Staging History

The Staging History project began in 2013 with the award of an Oxford-Princeton Collaborative Partnership to Michael Burden (Oxford) and Wendy Heller (Princeton). The initial aim of the project was twofold: firstly, to explore the influence of historical events on the writing and staging of drama – musical drama in particular – in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; secondly, to investigate the interaction (or lack thereof) between the stages of London and New York, investigating the transfer of dramas, themes, and casts across the Atlantic.

Michael Burden has acted as the Principal Investigator throughout, with Jonathan Hicks as co-investigator. The various groupings, partnerships, and participants are listed below.

Event 1 – Performing the past in the theaters of London and New York

Event 2 – Conference: “The London Stage in the 19th-century World”

Event 3 – Staging History 1780-1840: a volume of essays exploring the themes of ‘Performing the Past’

Event 4 – Staging History 1780-1840: an exhibition at the Bodleian Library

Event 1

Staging History

Performing the past in the theaters of London and New York, 1770-1870

Oxford-Princeton Collaborative Partnership 2013-2014

Directed by Michael Burden (New College, Oxford) and Wendy Heller (Princeton University), with Jonathan Hicks and Ellen Lockhart

Participants: Victoria Aschheim, Micaela Baranello, Michael Burden, Wendy Heller, Jonathan Hicks, David Kennerley, Ellen Lockhart, James Steichen, David Stuart

The collaborative partnership, supported by the John Fell Fund, was a crucial step at the opening stages of the project. It allowed us to hold a series of four meetings – two in Oxford, two in Princeton – where we discussed the central themes of dramatic historicism and transatlantic theatrical practice. All participants exchanged ideas about key readings in the fields of musicology, theatre history, and performance studies. Building on this existing scholarship, we developed a particular focus on the form and content of early melodrama, which was hugely popular on Anglophone stages during the period of our study. During one meeting we workshopped the interaction of music and text (and, to a lesser extent, gesture) in The Miller and His Men, an 1813 melodrama by Isaac Pocock with a surviving piano score by Henry Bishop (later the Heather Professor of Music at Oxford). Individual participants also presented their own work-in-progress on the social and political contexts of other melodramas, operas, and equestrian spectacles.

Event 2

“The London Stage in the 19th-century World”

An interdisciplinary conference

 Organised by Michael Burden and Jonathan Hicks. The programme committee consisted of Michael Burden, Jim Davis, Jonathan Hicks, David Taylor, and Susan Valladares

If the Oxford-Princeton exchange was necessarily a small affair, with the same group of people engaged in ongoing discussions about a relatively narrow topic, this conference, supported by Eugene Ludwig through the Ludwig Family Charitable Trust, was deliberately much broader and welcomed scholars from a range of disciplines (principally Musicology, Theatre History, English, Art History, and History).

Event 3

Staging History 1780-1840

A volume of essays to accompany the exhibition in Event 4

Edited by Michael Burden, Wendy Heller, Jonathan Hicks, and Ellen Lockhart

Contributors: Victoria Aschheim, Michael Burden, Wendy Heller, Jonathan Hicks, David Kennerley, Ellen Lockhart, James Steichen, David Stuart, Susan Valladares

This collection of essays – intended to accompany the exhibition in Phase 4 – examines a number of extraordinary theatrical works in order to cast light on their role in shaping a popular interpretation of historical events. Like the conference mentioned above, the publication of these essays was supported by Eugene Ludwig through the Ludwig Family Charitable Trust. Much of the research contained here began with the Oxford-Princeton exchange, though the material and themes discussed developed over time.

Event 4

Staging History 1780-1840

An exhibition at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Curated by Michael Burden, Jonathan Hicks, and Susan Valladares

The culmination of the project is a a major exhibition at the new Weston Library exhibition space in Oxford. The exhibition is supported by the Bodleian Library, with loans from other institutions, and brings the topic to life via striking images and engaging interpretive text. Here, visitors are drawn into the immersive worlds of Georgian theatre where historical figures and events were among the most fashionable and controversial subjects of the day.