Former organisational unit. 10/05/16.

Theatre history begins when last night’s performance ends. Research in theatre history and historiography is interested in the way we think and have thought about theatre and performance, the stories told, the ways of telling and how such story-tellings influence our thinking and choices in contemporary culture. Research in this field engages with a wide range of theoretically informed approaches to historiography, opening up and interrogating theatre and performance across wide historical timeframes and differing cultural contexts. We have research and publications in recognised time periods such as Greek theatre, Renaissance, Restoration, eighteenth-,  nineteenth- and twentieth-century theatre in which theoretical and conceptual issues around time and space, rhetoric, and notions of the popular are related to period time- frames. We are interested in the big pictures that have defined the grand narratives and in the discrete moments that have been obscured or ignored by histories in the past.  Central to our research and teaching in the field is our interest in generating discussions about how we think historically.  Thinking historically means several things:

  1. The past is another country and they do things differently there, so our present way of doing things is not the only way.
  2. When we think we are being original, the chances are that others have been there before us, and our actions are shaped by received assumptions and blind habits.
  3. History defines collective identities, and if we want to create new futures, we have to create new pasts.
  4. Innovation in creative practice necessarily rests upon an understanding of what has gone before.

Our research brings together local, national and international perspectives, and is inter-disciplinary in focus, drawing in the scholarship of cultural geographers, music and English research specialists, classicists and political theorists.

The Theatre History and Historiography research group brings together established scholars in the field and postgraduate students. Postgraduate students on the MA in Research often continue their research at doctoral level, and current PhD research in theatre history includes research topics such as acting styles in Restoration theatre; the work of playwright ‘Clemence Dane’; transatlantic performance in the nineteenth century; Henry Irving – the accidental modernist; and shifting race and gender dynamics in British productions of Shakespeare that have been non-traditionally cast.

We have strong collaborative relationships with the V&A Theatre Collection. Dr Kate Dorney (V&A curator of contemporary theatre) is co-chair of TaPRA’s History and Historiography working group and has recently been appointed as Honorary Research Associate to the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway. The research group works closely with our own Royal Holloway Archives, which includes a significant theatre collection of materials belonging to companies such as Gay Sweatshop and Half Moon. The latest acquisition, The Roy Waters Theatre Collection, is currently being catalogued by collections archivist Adele Allen, following Roy Waters’s generous bequest of funding to catalogue materials that reach back to the eighteenth century and include many gems from theatrical history.  

We have network connections with a range of cultural organisations across London and beyond, including Theatre Royal Haymarket; Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds; Lyric Theatre Hammersmith.

Journals: Elizabeth Schafer is editor of the interdisciplinary journal Australian Studies hosted by the National Library of Australia.

Group members are on the editorial boards of several journals, including Nineteenth-Century Contexts and Shakespeare in South Africa. We regularly contribute special editions and articles in the field to Nineteenth-century Theatre & Film; Theatre Notebook.

We have a strong presence at IFTR, with Professor David Wiles as convener of the Historiography working group; Psi.

We have received funding for our research in practice-based approaches to theatre history; the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays (in collaboration with British Library); Richard Brome online resource.

Researchers working in this field are currently contributing to the department’s research conversations in West End and Commercial Theatre; Private Theatricals;

Key researchers in this group are: Professor Jacky BrattonDr Gilli Bush-BaileyProfessor Chris DymkowskiDr Elaine McGirrProfessor Katie NormingtonProfessor Elizabeth Schafer;Professor David Wiles.




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