19th Century Theater Research

This guide is designed for undergraduates and beginning graduate students undertaking research in American and British theatre history of the 19th century. For more information in this subject area be sure to visit the Humanities and Social Sciences Center on the first floor of Bobst Library and see the Theatre and Performance Studies pages for some useful links.

Librarian for 19th Century Theater Research

Pamela Bloom
Librarian for the Performing Arts
New York University
Bobst Library, Mezzanine
70 Washington Square So.
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2618

Bibliographies and Indexes

  • Bergquist, G. William. Three Centuries of English and American Plays: a checklist. United States: 1714-1830. New York: Hafner, 1963.
    Bobst Ref1 Z2014.D7 B45 (also on microform)
    Compiled as an index to the Readex Microprint edition of Three Centuries of English and American Plays, this checklist can stand on its own as a bibliography of 5,500 plays written between 1500 and 1830. Entries are arranged by playwright and list the earliest edition known and significant later editions for each play. Anonymous works can be found under their titles. Entries include brief bibliographical information and chronological period to which the play belongs. As there is no title index readers must know the playwright's name when looking for a specific play.
  • Dubois, William R. English and American Stage Productions: An Annotated Checklist of Prompt Books 1800-1900 from the Nisbet-Snyder Drama Collection, Northern Illinois University Libraries. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1973
    Bobst Ref1 Z5781 D85
    Prompt books and production editions of plays are valuable resources to theatre historians because they often contain notes that illuminate historical practices in staging and production. This work catalogs more than 2,000 promptbooks and prompter's editions of plays that form a collection held by the Northern Illinois Univ. Library. The plays were produced on the American and English stage between 1775 and 1900, and these books were used and annotated by directors and actors of those productions. Entries are arranged alphabetically by playwright. Each entry includes a physical description of the promptbook, a description of its covers and any handwritten marks in the text, the date of the earliest recorded New York or London production, and references to secondary sources. Indexes provide additional access by play titles and names of persons mentioned in the text.
  • Ellis, James ed. English Drama of the Nineteenth Century: an index and finding guide. New Canaan, CT: Readex Books, 1985.
    Bobst Ref1 Z2014.D7 E42 1985 c.1
    This single alphabetical listing by author and title of approximately 9,000 plays constitutes a substantial bibliography of nineteenth-century English drama. Its primary purpose, however is as an index and finding guide to the English plays issued through 1981 in the Readex Microprint Collection English and American Drama of the Nineteenth Century. It ranges far beyond the drama proper to include children's plays, pantomime books of words, minstrel dialogues, solo entertainments, opera libretti and vocal scores, and translations of Continental dramatists from Aeschylus to Ibsen. The earlier English dramatists, most particularly Shakespeare, are well represented in collected series of the standard repertory and in acting editions citing nineteenth-century casts and reflecting stage productions from the time of Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble to that of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.
  • Hixon, Don L. and Hennessee, Don A. Nineteenth-Century American Drama: a finding guide. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1977.
    Bobst Ref1 PS632.H57
    The Readex Corporation's English and American Drama of the 19th Century microprint collection is a monumental work, containing thousands of plays. It is located in the Microprint section of Bobst on the A Level. Because of the difficulty of access, Hixon and Hennessee created an index to part of the collection entitled "American Plays, 1831-1900". That section includes 4,500 plays. Authors and titles are arranged alphabetically with all titles cross-referenced to authors. Because Readex classified some plays under their adapters' names instead of their authors (for instance Shakespeare's works are listed under various adaptors' names), Hixon and Hennessee provide cross-references. Appendices include one for series of plays, an ethnic/racial cast index and a subject/form index. This last section locates children's plays, minstrel plays, temperance plays, and so forth.
  • Litto, Fredric M. American Dissertations on the Drama and the Theatre: a bibliography. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1969.
    Bobst Ref1 Z5781.L56
    Litto uses a computer to compile this list of 4,565 dissertations containing information about the theatrical arts. Although access is provided by author, sufficient and keyword-in-context indexes, the actual bibliography is arranged by a computer-generated reference mode. Each entry lists the author and title of the dissertation along with university and department names, degree granted, and date. Since this work stops at 1965, one must use Dissertation Abstracts International and the lists published annually in Theatre Journal (formerly Educational Theatre Journal) to find more recent theses.
  • Pence, James Harry. The Magazine and the Drama: An index. (Theatre and Drama Series, 12) New York: Burt Franklin, 1970.
    Bobst Ref1 Z5781 P43 1970
    An early attempt to index theatre articles in the periodical literature, Pence's work locates articles about "acted drama" in 166 nineteenth-century magazines. These include Blackwood's, Godey's, Lippincott's, McClure's, and the Spectator as well as other lesser known titles. Although Pence does not state the years he has indexed they appear to be from around 1872 to 1896. Subjects and authors appear in one alphabet, and citations list periodical, volume, beginning page, and (sometimes) date. The most reliable indexing is by personal name, but one can find information on topics such as "voice, culture of" and "German stage." The usefulness of this volume depends in part on the availability of nineteenth-century periodicals.
  • Stratman, Carl Joseph. American Theatrical Periodicals, 1789-1967. Durham, NC Duke Univ. Press, 1970.
    Bobst Ref1 Z6935.S75
    Stratman has listed in chronological order all known theatrical periodicals published in the United States to 1967. Although he found 685 titles, he warned that this first effort was likely incomplete. Entries list bibliographic citations and holdings in several American libraries. Using the index, readers can locate periodical titles, editors, cities of publication, organizations sponsoring periodicals and some keywords-in-the-title terms such as "ballet," "dance," or "repertory." Stratman explains the use of the bibliography and index in a clearly written introduction. Although now in need of an update, this work will help those looking for older periodicals.

