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More in this section Theatre History

Theatre History

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. Other focuses include the stories told, the ways of telling and how such story-telling influences 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, 18th, 19th and 20th 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’re 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. This 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’re 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 up on an understanding of what has gone before.

Our research brings together local, national and international perspectives, and is interdisciplinary 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 studies at doctoral level. Current PhD research in theatre history includes:

  • acting styles in Restoration theatre
  • the work of playwright ‘Clemence Dane’
  • transatlantic performance in the 19th century
  • Henry Irving – the accidental modernist
  • 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 the Theatre and Performance Research Association’s (TaPRA) History and Historiography working group. She has recently been appointed as Honorary Research Associate to the Drama and Theatre Department at Royal Holloway.

We also work 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. In 2010, Royal Holloway acquired the Roy Waters Theatre Collection, which has been catalogued and is now searchable online. The Collection contains materials that reach back to the 18th century and include many gems from theatrical history.

Professor Elizabeth Schafer is editor of the interdisciplinary journal Australian Studies, hosted by the National Library of Australia, while other group members sit on the editorial boards of several journals. These include 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 the International Federation of Theatre Research with Professor David Wiles as convenor of the Historiography working group Psi.

We've received funding for our research in practice-based approaches to theatre history including the projects - the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays (in collaboration with the British Library) and Richard Brome online.

Key researchers in this group are: Professor Jacky Bratton; Professor Chris DymkowskiDr Elaine McGirrProfessor Katie NormingtonProfessor Elizabeth SchaferProfessor David Wiles.


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