Carolyn Eastman is Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research examines how men and women engaged with publications, oratory, and visual imagery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how those popular media affected their perceptions of self and community as well as the larger political culture. She is the author of The Strange Genius of Mr. O: The World of the United States' First Forgotten Celebrity (2021) and the prizewinning A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution (2009). She is currently developing a new book project that examines the history of the yellow fever epidemics that ravaged New York City during the 1790s. To complete this work, she received a residential fellowship through the New-York Historical Society for the academic year 2021-2022, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Grant for the academic year 2022-2023.
Why should we care about a now-forgotten celebrity of the early 19th century? This talk examines an explosive celebrity performer who captivated audiences at a key moment in the founding era -- a man whose career featured many of the hallmarks of celebrity we recognize from later eras: glamorous friends, eccentric clothing, scandalous religious views, and even a drug habit. And yet examining his career and the Americans who loved (or hated) him reveals a vivid portrait of the United States in the midst of invention.