Secondary Sources

To find information on subjects or events in performing-arts history, consult secondary sources such as these. Books can be found using HOLLIS; journal articles through the e-resources listed.

Primary Sources

Events and topics in performing-arts history -- from minstrelsy to censorship to theatrical riots -- can be documented with various types of primary sources, all of which are represented in the Harvard Theatre Collection: 

  • Newspaper Clippings
  • Theatre Reviews (also see E-Resources, above)
  • Playbills (organized by title of production, date, and theatre)
  • Prints & Photographs
  • Posters
  • Scene and costume design / artwork

Some of these resources are individually cataloged in HOLLIS and HOLLIS for Archival Discovery.  Others are arranged in various series, which only have summary records in HOLLIS. These collections are not open for browsing, but you can request that library staff search in them for sources dealing with a particular subject. The more you are able to associate your topic with specific plays, productions, persons, or places, the more productive the search will be. For example, which American plays have been subject to censorship? This information can often be found in secondary sources on your subject. (See above.) If you're looking for a particular type of source -- e.g., photographs of theatres, or playbills -- you can request it by filling in the necessary information on the Special Collections Request System. See Placing Requests to find out how to fill out the form.

Case Study: Theatre Fires

From an actual researcher's inquiry: "I want to write a paper on the iconography of theatre fires. Any theatre fires, I'm not limiting my project to a specific theatre, city, or time period."

Suggested Research Strategy: Identify theatre fires in history and find images of them.

Need to know: Names of theatres; cities; dates.

Ways to find these: Consult secondary sources such as theatre history reference books, e.g. the entry "Fires in theatres" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance.

Search HOLLIS (Library Catalog mode) for theater* fire*. The asterisks will let you search for plurals and other variations.This search will bring up secondary sources, as well as primary sources in the Theatre Collection such as:

General sources on fires in history will also yield instances of theatre fires. For example, do a 'Starts With/Browse' search in HOLLIS by Subject for fires. This brings up books such as Edward C. Goodman's Fire!: the 100 most devastating fires and the heroes who fought them, a compendium which includes many theatre fires.

Searching in HOLLIS for specific fires also yields results; for example, a search for iroquois chicago in the Library Catalog produces two centennial histories of the Iroquois Theater disaster of 1903, Chicago Death Trap and Tinder Box, as well as a contemporary account, The Great Chicago Theater Disaster. (Full text in Google Books) Another search result is the souvenir programme for the Iroquois' ill-fated opening show, Mr. Bluebeard (full text in Google Books).

Knowing about specific fires -- e.g., the Brooklyn Theatre conflagration of 1876 -- provides additional information for requesting primary sources in the Collection, such as:

  • Prints of theatre fires, filed under the name of the theatre (request Theatre Prints by location, TCS 53-59)
  • News clippings filed by theatre name (request HTC Clippings 8-12)
  • Subject files of news clippings, filed under subject headings 'Theatre Fires' and 'Fires in the Theatre' (request HTC Clippings 6)
  • Oversized clipping files, containing folders on fires in Brooklyn; New York City; Richmond VA; other U.S. locations; and other countries (request HTC Clippings 6 PF)
  • Extra-illustrated books (see card index in the Houghton Reading Room)