Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations

Living History as Peformance: An Analysis of the Manner in which Historical Narrative is Developed through Performance

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

James Forse


Throughout the twentieth century, historians have sought a variety of new ways to engage history, many through the use of performance techniques. New methodologies aided by technology have allowed historians to gain new insights into the past and share those insights with the public. In this study I examine how four methodologies have influenced each other in attempt to achieve this goal: two living history museums: Colonial Williamsburg and Plimoth Plantation; one outdoor historical drama, Trumpet in the Land; three examples of experimental archaeology: the Pamunkey Project, Buckskinners, and the Washburn-Norlands Center; and two PBS productions about living in the past: Frontier House and Colonial House. These categories have two things in common. First they are all attempting to examine some aspect or event from the past, second they all use performance techniques to do this. My argument for this study lies in a two-fold examination. First, in discussing the constructs of each of these methodologies, I argue that it is apparent that the first three categories have been highly influential in the development of the fourth. Second, the misuse of performance techniques has proven ultimately problematic for the PBS productions in their declared efforts to take a step back in time. With the exception of the outdoor historical dramas, which I use as an obvious example of performance and history coming together, those involved with the other categories tend to distance themselves from being associated with other theatrical endeavors believing that such an association diminishes their efforts. These attitudes tend to be based in antitheatrical sentiments which prove to be counter productive to their goals of better engaging past.