Theatre and Dance Studies

Columbia University Libraries supports research in the theoretical, historical, critical, and interpretive aspects of theatre and dance in addition to the methods and application of theatre creation and production supporting programs in acting, directing, dramaturgy, stage management, and production. Dance is directly supported with programs at Barnard College and Columbia University. Collections are print, digital, and media of various formats. 

Columbia University has a long history in support of the study of dramatic literature and theatre as an art form. Brander Matthews was appointed in 1900 as the first Chair of Drama at any university in the United States. He established the Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum and Library in support of curricular and research needs in the areas of drama and theatre. By the mid-20th century, this collection became part of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, strengthening a commitment by the Libraries to collect widely in areas of theatre studies. Collection responsibility initially resided with the bibliographer for literature. In 1999, responsibility transferred with the newly-created position of the Librarian for Film Studies & Performing Arts. During this period, interest in theatre and dance has grown significantly in the undergraduate and graduate education programs. Studies in theatre and dance have strong concentration in programs offered through Columbia’s School of the Arts and Barnard’s theatre department. Dance at Barnard is open through interdisciplinary programs at the undergraduate colleges of Columbia University and through interdisciplinary research at the graduate level. Both areas of study have broad appeal with research and curricular interest spanning humanities, social sciences, and geographically-based studies. The collections have grown dynamically in response to the expanded interest. Digital collections range from commercial databases for indexing, primary source works, and streaming video. 

Selected materials in all of these categories can be found in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. 

Relevant materials in scenic and costume design and theatre architecture may be found in the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library; materials related to the theatre industry may be found in the Business & Economics Library; materials related to musical theatre may be found in the Music & Arts Library. 

This document outlines the Libraries’ general policy on collections for theatre and dance studies, but it is not intended to serve as inflexible guidance; collection suggestions from students, faculty, and researchers are welcome. 

a. Undergraduate  

The undergraduate major in theatre is administered through the theatre department for Barnard College and Columbia University. Columbia College and the School of General Studies offer an undergraduate major in Theatre. The degree requires either work leading to a thesis, essay, or an artistic project.  

b. Graduate 

The School of the Arts was established in 1965. There are several graduate-level tracks in theatre offered through the School of the Arts and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The MFA and the PhD in Theatre Arts were established in 1968 with the latter offered through the Faculty of Philosophy. The MFA in Theatre Arts offers several concentrations: acting, directing, dramaturgy, playwriting, stage management, theatre management, and producing.  

The PhD in Theatre is administered through an interdisciplinary advisory committee in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and the theatre program. The PhD is focused on critical and theoretical investigation of performance.  

c. Interdisciplinary Programs  

Theatre- and dance-related courses are offered through the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALAC), Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), Department of French, Department of Italian, Department of German, Department of English and Comparative Literature, History, and Department of Anthropology. 

d. Course Reserves 

Selection for course reserves is up to individual faculty members. The Librarian will do whatever is possible to secure specific materials absent from the collection. 

a. Print

Print materials are collected by the Librarian for Butler Media, Film Studies & Performing Arts in English, German, Italian, and French languages. The C.V. Starr East Asian Library collects in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Other languages include those works collected by librarians in Global Studies. 

b. Digital Collections

Columbia University Libraries offers an extensive variety of electronic resources. In the subject areas of theatre and dance, holdings primarily include commercially available databases. Two major indexing databases include International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance (EBSCO) and Performing Arts Studies (ProQuest). The library offers extensive holdings of streaming film titles through a variety of databases including Dance in Video, Opera in Video, Theatre in Video, Digital Theatre Plus, Drama Online, and Routledge Performance Archive. The Oxford Reference Online is particularly strong for performing arts topics. The library supports the open access resource, Jacob’s Pillow Video Archive.  

c. Media 

See separate collection development policy for the Butler Media Research Collection.  

d. Languages Collected 

Print materials are collected by the Librarian for Butler Media, Film Studies & Performing Arts in English, German, Italian, and French languages. The East Asian Library collects in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Other languages include those works collected by librarians in Global Studies. 

e. Chronological Focus

The chronological focus for theatre and dance collecting includes historic and contemporary.

f. Geographical Focus

The geographical focus is American and international. 

g. Imprint Dates Collected 

The main focus of collecting is current and recent (+/- three years) imprints. Rare or unique materials from any period may be considered. 

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds several relevant collections for theatre and dance studies. Several outstanding collections include: Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum and Library, Tennessee Williams Papers, Florine Stettheimer Papers, Joseph Urban Papers, George O’Dell Papers, Arthur Mitchell Papers, and Robert Wilson Papers. The Oral History Collection includes the Popular Arts Project. The interviews include a wide variety of individuals from the performing arts: Fred Astaire, José Ferrer, Henry Fonda, John Houseman, Gene Kelly, Lee Strasberg, Richard Rodgers, and Joanne Woodward. 

Distinctive and special collections at Columbia University have long collected non-print formats. More frequently, manuscript collections received with non-print formats. 

See the Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s collection development policies

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The range of print materials in Theatre and Dance studies is greatly enhanced by Columbia’s participation in Borrow Direct, OCLC’s SHARES network of international academic libraries, the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MaRLI), and the shared collection at ReCAP with The New York Public Library, Princeton University, and Harvard University.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

Selection for ReCAP is limited to works with low circulation or selected works to reduce congestion in the Butler Library stacks. 

c. Deaccessioning

Titles are generally deaccessioned only in cases where the physical copy is disintegrating and no longer serviceable in print/physical format. In these instances, the Librarian will evaluate whether to make a preservation photocopy, to create or acquire a digital surrogate, and/or whether to replace the physical copy with another. Resources on obsolete formats are reviewed by librarians on a case-by-case basis; in instances where the original format has artifactual value, it will be retained even after it has been digitized or otherwise reformatted.

d. Digitization and Preservation

Columbia University Libraries has committed to an extensive project to digitize time-based media elements held in the distinctive collections including a wide range of audio and visual formats. 

Nancy Friedland

Nancy Friedland

Librarian for Butler Media, Film Studies, & Performing Arts

  • Humanities & History

(212) 854-7402
Butler Library - 309 Butler Library
Jennifer B. Lee

Jennifer B. Lee

Curator for Performing Arts

  • Rare Book & Manuscript Library

(212) 854-4048
Butler Library - 6th Floor East Butler Library

Last updated: January 2019