Modern Visuality and Nineteenth-Century Performance

Patricia Smyth's picture
Call for Papers
May 17, 2021
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Theatre & Performance History / Studies

Theatre and Visual Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century AHRC-Project

Conference at Exeter University, 31 August – 3 September 2021


The nineteenth century is associated with the transformation of traditional ways of life, rapid technological advances, radical changes to the environment, and the emergence of new conceptions of subjectivity. Theatre was central to the culture of this period, so how far did it reflect or shape the experience of modernity? The Modernist experiments of the latter part of the century used to take centre stage in discussions about modernity, but how far can the popular, commercial theatrical culture of this period be seen as the locus of an emergent modern aesthetic?


This is the third and final conference of our project investigating nineteenth-century stage spectacle, the viewing practices associated with it, and its relationship to the wider visual culture of this period. With this event, we return to one of our core concerns: to consider nineteenth-century spectacle as a new and experimental form and as both a facet and product of modernity. We welcome ideas for papers on all aspects of the visual culture of theatre, from theatrical ephemera to links with the world of ‘high’ art, to new spectacular and immersive technologies. We particularly welcome submissions that bring questions of methodology to the fore, offering new contexts through which we may understand the theatrical spectacle of this period. Possible questions/themes include, but are not limited to:


How far were increased connections between theatre and visual art in this period rooted in popular (as opposed to elite) culture?


What attitudes, prejudices, and/or desires were brought to bear in discussions of theatrical spectacle in this period?


How did the transformation of urban space and other aspects of modernity impact on theatrical spectacle and its reception?


What is the relationship of theatre and performance to immersive technologies such as the Panorama and the Diorama?


How can theories of perception and visuality enable us to rethink the nature of theatrical spectacle in this period?


Popular spectacle continues to be associated with the notion of ‘passive viewing’ and political inertia. What evidence is there for the agency of spectators in the active construction of meaning?


How did the spaces of nineteenth-century performance prime spectators for certain types of engagement?


To read the full call for papers, submit an abstract, join our mailing list, and find out more about the project, please visit our website 

Contact Info: 

Patricia Smyth

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