Encyclopedias, Dictionaries and Histories

  • Brockett. Oscar G. History of the Theatre. 9th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2003.
    Bobst Ref1 PN2101.B68 2003
    A good example of a general, chronological history of world theater. Well indexed.
  • Bryan, George B. Stage Deaths: A Biographical Guide to International Theatrical Obituaries, 1850 to 1900. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1991.
    Bobst Ref1 Z5781.S76 1991 vol. 1 & 2
    A useful guide to obituaries and biographies of both famous and obscure "theatrical artists". He includes thousands of actors, dancers, circus performers, film stars and theatre historians in two volumes of alphabetically arranged entries. Entries cite obituaries in nine newspapers, including the New York times and The times (London) as well as book-length biographies and autobiographies. Because date and place of death are given, readers can check local newspapers for additional death notices. This set compliments the Variety obituaries (begins at 1905) well because it extends further back in time and because it cites additional sources.
  • Hartnoll, Phylis. The Oxford Companion to the Theatre. 4th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983.
    Bobst Ref1 PN2035.H3 1983
    Offers concise, authoritative essays on all forms of theater, from street performance to legitimate stage, from ancient Greece to the present. Entries for persons, terms, topics, famous theaters, and other proper names.
  • Hochman, Stanley ed. McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama; an international reference work in 5 vol. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1984.
    Bobst Ref1 PN1625.M3 1984 vol. 1-5
    A truly wonderful encyclopedia comprehensive in scope. The 2nd ed. expands both the text and pictorial content. All articles were written, revised or updated by contributors who are active in the academic or practical theatre world. Coverage on dramatists comprises five sections; biographical outlining the highlights of a dramatists life, analytical assessing creative achievements, synopses of major plays and a play list.
  • Ireland, Joseph N. Records of the New York Stage from 1750 to 1860. New York: B. Blom, 1966. [reprint of 1866 ed.]
    Bobst Ref1 PN2277.N5 I7 1966 vol. 1 & 2
    An ancestor to Odell's Annals of the New York Stage. Ireland discusses performances in various New York theaters up to the Civil War. Written in a narrative style, each chapter contains cast lists for plays produced during a particular year. Ireland comments on various actors and actresses and provides some death notices. A general index appears at the end of the second volume. Use this work to supplement Odell.
  • Merserve, Walter J. An Outline History of American Drama. 2nd ed. New York: Feedback Theatrebooks & Prospero Press, 1994.
    Bobst Ref1 PS332.M4 1994
    Focuses on American plays and playwrights from the Colonial period to present day. Topics discussed in terms of historical development, the achievements of particular dramatists, and the contribution of particular plays. Each chapter relates the progress of dramatic criticism and the achievements of the theatre to a developing American drama.
  • Mullin, Donald. Victorian Actors and Actresses in Review: a Dictionary of Contemporary Views of Representative British and American Actors and Actresses, 1837-1901. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983.
    Bobst Ref1 PN2597.V5 1983
    Mullin has collected excerpts of Victorian criticism of 234 actors and actresses of the period. So that the reader can consider the leading players in relation to their supporting actors, Mullin includes reviews of both stars and unknowns. For both he selects criticism of the actors abilities in general and criticism of their performance of specific roles. Critics quoted include George Bernard Shaw, Otis Skinner, and William Winter, the "doyen of New York theatre critics." Entries are arranged alphabetically and include the actor's dates and nationality. Excerpts are arranged chronologically. Full bibliographic information for each citation in the bibliography is included. A subject index completes the volume.
  • Odell, George C.D. Annals of the New York Stage, Before 1789-1894. New York: AMS Press, 1970.
    Bobst Ref1 PN2277.N5 04 1970 vol. 1-15
    This history of the New York Stage relies on newspaper articles and other primary source materials. The definitive history of early New York Theatre.
  • Slide Anthony. Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.
    Bobst Ref1 PN1968.U5 S37 1994
    Focusing on personalities, including performers, creative talents, and administrators, but also including entries on theaters, genres, etc., this is the first comprehensive encyclopedia on Vaudeville. Each entry, when appropriate, includes a very brief bibliography. A guide to Vaudeville research resources available in libraries is also included.
  • Wilmeth, Don B. and Miller, Tice L. Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
    Bobst Ref1 PN2220.C35 1993
    This Cambridge work rivals the Oxford Companion the American Theatre in its ability to provide short, factual answers to questions about the world of American theatre. Eighty writers, including many of the best-known theatre historians, inform readers about all subjects related to the Theatre and to vaudeville, burlesque, the circus, magic, and film festivals. Cambridge is more inclusive than Oxford whose scope includes only legitimate theatre. Cambridge also does a better job with the histories of major American cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia. Oxford, however, provides many more entries for individual plays and persons. Cambridge includes a bibliography written by Wilmeth and a introductory historical survey. At the moment, Cambridge is more up-to-date than Oxford, but that advantage will alternate as additional editions are issued.
  • Young, William C. Famous American Playhouses in the series Documents of American Theater History. Chicago: American Library Association, 1973.
    Bobst Ref1 NA6830.Y68 vol. 1 & 2
    Vol. 1 covers theatre buildings from 1716-1899, Vol. 2 from 1900-1971. In addition to brief overview of period each volume contain source material from magazines and newspapers plus illustrations and photographs.
  • Young, William C. Famous Actors and Actresses on the American Stage in the series Documents of American Theater History. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1975.
    Bobst Ref1 PN2285.Y6 1975b vol. 1 & 2
    Presents information about 225 American actors, mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He uses excerpts from articles, interviews, and reviews published at the time the actor was working to present both the actor's views on the profession and the critical reception of his or her work. Chapters are arranged alphabetically by name and excerpts are presented with citations at the end of each chapter. The book is useful only as a beginning point. Young includes a general index and a chronological index as well as a bibliography at the end of the volume.

