. It allowed culturally nationalist Americans to imagine that they were somehow different from elite Europeans while still vacationing in a way that was transatlantically legible. It turned elite leisure into a strategy for cementing the cultural appropriation of Indian lands and Indian social practices. This literary confection of race and nation in nineteenth century spa towns created a distinct American elite identity for vacationers of Twain’s generation.

This is a FREE HYBRID event sponsored by CT Humanities and the Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York.

In-person attendees are invited to come to the Museum center early to visit this year’s summer exhibition For Business or Pleasure? Twain’s Summer Sojourns which highlights the Clemens family’s American-based summer vacations. Food and drink will be available for purchase form the Nook Café. Virtual attendees will receive a link to watch live via YouTube. Only in-person audiences will have the chance to ask questions during the Q&A portion of the evening.

Will B. Mackintosh is a cultural and social historian of the 19th century United States, with particular interests in the history of leisure, the history of crime, and the cultural history of capitalism. He is author of Selling the Sights: The Invention of the Tourist in American Culture (NYU Press 2019) and editor of The Panorama, Extensive Views from The Journal of the Early Republic. He is currently working on a new project dealing with the Loomis Gang, a group of horse thieves in nineteenth-century New York. Mackintosh is an Associate Professor of History at University of Mary Washington in Virginia.



June 14
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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The Mark Twain House & Museum
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