Skip to main content

History of Performance

This is the image alt text

Living Heritage

Our mission began with the intangible heritage of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site and its environs - its music, ceremonies and dramatic activities. Together with artists and local communities, we have brought traditions back to life, regularly staging gems from the North-East’s performance heritage.

As our global network continues to grow, we shall further our understanding of performance history throughout the medieval and early modern worlds.

Find out more about the History of Performance.
University student
We are keen to learn more about talented musicians, performers and craftspeople (both professional and amateur) in Durham and beyond. If you would like to participate, or if you plan an activity related to historical performance, please get in touch.

Professor Barbara Ravelhofer
History of Performance Strand Director

The History of Performance strand is interested in any form of performance - theatre, ceremony, music and dance - before 1800, wherever it occurs. Naturally, being based in Durham and surrounded by the rich heritage of the North East, this has become a focal point for much of our research and our story so far but the stage is now set for global exploration and collaboration...

The Strand began with Records of Early English Drama North-East (REED-NE), part of a massive international project to assemble a complete record of surviving sources for medieval and early modern performance in Britain.

Since then, revivals of civic and religious music and drama have continued to take place in Durham’s historic centre. With an interdisciplinary collaborators from departments including Music, Modern Languages, History, Archaeology and English, as well as students, and local volunteers, we regularly stage gems from the North-East’s performance heritage: liturgy for medieval boy bishops, polyphony from Durham Cathedral’s collections, and popular songs such as the Lyke Wake Dirge and the Ballad of the Lambton Worm.

At the Being Human Festival, we presented metrical psalms, as the Scottish soldiers whose graves have now been found at Palace Green, would have sung them on their way down to Durham in 1650. We have also given talks about the Danse Macabre tradition in performance and the visual arts at Hexham, as well as the Universities of Leipzig and Oxford.

More History of Performance Videos

Play video 1

Records of Early English Drama-North East: Uncovering performance and musical heritage

The Records of Early English Drama-North East project team tells us what they discovered about the earliest records of performance and musical heritage in North East England.