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DRAMA 575 A: Seminar in Theatre History

Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:30pm - 4:50pm
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Odai Johnson \ Photo by Kyler Martin
Odai Johnson

Syllabus Description:

Drama 575, Historiography - "History, Memory, Narrative, and other disorders"
SLN 12731, T/Th, 2:30-4:50

Odai Johnson, odai@uw.edu


"In the cellars of the Vatican, as narrow and winding as catacombs, there is a strange enormous graveyard.  It is of parts of ancient statues, thrown on the ground in a rough classification, feet in one heap, then knees, then whole legs, and so on.  There is something particularly poignant about the fingers and elbows.  There are also parts of dogs and wild boars, and once the head of a Parthenon horse was found there." - Eleanor Clark, Roman Journal

            The past, it seems, is always awaiting ordering:  sorting, assembling, telling, re-assembling, and re-telling.   In the case of the ancient statues, the Vatican's criteria was anatomical: "feet in one heap, then knees."  With only fragments to go on, one choice ay be as informed or arbitrary as another, and often is.  The ancient statues might just as well have been ordered, say, by sculptor, or century, or subject.  Or the pieces might be left utterly unordered in some monstrously dismembered, post-modern montage of feet, spears, and hydras.  As it is, the elbows of Roman statuary co-exist with Renaissance re-makes, sharing only a common form, staring profuse and ambidextrously across the centuries.
            The historian’s compulsion to order, to assemble and narrativize the past, and the problems arising of orders are the subject of this doctoral seminar.    Using a field of study (each historian their own) we examine the problems of evidence, of narrative, of the genres and voicings of making history.  The end goal is to develop a tool kit of historiographical styles, genres, approaches, available to the student, and suited to the field of study at hand.   

            The course is divided into three large problems, problems of the archive (what gets preserved), problems with narrativity (how the story is told), and problems with engagement with that story.  I have broken them out in the following manner:

Section 1)   Recovering the Past

              The nature of evidence and the hegemony of preservation.


Section 2)   Ordering the Past

              Narrativity and emplottment ; ideology, inclusion / exclusion of evidence in narrative / genres of history


Section 3)  Engaging the Past

              Problems with authority and engaging prior narratives.

A Field:  To work with these problems, you will need a field of study, a concentrated area of research within which you are familiar enough to work comfortable, and one large enough to host the issues associated with a historicized period / subject.   


Apart from your participation in the seminar with weekly readings and themed conversations, each student is expected to host the seminar for one major article / work.  This is a hosted discussion designed around the central concepts of a major writer (Geertz, White, Greenblatt, Collingwood, Darnton) and to share one article, of choice, in the Davis and Marx collection.

Additionally:  each section will have a host of issues associated with the field.   Summarizing, confronting, and strategizing around these problems will form the content of two brief papers, the first a brief summary of the evidence of your field; the second speculates on how to recover missing or contested evidence.

The papers:   

              For Section One:  problems of evidence.   Summarize the evidence in your field.   What is your taxonomy?   How would you order or prioritize the evidence?   Can you discern a hegemony at work within the field of preservation?   How does that hegemony control and shape the narrative that has survived?  What would a new narrative include?

              For Section Three:  the problem of authority.  Find a contested piece of performance evidence within your field and speculate on ways to restore or validate its authority.

              For Section Two:   Choose an event within your field; relate this event in three separate, distinct narratives.    With each narrative be fair and frank with the evidence, but explore how various approaches produce multiple narratives and embrace each authentically.  This exercise in multiple voicings constitutes the final paper.


Texts:    The texts are available in three separate platforms.   The first is The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance Historiography, Tracy Davis and Peter Marx, eds.  2020 (available either hardcover, or as an ebook).

Readings:           Packet available at (formerly) Ave Copy, now Professional Copy & Print (4200 University Way NE) (206.634.2689)

Canvas files.     




Readings (in packet and canvas)

Brian Morton                   “Roderigue Hortalez” to the Secret Committee (canvas)

Richard Darnton             ‘The Great Cat Massacre,’ from The Great Cat Massacre  (packet)

Clifford Geertz                 ‘Thick Description’ and ‘Notes on a Balinese Cockfight,’ (canvas file) from The Interpretation of Cultures 

Hayden White                  ‘The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,’ and ‘The Politics of Historical Interpretation’ in The Content and the Form:  Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation  (both as canvas files).

  1. M. F. Tilyard ‘Order’ from The Elizabethan World Picture, (packet)

Jesse Lemisch                  ‘Listening to the Inarticulate:  William Widger’s Dream’ (canvas)

Stephen Greenblatt        ‘Murdering Peasants’(canvas) and ‘Resonance and Wonder,’ (canvas) in Learning to Curse

  1. G. Collingwood ‘The Historical Imagination,’ from The Idea of History (packet)

Tom Postlewait               ‘The Theatrical Event and its conditions:  a primer with Twelve Cruxes’ from The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Historiography (packet).

