Portrait of Dr Helen Brooks

Dr Helen Brooks

Reader in Theatre and Cultural History
School Director of Research


Helen joined the University of Kent in 2009, having previously taught at the Universities of Nottingham and Exeter. She is a theatre and cultural historian and her work spans the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She is particularly interested in questions of gender, sexuality and identity; politics in performance; and theatre as a site of social engagement. 

Helen is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the AHRC Peer Review College. She is also an external examiner and has been involved in validation procedures for external HE institutions. As a teacher Helen is passionate about research-led teaching. She has won multiple awards for her work with students and has developed innovative modules in which students combine primary historical research, practical work, and seminar discussion. She also works with students beyond the classroom, providing unique experiences and opportunities. A particular highlight was her 2017 staff-student production The St Barnabas Pilgirmage which was performed as part of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Ypres 100 event in Belgium.

Helen’s current research focuses on theatre and culture during and immediately after the First World War. As part of this she has been involved in a number of Arts and Humanities Council funded-centenary projects. These include Gateways to the First World War, the Great War Theatre project and Performing Centenaries.  She is currently writing a book on war-themed theatre made during and immediately after the First World War. Previously she has published widely on theatre and performance during the long eighteenth-century and she continues to supervise students working around this area.

Research interests

As a theatre and cultural historian Helen’s research spans a number of different areas and she has particular interests in digital humanities and collaborative/co-produced research. She is a member of the AHRC Peer Review college and has reviewed for the Council for the Humanities of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. She is also a reviewer for publishers including Palgrave, Bloomsbury, Bucknell, and Cambridge.

Current Research 
Helen’s interest in WW1 theatre covers both theatrical practices during and immediately surrounding the war years, as well as representations of the war in theatre since 1918. As a cultural historian she is interested in the ways that theatre and performance responded to and engaged with the experience of war both during and immediately after the conflict. 

In 2014 Helen became a Co-Investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research project, Gateways to the First World War [www.gatewaysfww.org.uk] which works to support public engagement with the Great War. In 2016 she launched the Great War Theatre project [www.greatwartheatre.org.uk] a collaborative project in which she has worked with over 200 public researches to investigate all new plays written during the conflict. In 2017 she became Co-Investigator on the Performing Centenaries project, examining how the centenary has been explored through theatre. As part of these varied projects Helen has given public talks and run workshops at theatres and archives. She has also appeared on BBC radio, on the documentary ‘Lost Untold Stories of World War 1’ and in a podcast with Dan Snow.

Previous Research 
Prior to her work on the First World War, Helen spent over ten years working on theatre of the long-eighteenth century. Her monograph Actresses, Gender and the Eighteenth-Century Stage: Playing Women was published with Palgrave in November 2014, supported by a grant from the British Academy and from the Society for Theatre Research. She was also Associate Editor for Drama for the Wiley Encyclopedia of British Literature: 1660-1789 ​and published journal articles on areas including the relationship between actresses’ work and their choices in marriage (ECL, 2011); female rhetorical performance (STP 2011); and women as theatre managers (Engel, 2009 and STP, 2008). in November 2014. In 2013 she won the South Eastern Association of Eighteenth Century Studies, Annibel Jenkins prize for my essay 'One entire nation of actors and actresses': Reconsidering the Relationship of Public and Private Theatricals'.


Helen is a passionate and committed teacher who embeds research at the heart of her pedagogy. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is also an external examiner and has been involved in validation procedures for external HE institutions. Whilst at Kent she has been awarded the Humanities Faculty Teaching Prize, the Kent Union Best Teacher, and the Suzie Morris Prize for Learning Support.

Helen has particular interests in working with students in archives, as well as in the use of digital technologies in the classroom. She has been recognised for developing innovative and accessible modules in which students combine primary historical research, practical work, and seminar discussion.

Helen teaches across the curriculum at all levels. She has particular interests in areas such as women’s involvement in theatre and performance, identity and gender politics, drag and cross-dressing, and historic performance practices.


Helen has wide-ranging interests and supervises students working on a variety of different topics and is always happy to talk to potential applicants. Areas of particular interest include, but are not restricted to:

  • Theatre/performance history and historiography
  • Theatre and culture of the long eighteenth-century
  • Theatre and conflict
  • Cultures of and about the Great War
  • Gender, Sex, and performance
  • Identity politics and theatre
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