William Acree's scholarship and teaching explore the cultural history of Latin America since independence, concentrating on the enduring impacts of everyday experiences and the ways cultural goods and activities inflect public life, politics, and identities.
Acree’s work has engaged the cultural history of reading, delved into the extravagant, playful, and always surprising world of popular performance, studied the almost forgotten lives of Afro-Latin American writers and thinkers, and followed the emergence of modern popular culture in Latin America. His new project traces the deep history and pervasive influence of street cultures. Linking all these areas is Acree’s persistent interest in the quotidian and lasting impact of what are often ephemeral cultural activities and products.
He began developing this line of research first in Everyday Reading: Print Culture and Collective Identity in the Río de la Plata (1780-1910) (Vanderbilt University Press; Argentine edition with Prometeo Editorial), which received the Southern Cone Studies Section 2013 Humanities Book Award of the Latin American Studies Association.
More recently, this focus on everyday life took him to the circus, the world of extravagant showmen & women, and the stages of popular theater. His new book—Staging Frontiers: The Making of Modern Popular Culture in Argentina & Uruguay (University of New Mexico Press Diálogos Series)—centers on social interactions at entertainment venues, the impacts performances had beyond their places of representation, and on the Creole drama phenomenon that shaped modern popular culture in Argentina & Uruguay.
Just what was this “Creole” drama phenomenon? Beginning in the 1880s traveling performers put on short plays at circus shows (usually consisting of acrobatic tricks and music) in the countryside, small towns, and later port capitals. While drawing from previous strains of popular culture, these shows were distinct: they staged local content, where native-sons were the heroes, and the tensions between rural life and modernization played out on stage. Almost as soon as they began, these dramas became the main attraction of the circus and one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the late 1800s, resulting in the emergence of a theater-going public and a vibrant cultural marketplace.
Acree is currently following stories of street life in Latin America. Thanks to a Collaborative Research Seed Grant from the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis he has started developing the web portal Mapping Street Cultures in Modern Latin(x) America (link coming soon). From street food vendors to mass mobilizations, public spectacles to iconic figures, and from marvels of urban design to transportation systems for moving millions, in the streets you can find it all. That’s precisely what the Street Cultures project is about.
William Acree received his BA from Berry College and his PhD from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a J. William Fulbright Scholar award, a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship, and grants from the Mellon and Tinker Foundations.