Celebrating Excellence in Research and Impact Awards 2021

Professor Katharine Cockin

Professor Katharine Cockin

Winner: Research Champion in the Faculty of Humanities

Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies

Please explain your research in two sentences

My research takes an interdisciplinary approach to literature, theatre and political activism. It is informed by archival research and interests in law and literature, history and literary and cultural studies.

Why is your research important and what difference will it make?

My research has made new discoveries about early twentieth-century theatre and political activism, specifically the role of theatre and literature in the women’s suffrage movement.

I have established how exceptional individuals, such as Dr Mary Murdoch, the actor Ellen Terry and the theatre director Edith Craig, became catalysts for social change. Their achievements challenge conventional assumptions about women in the nineteenth century.

Please provide a summary of your research achievements

My ground-breaking research on the National Trust’s Ellen Terry and Edith Craig archive resulted in an online resource (describing over 20,000 documents in the archive). www.ellenterryarchive.essex.ac.uk This sparked new insights for members of the public who were searching for their family history. The AHRC Ellen Terry and Edith Craig Database was subsequently enhanced with new features as AHRC Searching For Theatrical Ancestors www.ellenterryarchive.essex.ac.uk/star It was demonstrated to the public at the BBC Who Do You Think You Are event at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham.

I am the author of the first biography of Edith Craig (1869-1947) (1998), the first study of the Pioneer Players theatre society (2001) and most recently Edith Craig and the Theatres of Art (2017). I am editor of The Collected Letters of Ellen Terry (8 vols), drawing on over 3,000 letters. I have also edited a volume of women’s suffrage drama and the writings of Gertrude Colmore (Routledge History of Feminism Series). I have organised a number of conferences over the years and edited papers in special issues of Law and Literature, Critical Survey and books: The Literary North and Ellen Terry, Spheres of Influence.

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

The huge volume of archival documents—over 20,000 items in the Ellen Terry and Edith Craig archive and over 3,000 letters of Ellen Terry—has been very challenging. It is difficult to bring new insights into view. Some lives are overlooked, persistently stereotyped or framed in a reductive way. Even with a wealth of archival research and persuasive evidence, it is not so easy for hidden lives to be simply retrieved and gain a firm foothold. By sustained effort over many years of research and by sharing some of these stories with public audiences, I have discovered that some of the complex and contradictory aspects have struck a chord. By finding new ways to tell the stories arising from research, inspired by the responses of the public, I have discovered new insights in my research. This is exemplified by the Searching for Theatrical Ancestors project which highlighted the value of theatre programmes for family history researchers.