Professor Kirsten E Shepherd-Barr

My main research interests lie within drama and theatre studies:  the interaction between theatre and science; the writings of Henrik Ibsen; and the relationship between modernism and theatrical performance.  Amongst my recent publications are The Cambridge Companion to Theatre and Science (2020), Modern Drama: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2016), Twentieth-Century Approaches to Literature:  Late Victorian into Modern (OUP, 2016, co-edited with Laura Marcus and Michele Mendelssohn), and several book chapters and articles in all three of these research fields.

With regard to theatre and science, 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.  You can read Dan Rebellato's review of the book in Contemporary Theatre Review here.  This work on theatrical engagements with evolutionary ideas stems from my second book, Science on Stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen (Princeton University Press, 2006; paperback 2012), and from the session I organized and chaired on Darwin and the Stage for the international Darwin Festival in Cambridge (2009). I have also published articles on theatre and science in Women:  A Cultural Review, American Scientist, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Physics World, Nature, and Gramma, and together with Dr Carina Bartleet I co-edited two special issues of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (December 2013 and September 2014) on “New Directions in Theatre and Science.”  My chapter on nineteenth-century theatre's engagements with mechanisms of transmission appears in Theatres of Contagion, ed. Fintan Walsh (2019).  I am also developing a research interest in theatre, technology, and backstage labor, and gave a keynote address on this topic at the 2018 conference of the British Society for Literature and Science.  A chapter based on this material appears in my Cambridge Companion to Theatre and Science.  Also within the realm of theatre and science, I am developing research on theatre and climate change, resulting in two publications co-authored with Dr Hannah Simpson (2022 and 2023).

My work on Ibsen and 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).  To hear me discussing Ibsen on Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time" in May 2018, listen here:  My chapter on gender and theatricality in Hedda Gabler appears in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler:  Philosophical Perspectives, ed. Kristin Gjesdal (OUP, 2017).  It looks closely at Elizabeth Robins, actress, novelist, playwrights, feminist writer and activist, who played the first Hedda in London and was one of the key figures in Ibsen's reception in Britain.  Together with Dr Alexandra Paddock I wrote the 'Elizabeth Robins' entry for Oxford Bibliographies On-Line for Oxford University Press (2018) which places Robins more prominently within nineteenth-century studies.  

Alongside these very focused studies, I have also published pieces that look more broadly at the field of theatre studies and some of its methodological challenges, for instance discussing the historiography of modernism with regard to theatrical performance (in Modernist Cultures launch issue, 2005) and analyzing the emergence of the “new drama” of modernism (in The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms and in a chapter co-authored with Sos Eltis, "What Was the New Drama?" in Late Victorian into Modern).  

My longstanding interest in recovering 'lost' or neglected women writers has also led me to develop 'Pulling Up Stakes:  Women and Work on the Canadian Frontier,' a life-writing project on my great-grandmother Fanny Shepherd, which you can read about here.  My collaborator on the project is Dr Lauren Cullen and it is supported by the Faculty of English.  

Along similar lines, I am collaborating with Breach Theatre to develop a new play based on the life of Laura Kieler, a writer who was the (unwitting) model for Nora Helmer in Ibsen's A Doll's House.  The project is supported by a Knowledge Exchange Fellowship (2022-23), and was initially funded by the TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund (2022).  You can find out more about our collaboration, entitled 'My Name is Laura Kieler,' here

My work with theatres as a consultant on productions and on outreach includes the National Theatre, the Old Vic, Theatre at Chipping Norton, Pegasus Theatre Oxford, the Oxford Playhouse, and Theatre for a New Audience, New York.  Listen here to my conversation with Sir David Hare about the process of adaptation, focusing on his version of Ibsen's The Master Builder with Ralph Fiennes, directed by Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic in 2016. A clip of Ralph Fiennes and me talking about the play can be found here.  Working with Professor Sally Shuttleworth and Theatre Chipping Norton I co-created The Contagion Cabaret which you can watch here.

I have co-founded and co-convened several TORCH research networks since 2013:  the Nordic Network and the Ibsen Phenomenon Network, both offering a space for discussion of Scandinavian research interests here at Oxford, and two theatre-focused networks (Theatre and Performance and Reimagining Performance).  See the TORCH website for details of these networks:

I am also involved in entrepreneurship and innovation.  In 2018, I founded LitHits, a digital reading venture that helps people engage with literature in innovative ways. We publish a free weekly newsletter that you can sign up for here.  LitHits has been supported by the University Challenge Seed Fund, the Van Houten Fund, and the BEP fund, and now the Strategic Innovation Fund of the university under our project title 'Revolutionising Reading'.  LitHits received a 'Highly Commended' award in the 'Inspiring Leadership' category of the Vice-Chancellor's Innovation Awards 2020.  Based on this work, I have served as a Humanities Innovation Champion for the university and am keen to connect with others within the innovation ecosystem.

In addition to subscribing to the LitHits newsletter, you can also browse the Ten Minute Book Club, which came directly out of LitHits and is led by Dr Alexandra Paddock, who is also the Project Manager for 'Revolutionising Reading.'

I served as Knowledge Exchange Champion for the Humanities at Oxford (2015-18):  From 2016-17 I led an AHRC-funded Cultural Engagement project called "Connecting Oxfordshire Theatres with Research" that sought to bring the region's dynamic theatre and performance scene into closer contact with the university's research in mutually beneficial ways.  You can read more about this project here:

Theatre studies; Victorian and Modern literature; Drama 1830-present; modern American drama; science and theatre; literature and science; life-writing; digital reading and literary engagement innovation.

Kirsten E Shepherd-Barr joined the English Faculty in 2007 from the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. 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 and Contemporary Drama, the Fin de Siecle, Literature and Science, and Modern American Drama), and faculty lectures on a wide range of topics within theatre studies, modern drama, and literature and science from the nineteenth century to the present.

For the M.St. her teaching includes courses on Post-1945 Drama, Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Theatre, Drama 1850-1900, and Women and Theatre.  She has also co-convened the Drama and Performance seminar series and the Science and Literature seminar series (with Prof Michael Whitworth), and is Senior Member of OUTTS (formerly known as TAFF), Oxford's technical theatre student society.

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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