The roots of the Department of Drama, which changed its name to Theater and Performance Studies in 2012, can be traced back to the 1920s. Then it existed as the Division of Public Speaking within the English Department. English itself was housed in the School of Letters (the precursor to the School of Humanities). In 1936 the Division of Public Speaking became the “Division of Public Speaking and Dramatic Arts.” The following year it changed its name to “Division of Speech and Drama,” which it remained through 1941, when it was reorganized into the Department of Speech and Drama, just one year before the School of Letters became the School of Humanities. Thus it remained for thirty years until the Speech part was shed in 1971, leaving just Drama.
In Stanford’s early decades, speaking was taught more as an “applied” rhetorical skill than as a thespian one, just as drawing was at least as much about draftsmanship as it was about creating purely aesthetic objects.
When the university opened in 1891, the English department taught a course called “Elocution: voice culture, gesture, reading and interpretation of classic orations and essays.” Within a few years this had become “Public Speaking. Practice in the preparation and delivery of speeches adapted to various audiences and occasions, with attention to the style of spoken discourse based on a study of masterpieces of oratory.”
The Dance Division, initially housed in Athletics, where it formed (to quote the blurb) “a valuable part of a life lived with amplitude and discipline,” joined the Department in 1996. The new name as of 2012, Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), reflects intellectual trends and developments of recent times that expand the notion of “performance” to embrace a broad range of artistic and aesthetic performances such as concerts, theatrical events, performance art, as well as sporting events, political and religious rituals, proclamations and public decisions. Performance studies is interdisciplinary, drawing on theories of the performing arts, anthropology, literary theory, and legal studies.