Taught “Curating Kake Walk” course at The University of Vermont

This summer, I am co-teaching this three-credit, online course with Dr. Brian Gilley, Director of the ALANA US Ethnic Studies Program. The course is listed in continuing education and is composed of undergraduates, campus professionals, and past Kake Walk attendees. It qualifies for the College of Arts & Sciences diversity requirement.

Kake Walk, a blackface minstrel tradition at UVM, lasted until 1969. The highlight of the annual Winter Carnival, the “walk fo’ de kake” featured a synchronized dance competition between fraternity brothers in blackface and kinky wigs (and, in its earlier years, one partner dressed in drag). The choreography was always set to the tune of “Cotton Babes.” Influenced as it was by the American minstrel theatre and the cakewalk national dance craze, UVM’s Kake Walk became its own highly stylized spectacle.

This course uses primary sources and readings from archival theory, ethnic studies, and performance history to examine the identity politics of representing what is for some a hallowed tradition and others overt racism. We will explore the ways archival materials are organized, presented and used to construct cultural memory.

Students will then contribute to an online collection of digitized archival material. For their final project, groups of students will collaborate to assign subject headings to a series of items and to write series-level scope and content notes. All of the students will nominate and vote on the one image to serve as a thumbnail for this collection.

The “Kake Walk at UVM” collection will available this fall at the UVM Libraries’ Center for Digital Initiatives.

Image includes Kake Walk Programs (1958, 1963, and 1965), University Archives, Record Group 53: Fraternities and Sororities, Series: Kake Walk, University of Vermont Library

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