Author Biography

Laura Engel is an Associate Professor at Duquesne University where she specializes in eighteenth-century British literature and drama. She is the author of "Fashioning Celebrity: Eighteenth-Century British Actresses and Strategies for Image Making" (Ohio State UP, 2011). Her current book projects include: "Actresses, Accessories, and Austen: Much Ado About Muffs" (Forthcoming, Palgrave Pivot Series), "Stage Mothers: Women, Work, and the Theater 1660-1830," with Elaine McGirr, and "The Secret Life of Archives: Women, Performance, and the Material of Memory."


This essay is in two parts, in the first I attempt to map out strategies for considering archival materials through the lens of performance, and in the second I enact or perform some of those strategies through a close reading of a letter from Sally Siddons, daughter of the famous actress Sarah Siddons, to the renown portrait painter and rakish bad boy, Sir Thomas Lawrence. I present a methodology that considers archival researchers as tourists who approach archival objects and images as material for curating a virtual exhibition. I argue that this strategy allows us to recognize and attempt to envision the interdisciplinary relationship amongst archival materials in order to imagine them in spatial, theatrical, and visual proximity to one another. In this way as researchers we are performing a kind of re-enactment, an animation, of the secret life of archives, which attempts to account the embodied traces of the past by providing an accessible thought provoking map for audiences.


theater history, actresses, performance, archives, sarah siddons, sir thomas lawrence, material culture, feminist theory