The Last Word
By Ken Butler

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Assistant Professor James Peck, who is beginning his sixth year at the College, conducts research in restoration and 18th-century British theatre. His focus comes from a cultural studies perspective: he is interested in understanding more deeply how the theatre, at a particular time and place, influenced social relations and put forward models of identity and community that had a profound impact on how people lived their lives and related to one another. His current project is looking at early 18th-century British theatre in the context of the history of capitalism and, in particular, financial and economic relations. Peck notes that there has been a great deal of study, mostly in English and history departments, that identifies the early part of the 18th century as a crucial shift change in the history of capitalism and in the way that governments and businesses organized themselves. Peck looks at the cultural productions of the day – novels, newspapers, plays and performances (dance, mime, etc.) – to see how these productions trained people in the modes of thinking and feeling that are necessary to live in a capitalistic society. He plans to produce an article on the subject.


front row: Karen Dearborn, Francine Roussel
back row: Beth Schachter, James Peck, Charles O. Anderson

One might think that Peck’s research couldn’t be further removed from Anderson’s and Roussel’s work but, according to Peck, in some very important ways, scholarship is no different than directing a play or creating new artwork. “Any process of understanding involves both analysis – that is, paying close attention to detail and discerning within that detail broader patterns and meanings – and creative thinking. After all, data is just data until someone does something with it! That identification of patterns is, itself, a creative act.” Directing a play is a similar process: the playwright has given the director a text full of ideas and actions, but research must be performed within the text – and often far beyond it – to discover themes and patterns, which the director then attempts to communicate with the audience in a coherent and informative way. Those elements vital to the success of any theatrical production – dramatic build, a sense of discovery, forward movement, revelation – are also essential elements of a well-written scholarly paper.

One line of Associate Professor Karen Dearborn’s study in dance performance reinforces Peck’s and Anderson’s form of cultural research. She looks at how classical and social dancing both represent and reflect the peoples and cultures of a specific time. Much of this research has come directly out of teaching her classes in dance history, and that research then feeds directly back into her class lectures. But another line of Dearborn’s research is, at the moment, rare in the field. She is studying the impact of the mirror on dancers: how students retain dance sequences learned in front of a mirror versus sequences learned without the mirror and, perhaps more importantly, the psychology of the mirror as it pertains to students’ self-awareness. This line of research was actually prompted by a student who questioned the value of mirrors as a teaching tool. Together Dearborn and the student began a series of experiments to make a scientific case for something Dearborn instinctively knew had some pedagogic effectiveness. From this research began a second line of experiments done with Psychology Professor Kathy Haring and double majors in dance and psychology. Dearborn laughingly said that she now knows why others are not doing this sort of research: the work is so complex and multi-layered – there are so many things going on simultaneously in a classroom experience – that experiments are exceedingly difficult to design. She hopes to publish soon and then watch other researchers begin to build upon her work.

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