Odai Johnson                   ‘The Burning of the Lena Edwin,’ and ‘Spoiling Nice Stories’ from Absence and Memory (packet)

Terence Hawks                ‘Swisser Swatter:  the making of an English Man of Letters’  from That Shakespeherian Rag (packet)

Edmund Jacobitti            ‘The Role of the Past in Contemporary Political Life,’ from Composing Useful Pasts (packet)

Dorothy Warren, ed..     The Letters of Ruth Draper (packet)

Stephen Brown,               ‘Painting out the Past,’ in Composing Useful Pasts, Edmund Jocobitti, ed. (packet)

Joan Littlewood,              The Autobiography of Joan Littlewood. (packet)


Tracy Davis, Peter Marx, eds.   The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance Historiography. 



Schedule   (like history, subject to revision)

Thursday, Oct 1:   Introductions and fields of play.  First case study:  Aphra Behn.

Tuesday, Oct 6:    Part One:   The Problem of Performance Evidence

              Read:   ‘Roderique Hortalez’ to the Secret Committee, (canvas)

Discuss taxonomies of evidence.   Material, immaterial, direct, indirect, etc.

Thursday, Oct 8:   Practicum:   ‘Twelve Cruxes’ from Postlewait’s Cambridge Guide to Theatre Historiography (packet);  Crux 13:  Read from Davis and Marx, Johnson, The size of all that’s missing. 

Tuesday, Oct 13:  archives and discoveries:  from Davis and Marx, read Erith Jaffe-Berg, Leo Caranes-Grant   

Thursday, Oct 15:    The Hegemony of Preservation;

 Noemie Ndiaye, Off the Record;  and Bishnupriya Dutt, Re-thinking Categories of Theatre and Performance, in Davis and Marx, eds. 

 Summarize and present the nature of the evidence in your own field.  (1st paper).


 Part Two:  Narrativity, and the Ordering the Past; 

Tuesday Oct 20:   Read:   Hayden White, ‘The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Historical Interpretation;’ and ‘The Politics of Historical Interpretation,’ both from The Content and the Form (canvas).  And, Johnson, ‘Spoiling nice stories,’ from Absence and Memory (packet).

Thurs. Oct 22: Genres of Inclusions /Exclusions and metanarratives.  Read, ‘The Role of the Past in contemporary Political  Life,’ Edmund Jacobittti, and ‘Painting out the Past,’ Stephen Brown, both from Composing Useful Pasts (packet).   Discuss metanarratives in contemporary scholarship.

Tues. Oct 27:   Read, Lemisch ‘Listening to the inarticulate’ (canvas), and discuss the uses of prosopography.   

Thurs. Oct. 29:   Macro-History.   Readings:  from Tillyard, The Elizabethan World View (packet), and the applications and limitations of ‘Great Man History.’   Read, Christopher Balme, ‘Theatre Historiographical Patterns in the Global South,’ in Davis and Marx.

Tues. Nov. 3:    Micro-history.  Readings: Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre (packet); and from The Letters of Ruth Draper (packet).

Thurs. Nov. 5:    New Historicism.  Readings:   Greenblatt, ‘Resonance and Wonder,’ and ‘ Murdering Peasants,’ from Learning to Curse (canvas).  

 Tues. Nov. 10:  Cultural History.  Readings:   Geertz, ‘Thick Description’ (canvas), and ‘Deep Play, Notes on a Balinese Cock-fight’ (canvas).  Re-read Artaud’s On the Balinese Theater.

Thurs. Nov. 12:     Marxist History.  Readings:   McConachie, ‘Using the Concept of Cultural hegemony to write theatre history’ (packet), and Terence Hawks, ‘Swisser Swatter:  the making of an English Man of letters.’  

Tues. Nov. 17:   Feminist History.  Read Tracy Davis, ‘Questions for a Feminist Methodology in Theatre History’ (packet).

Thurs. Nov 19:   Second case study:   Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Union.   Read from The autobiography of Joan Littlewood, in packet. 

Part Three:  Authority and Engagement

Tues. Nov. 24:  Mirabilia, Strange Beasts, travel tales, and other improbable truths:  read from The awful disclosures of Maria Monk,  (packet).

Thurs. Nov 26:   Thanksgiving Holiday

Tues.   Dec. 1:   Readings;   Johnson, ‘The Burning of the Leana Edwin’ (packet); and Stephen Greenblatt, ‘Primal Scenes,’ from Will in the World (packet).

Reading:   The Historical Imagination,’ from R. G. Collinwood, The Idea of History (packet)

Thur. Dec. 3:   Secret histories, discredited journalists, white-liar biographies, and other historical undoings;  Readings:   Procopius, Secret History.  

Tues. Dec. 8:   Sharing essays -  

Thurs. Dec. 10:  Sharing essays –

Monday (?) Dec (?):   Final paper due

Catalog Description: 
Specific topics in theatre history, examining the drama of various national, linguistic, and/or religious culture in detail.
Last updated: 
July 7, 2020 - 9:12pm