Electronic Resources

Use the following databases to locate articles on Theatre in the 19th century. Available in all three reference centers and remotely from the Bobst Library database page at

  • IIPA - International Index to the Performing Arts
    Draws its content from more than 200 scholarly and performing arts periodicals, and also indexes a variety of documents such as biographical profiles, conference papers, obituaries, interviews etc. Covering a broad spectrum of the arts including dance, film, television, drama, theater, stagecraft, musical theatre, circus performance, pantomime, puppetry, magic and more. Many full text records contain an abstract plus the corresponding full text of the original article.
  • MLA Bibliography (Modern Language Association)
    Indexes journal articles (except book reviews), books, collections, folklore, film, audiovisual materials, etc.
  • America: History and Life
    Citations with abstracts in English, to social science and humanities literature on all aspects of U.S. and Canadian history, culture and current affairs from prehistoric times to the present. Covers books, dissertations and articles from over 2,000 journals published world-wide. Since 1988, also contains reviews of films and videos.
  • Historical Abstracts
    Abstracts and citations indexing over 2,000 journals, books, and dissertations. Covers world history (except the U.S. and Canada) since 1450.
  • AHCI - Arts and Humanities Citation Index
    Covers over 1,150 of the world's leading arts and humanities journals in a broad range of disciplines.
    Full text of selected humanities, social science and science journals.
  • Project MUSE
    Full text of selected humanities, social science and physical science journals.


