[Full disclosure: I had a 4,000 word post ready about a living playwright but at the last minute said living playwright had second thoughts. Thus, I am up at 2 a.m. writing about a dead playwright and feeling like one, too]
Geography!!! I have a long history with the topic. So imagine my pure joy and horror when I discovered this gem from 1896:
Much like a Talking Heads song, it could be really terrible and amazing at the same time.
It seems earlier editions were printed in the 1880s.
Let’s take a gander. Here a stranger enquires about how to travel from Boston to San Francsico. Boston is home to several of our playwrights, including Greg Hovanesian, Martha Patterson and the late, great Angelina Weld Grimké.
The kids answer:
That’s pretty cool. And it shows exactly the route the train would’ve taken. Hint: I was born in one of these towns (not the suspension bridge).
But then it comes to Europe boasting about their colonies:
In the play entitled “World Commerce” Cuba mentions how fun it is to be a Spanish colony with Chinese laborers:
“Strangely enough.” Sigh.
Manila must boast as well and then Java gets its turn:
Now for grade school kids, this is actually a decent description of Dutch economic policy in the Dutch East Indies. The play forgot to mention the forced labor aspect of it, but selling cash crops to the Dutch overlords at a fixed price, which the Dutch government then exported overseas for a profit. They then supposedly gave a surplus back to the native Indonesians. Somehow I don’t think it worked as prettily as described, but it is neat that the play goes into so much detail regarding the economics on Java in the 1890s.
[it is now 9:41 a.m. I did sleep a little bit (30 mins?) and had a dream my friend lost an insane amount of weight and my other friend’s wife kept trying to talk to me alone. It was kinda weird]
The book of plays begins with….
“Perhaps we are not so old nor so wise as some other countries…”
Understatement of the year right there.
Massachusetts is right about the cities on the Merrimac: textiles, textiles, textiles.
And Lawrence would later have a very famous, very violent strike. But for now…
Whoa!!! Hold on there, southern states…
Massachusetts is all like “Let’s not have another war, please.”
Then the “western” states get in on the action.
I just hope New York doesn’t think Philadelphia is a western city.
Not another city-measuring contest. Sigh.
A couple of things here.
- The playwright goofed. California delivers this line over a hundred pages before Washington Territory ever shows up. And that’s in the Commerce of the World play.
BTW, Maulmain is now Mawlamyine in Myanmar.
But PiL never made a song about Mawlamyine:
Maybe that’s a good thing?
The common theme among the American states is that they’re a bunch of whiny braggarts:
Insecure Texas, always trying to show off. I think it’s fun the Alaskan gold rush hadn’t happened yet. The Wikipedia page claims the “legacy” of this is North to Alaska, but I don’t know if they mean the song or the movie. If you watch the movie, you can see John Wayne’s wig fall off. It’s pretty funny.
As entertaining as an insecure, yet severely dysfunctional family like the United States can be, it’s time for us to move on to Europe, that one place in the 1890s where everything was going fine…
Oh, more colony-measuring here…
Holland owns half of St. Martin. Don’t you forget it.
And Denmark calls St. Croix by its Spanish name.
“Venice of Northern Europe” Broooo.
If anyone is up for alcohol, there’s this:
Meanwhile, poor Spain gets nostalgic for its empire…might wanna lock up the sherry.
Someone calls out Austria on its BS regarding Poland, only to get mansplained by Prussia and their king (who doubled as German Emperor). We all know how that turned out.
Love that burn on Russia…because Russia totally had a thing for Turkey.
As we prepare to leave Europe, we have a positive message from Kazan:
Let’s see where the plays are going to next:
I bet they’re going to Asia. I like the descriptions of how one would’ve traveled back then.
“To Bagdad, did you say?”
“And Bassora, too.”
Japan seems pretty happy about its relationship with America.
It led to another John Wayne movie.
This was the result:
And we learn about Japanese dental customs.
I guess facelifts were in their infancy, so would could be the cause of the “surprised look”?
Ouch. Except this was banned in 1870.
Now it gets a case of the weirds. The next play is South America and Africa, because of course it is.
“My vanilla is bigger than your India rubber tree!”
“Yeah? I can touch the Mediterranean.”
They’re portrayed like children, similar to the US states.
“I am here by the right of colonization.” You do you, Cape Town.
Africa is so proud of its European towns. Sadly proud.
I LOVE Liberia calling the US out over slavery.
Check out that flag:
It also makes for an interesting play.
The next play is about islands and Australia. Because I’m kinda close to near-collapse, I just found the most pathetic island. Pathetic because it’s so lonely.
The last play involves commerce. It’s quite funny:
Vera Cruz and Naples, know thyselves.
And really, opium is definitely the best companion drug for ginger.
In summation, theatre would be an excellent method to teach geography – but it would need to be cleansed of this “pro colonization” mumbo jumbo. And it should mention Utah. And Idaho.
[Note: this post was about 90% done before I collapsed from exhaustion around 530 pm. I had a dream about kids from high school. Kids I didn’t even like. It was like a foretaste of Hell. I woke up around 1030 and now will post the blog. Sorry for the delay.]
Jane Andrews was born in 1833 and died in 1887, meaning this copy of the plays was published well after her death. She was the daughter of a minister and grew up in Massachsuetts. As a teenager, she taught night classes to the cotton mill workers where she lived. Her reference to these cotton towns is a bit more poignant.
She was the very first student at Antioch College when it opened, but had to withdraw due to a “spinal affliction.” She was an invalid for six years.
She opened a primary school where one of her future students was future feminist Alice Stone Blackwell. Poor health forced her to close the school after 25 years.
Her children’s books were very popular, being translated even into Japanese and Chinese. They were still used 50 years after her death.
For our other paywrights, please check here.
A sketch of her life by her sister.
A memorial sketch by someone who knew her.
Her Wikipedia page is here.
Her sister describes her school.
Join us Monday for more hot, hot monologues and next week for another dead playwright!