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Friday, June 9 • 2:10pm - 2:30pm
Critical Theatre History Pedagogy: New Engagement with Theatre Histories in the Undergraduate Classroom

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Critical Theatre History Pedagogy: New Engagement with Theatre Histories in the Undergraduate Classroom
My project addresses a particular challenge of theatre history course within general education curricula: the need to cover a wide range of dramatic and historical content. This requirement often leaves little time in the classroom to surface meta-level discussions of the contingency of historical narratives, and by extension social injustice in historical representations. This project explores the value of digital pedagogy in criticizing the politics of knowledge in theatre history classroom. Specifically, I investigate how instructional technology can inform the design of class activities and course assignments that invite students to recognize, challenge, and rewrite theater history.

As Joe L. Kincheloe points out, one of the central dimensions of Western colonial domination is the production of “universally valid knowledge.”[1] Such claim buttresses Western-centric intellectual hierarchy while invalidating alternative ways of knowing. The content of theatre history class is often structured by Western-centric historical categories, such as “Ancient Greek,” “Renaissance,” “Enlightenment,” “Romanticism,” “Modernism,” etc. This selective principle produces what theatre scholar Steve Tillis calls a worldview of “Western parochialism.”[2] Without reflections on how this narrative of theatre history is produced, by whom and for whom, theatre history class risks reinforcing the colonial logic of universalism and perpetuating the unjust social structure and cultural relationships grounded on this logic.

My project underscores the importance of surface the epistemology practice of theatre historiography and the necessity of a critical revision of teaching methods that caution against its power structure. I approach the problem by incorporating archival research into two course assignments. Throughout the semester, students write or rewrite catalogue descriptions for five objects in digitized collections relevant to theatre history. This exercise culminates in a final project where they imagine a theatre-going experience in the past based on their archival research and interpretive observations. These assignments invite students to exercise the cognitive processes of historiography­­ as they complete tasks identical to those of historians on a smaller and selective scale.

I use digitized collection and digital publishing tools to facilitate reflective and revisionist practice around the colonial narrative of theatre history. As discussed in recent scholarship on the pedagogical value of digital archive, digitized collections assist students in processes of synthesizing information and forming interpretive points of view.[3] I use Manifold, an open-source publishing platform as the primary learning space and textual headquarters. Manifold best facilitates the critical pedagogical values of my course because the platform enables a variety of student-centered learning features, including but not limited to social annotation, multimedia resource collections, and interactive textual publications. My project enables students to maximize the effect of their archival research and public-facing academic writing through a variety of multimodal writing activities, which together scaffold students across the various modules of my project, culminating in informed and interest-driven student contributions by the end of the semester.

[1] Joe L. Kincheloe, Knowledge and Critical Pedagogy: An Introduction (Springer eBook, 2008), 5.
[2] Steve Tillis, “Theatre History’s ‘View of the World,’” TDR: The Drama Review 48 no.3 (Fall
2004): 8.
[3] Christopher Hanlon, “History on the Cheap: Using the Online Archive to Make Historicists Out of Undergrads,” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 5 no.1 (Winter 2005): 99; Joanne T. Diaz, “The Digital Archive as a Tool for Close Reading in the Undergraduate Literature Course,” Pedagogy 12 no.3 (Fall 2012): 428; Jolie A. Sheffer and Stefani D. Hunker, “Digital Curation: Pedagogy in the Archives.” Pedagogy 19 no. 1 (Winter 2019): 81.

avatar for Cen Liu

Cen Liu

PhD student, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Friday June 9, 2023 2:10pm - 2:30pm EDT
Steuben 409 (Design Center)