  • American Periodical Series, 1741-1900
    Electronic Access
    Also available in microform. Call No: Film 277
    American periodicals on diverse subjects, 1741-1900+.
  • Early American Periodicals Index to 1850
    Call No: MP3
    Indexes covering about 340 American magazines published through 1850.
  • Early British Periodicals
    Call No: Film 599
    British periodicals on varied subjects from 1681-1921
    Access: A Guide to the Early British Periodicals Collection on Microfilm is available at the first floor Reference Desk (Call No: Z6956.G6 U54). A title list can be found at the Microform Center on LL2. Individual titles are in Bobcat.
  • Nineteenth Century Theatre (former title: Nineteenth Century Theatre Research)
    Bobst PN1851.N55 Current holdings in Periodicals Room (third floor, east wing)
    Nineteenth Century Theatre regularly publishes essays, documents, bibliographies, review essays, reviews and an annotated list of books received on the theatre of the 1800's. A wide scope allows the journal to present topics in European and American theatre, dance, opera, and other performing arts. The editors emphasize the publication and use of primary source material. Recent articles have included a demographic study of Victorian Theatre employees: a description of James Steele MacKaye's lighting designs for the 1893 Columbian Exposition: and excerpts from a diary kept by the manager of a Japanese acrobat troupe that toured the United States in 1867. Book reviews complete each issue. Indexed in American History and Life, Historical Abstracts, AHCI, MLA.
  • Theatre History Studies
    Bobst PN2000.T49 Current holdings in Periodicals Room (third floor, east wing)
    The official journal of the Mid-American Theatre Conference, Theatre History Studies covers all aspects of theatre. The well-illustrated volume contains essays, and book reviews. The journal attracts important names in theatre history and although it appears only once a year, provides interesting, well-researched history. Indexed in American History and Life, Historical Abstracts, AHCI, MLA.

How to Locate Newspaper Reviews

  • New York Times Theatre Reviews, 1870-present
    Bobst Ref1 PN1581.N38-N42n
    Electronic Access
    Select "Historical New York Times."
  • Early American Newspapers
    Electronic Access
    Also available in microform. Call No: Film350 and MP8 (microprints)
    American Newspapers from 1690 to 1876.

    Be sure to ask for the binder labeled "LL2 periodicals, newspapers, scripts, microforms" at the Ref 1 desk on the first floor for a complete listing of early American newspapers.

Microform Sets

To find periodicals in the Microform Center check Bobcat first. Periodicals in the Microform Center are generally listed in Bobcat and filed alphabetically by title, either as microfilm, microfiche or microcard. For a complete listing of all microform sets available see the binder at the first floor reference desk marked LL2 Periodicals, Newspapers, Scripts, Microforms. The following list is of microform sets that may be of interest for researchers of both American and British plays.

  • Drama on the World Stage: Prompt Books and Performance Records
    Call No: Film 2614
    Prompt books for non-Shakespearean plays, from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Items date from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Plays are mainly British, with some exceptions, notably work of Ibsen. Around 800 in all.
    Access: Publisher's guide: Drama on the World Stage. PN2570.D7 1989, in the first floor Reference Room.
  • English and American Drama of the Nineteenth Century
    Call No: MP7 (microprint) and MF326 (microfiche)
    Varied dramatic works from nineteenth century England and America, including plays, opera libretti, etc. American and British productions of works from other countries and of pre-1800 plays are included.
    Access: Nineteenth-Century American Drama: a finding guide, in the first floor Reference Room at Ref1 PS632.H57 & English Drama of the Nineteenth Century: an index and finding guide, at Z2014.D7 E42 1985 on the 10th floor.
  • Popular Stage: Drama in the Nineteenth Century England
    Call No:Film 2615
    A collection formed by the actor Frank Pettingell. Series One covers 1000 manuscripts by the most popular dramatists of the Victorian era. Series Two covers 300 pantomime libretti, reflecting the tremendous popularity of the form and Series Three covers the collection of printed plays over 5000 in all. On reel one there is a complete listing which gives an alphabetical index of authors and details of the plays.
    Access: The Popular Stage guides to all three series can be found in the first floor reference area at Ref1 PN2594.P6.
  • Three Centuries of English and American Plays
    Call No: MP13 (microprint)
    Comprehensive collection of English plays, published 1515-1800, and American plays, published 1714-1830. Includes translations of foreign plays and multiple editions of many titles. Around 5600 plays in all.
    Access: Three Centuries of English and American Plays: a checklist. Z2014.D7 B45, in the first floor Reference Room and the Microform Center.
    *Collection divided into segments: American 1714-1830; British 1515-1641, 1642-1700, 1701-1750, 1751-1800. Plays arranged by author or title for anonymous works.
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