Dr Marybeth Hamilton

  • History of popular culture
  • History of sexuality
  • American literary history

My research focuses on sexual and cultural politics in the nineteenth and twentieth century United States, dynamics that I explored in two books, In Search of the Blues (2006) and When I’m Bad, I’m Better: Mae West, Sex, and American Entertainment (1996). My current project revisits the history of the American literary and artistic canon through the lens of intimate, often rivalrous male/female friendships, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller to Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith.


Featured Publication

In Search of the Blues (2009)

In Search of the Blues

In this extraordinary reconstruction of the origins of the blues, historian Marybeth Hamilton demonstrates that the story as we know it is largely a myth. Following the trail of characters like Howard Odum, who combed Mississippi's back roads with a cylinder phonograph to record vagrants, John and Alan Lomax, who prowled Southern penitentiaries and unearthed the rough, melancholy vocals of Leadbelly, and James McKune, a recluse whose record collection came to define the primal sounds of the Delta blues, Hamilton reveals this musical form to be the culmination of a longstanding white fascination with the exotic mysteries of black music. By excavating the history of the Delta blues, Hamilton reveals the extent to which American culture has been shaped by white fantasies of racial difference.




John Jeremiah Sullivan, “Unknown Bards”, Harpers (November 2008) – accessible at https://ourblues.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/unknown_bards.pdf

In the Media

Artists Gotta Eat, BBC Radio 4, 25 January 2018, accessible at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09dx8pd