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University of Oxford Faculty of English

Shepherd-Barr, Kirsten E

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Position: Professor of English and Theatre Studies; Tutorial Fellow, St Catherine's College
College: St Catherine's
Period/Subject: 19th/20th/21st Century

Email address:

Research Interests:

My research encompasses two main areas of interest:  the interaction between theatre and science and the relationship between modernism and theatrical performance. I published Modern Drama: A Very Short Introduction (OUP) early in 2016. 

My book Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (Columbia University Press, 2015), which was supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2011-12, traces how the central ideas of evolutionary theory have made their way onto the stage, either directly or indirectly, since the 1820s. This work stems from my second book, Science on stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen (Princeton University Press, 2006), and from the session I organized and chaired on Darwin and the Theatre for the international Darwin Festival in Cambridge (2009).   I have also published articles on theatre and science in Women:  A Cultural ReviewAmerican Scientist, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Physics World, Nature, and Gramma, and together with Carina Bartleet I have co-edited two special issues of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (December 2013 and September 2014) on “New Directions in Theatre and Science.” 

My work on theatrical modernism began with my first book, Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900 (Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1997), a comparison of the first British and French productions of Ibsen’s plays and the critical responses to them in relation to modernism and the avant-garde theatre.  Since then I have continued to explore the role of theatrical performance within the modernist movement, for example looking at the use of scent in the Théâtre d’Art’s synaesthetic production of Song of Songs in 1891 (Theatre Research International), analyzing Edvard Munch’s set designs for Ibsen plays produced by Max Reinhardt (Nordic Theatre Studies), rethinking Ibsen’s “globalism” (Ibsen Studies), and reconsidering Joyce’s play Exiles within its theatrical context (Theatre Research International).  Alongside these very focused studies I have also published pieces that look more broadly the field and some of its methodological challenges, for instance discussing the historiography of modernism with regard to theatrical performance (in Modernist Cultures) and analyzing the emergence of the “new drama” of modernism (in The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms).  I am currently co-editing a book entiitled 21st-Century Approaches to Literature: Late Victorian into Modern (OUP, 2016) with Laura Marcus and Michele Mendelssohn. 

Listen here to my conversation with David Hare about the process of adaption, focusing on his version of Ibsen's The Master Builder with Ralph Fiennes, directed by Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic in 2016. You can watch a clip of Ralph Fiennes and me talking about the play here.

I founded and co-convene the Nordic Network at TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities), which grew out of the Ibsen Phenomenon Network, offering a space for discussion of Scandinavian research interests here at Oxford.  See the TORCH website for details.  

I am currently serving as Knowledge Exchange Champion for the Humanities at Oxford.  


Teaching Areas:

Victorian and Modern literature; Drama 1830-present; science and theatre.




Modern Drama:  A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (Columbia University Press, 2015)

Science on stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen (Princeton University Press, 2006)

Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900 ( Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1997)


Selected Articles

'"It Was Ugly": Maternal Instinct on Stage at the Fin de Siècle', Women: a cultural review 23.2 (2012) doi: 10.1080/09574042.2012.677251

Chapter on theatre in Evolution and Victorian Culture, ed. B. Lightman and B. Zon (Cambridge University Press, 2014; in press).

“Faustus and the Modern Scientist on Stage,” Around the Globe, commissioned article for membership magazine of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London (Summer 2011)

 “Staging Modernism,” chapter 7 in The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, ed. Peter Brooker, Andrzej Gasiorek, Deborah Longworth, and Andrew Thacker (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 122-38.

 “Des ‘Liens significatifs’:  Luca Ronconi et les scientifiques” [“ ‘Meaningful Joinings’:  Luca Ronconi and the Scientists”], Alternatives théâtrales 102-103 (November 2009), pp. 28-33.

 “Darwin on Stage:  Evolutionary Theory in the Theatre,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (2008), vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 107-15.

 “Wilde about Ibsen:  The Fusion of Dramatic Modes in A Woman of No Importance,” a chapter in Approaches to Teaching the Works of Oscar Wilde, ed. Philip E. Smith (MLA, 2008), pp. 126-34.

 “The Development of Norway’s National Theatres,” a chapter in National Theatres in a Changing Europe, ed. Steve Wilmer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 85-98.

“Ibsen's Globalism,” Ibsen Studies 6: 2 (2006), pp. 188-98

“Science and Theatre in Open Dialogue: Biblioetica, Le Cas de Sophie K., and the Postdramatic Science Play”, co-author Liliane Campos, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 31: 3 (September 2006), pp. 245-53

“From Copenhagen to Infinity and Beyond: Science Meets Literature on Stage,” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 28.3 (September 2003)

“Copenhagen and Beyond: The ‘Rich and Mentally Nourishing' Interplay of Science and Theatre,” Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism 10 (2002)

“Science as Theater,” co-written with Harry Lustig, Amercian Scientist 90 (November-December 2002)

“Acting Out the Search for Infinity,” Physics World 16.7 (July 2003)

“Hilbert's Hotel, Other Paradoxes, Come to Life in New ‘Math Play,'” SIAM News [Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics] 36.7 (September 2003)

“Reconsidering Joyce's Exiles in its Theatrical Context,” Theatre Research International 28.2 (2003)

“Ibsen, Munch, and the Relationship between Modernist Theatre and Art,” Nordic Theatre Studies special issue on Historiography (2000), vol. 12, pp. 43-53.

“Mise-en-Scent:  The Théâtre d’Art’s Song of Songs and the Use of Smell as a Theatrical Device,” Theatre Research International (Summer 1999), vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 152-9.

“Madeleines and Neuromodernism:  Reassessing Mechanisms of Autobiographical Memory in Proust,” co-authored with Gordon Shepherd, A/B:  Autobiography Studies, special issue on Autobiography and Neuroscience (Spring 1998), vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 39-60.


Other Information:

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr joined the English Faculty in 2007 from the University of Birmingham Department of Drama and Theatre Arts.  Before that she was an Associate Professor of English at North Carolina State University.  She received her B.A. in English from Yale University in 1988 and her D.Phil. from Oxford in 1995. She studied Nordic Literature and Languages at the University of Oslo (achieving grunnfag) on a Fulbright Grant in 1990-91.  

Professor Shepherd-Barr's undergraduate teaching encompasses the Prelims Victorian and Modern papers, various Paper 6 courses (Modern Drama, the Fin de Siecle, and Literature and Science), and lectures on a wide range of subjects including Modern American Drama, Science on Stage, Modern Drama, Ten Plays that Shook the World, and Victorian Drama.

For the M.St her teaching includes courses on Post-1945 Drama, Drama 1850-1900, and Women and Theatre.  She is also a co-convenor of the Drama and Performance seminar series and the Science and Literature seminar series (with Dr Michael Whitworth), and is a member of the OUDS board.

Professor Shepherd-Barr welcomes informal inquiries from potential doctoral students with research interests in areas that include modern drama, theatre and science, performance studies and Modernism. 

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