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Performance History and English?


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Hi folks. I am interested in studying something a little multidisciplinary for a MA/PhD. I am looking to study performance history and literature in Northern Europe/England. Ideally, I'd be able to study both the literature of the time period and also the means by which people were actually absorbing said literature - maybe a little bit like a history of entertainment.

(Trying to pick a time period - can't decide if I want really early, or all the way into Renaissance).

I personally think this kind of thing would be a really cool thesis topic and I'm trying to decide how the heck to actually get to that point.

I just graduated with an English major, creative writing concentration, and Theater and Dance minor from Colby College in Maine.

Are there programs out there remotely anything like this? I'm seeing some hits for theater history, which is sort of what I want, although it won't include anything outside the neat bubble of "theater" but almost nothing for performance history. And certainly nothing combined with a literary approach.

Anybody have any ideas for me? How should I go about researching this?


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Your topic doesn't sound so out of line with what would be accepted in English departments. You'd ideally want programs with a stronger cultural studies component, but even traditional departments are much more open to multidisciplinary approaches these days. (Cornell and UT-Austin are departments with strengths in both Renaissance drama and cultural studies.) Also consider looking at Performance Studies programs (the doctoral programs at Northwestern and Brown come to mind as places with historical/literary approaches).


Honestly, though, it sounds to me that you don't yet know what you want to study. Of course, it's good to have multiple interests, but I'd try to think more about the kinds of research questions that intrigue you most, and the scholars/theorists whose work you want to emulate. A dissertation in ANY department (even an interdisciplinary one) will need to be more focused in terms of methodology and area of interest.


Hope this helps -- good luck to you!

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Thanks for the ideas!
I think I have a strong idea of what I want to study, the only thing I'm still trying to figure out is the time period. (Which is obviously very important.) But you're right in that I'm probably not stating it very clearly. 

Here is sort of my general research question - how are illiterate people consuming literature meant for entertainment or education? And how does this method of consumption affect the themes presented in the text?
Anyway, that's sort of a rough idea. And hopefully during the masters part I can narrow this down to something more specific for an actual thesis. I just have to pick the time period now ><

Do you guys have any opinions about studying the UK vs. US? I was very interested in trying to get into Oxford or Cambridge.

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Yes, that is a lot clearer! :) In that case, I think you could probably go with either History or English, depending on how much you'll be relying on analysis of the actual literary texts themselves. The two questions you articulated sound pretty English-y to me, particularly the second one. 


The only caveat I have about UK vs US is funding. It is NOT worth taking out a significant amount of debt to acquire an MA in the Humanities. Of course, if you're independently wealthy/your parents are footing the bill, this point is moot. 


You should also consider looking at Fulbright programs in the UK. Not only will the Fulbright give you a nice little boost when applying to PhD programs, but your degree will be completely funded. 

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I think that exploring these kinds questions could be supported by the right (interdisciplinary) English program or the right Theatre/Performance Studies program -- or possibly a history program -- but of course each discipline would approach them from a slightly different angle. You should think about which approaches/methodologies you are most interested in, and what would best suit your project. If you haven't done so, maybe have a look at some work in theatre historiography and see if it grabs you (Michal Kobialka's work on medieval performance might be a good place to start... as well as looking at the U of Minnesota Theatre History program). To me, your questions seem like performance/theatre historiography questions, but maybe it's a matter of where I'm coming from. Best of luck!

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