White performers in blackface make-up were performing in supposed imitation of American slave culture long before 1842. But in that year these entertainers began appearing together as groups in stand-alone entertainments, minstrel shows. Originating in the north-eastern United States, they almost immediately traveled to Britain, where they were particularly popular.
The Juba Project, named after early minstrelsy's most famous and most unusual early practitioner, explores this phenomenon both from a historical and a dramaturgical perspective. Links on this page will take you to the different parts of the project, including a database that will allow you to trace the movements of performers around Britain from 1842-1852 (Search the Database), a closer examination of some of the documents and one group of performers (Featured Performers & Documents -- a good place to start), a performance-practice site that will explore the responses of contemporary artists to the documents and traditions of minstrelsy (Artists Respond), and information about a book of original essays on minstrelsy's traditions and legacy, edited by Juba Project Director Stephen Johnson (Burnt Cork).