Historical Social Research

Simon Morgan: Heroes in the Age of Celebrity: Lafayette, Kossuth, and John Bright in 19th-Century America[Abstract]

This article explores the relationship between the ‘hero’ and the celebrity culture of the 19th-century United States. Even by the 1820s, the activities of print media and entrepreneurial manufacturers meant that individuals widely recognised and worshipped as ‘heroes’ almost inevitably became part of the nascent celebrity culture of the age, while some actively courted this connection to pursue their own political or financial agendas. However, using the receptions of three foreign heroes, the Marquis de Lafayette, Lajos Kossuth, and John Bright, the article contends that we can still make valid distinctions between the two states through the analysis of cultural practice and discourse. In turn, by conceptualising ‘hero’ and ‘celebrity’ as two axes on the graph of fame, it is possible to use such analysis to assess more accurately a given individual’s public reputation.

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