Bridget Orr was educated at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) and at Cornell University. In 1987 she was a Visiting Scholar at Clare Hall, Cambridge University and remains a Life Fellow of the college. She taught in the departments of English at Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Auckland, the University of Iowa (Iowa City) and Fordham University before taking up her current post at Vanderbilt University.
Her research has two major strands. In 2001 she published Empire on the English Stage, 1660-1714 with Cambridge University Press. This was and remains the fullest study of the representation of cultural encounter and empire in the Restoration and early eighteenth-century English theatre. The book shows that new techniques in staging as well as the innovative genres such as the heroic play contributed to the frequent ‘performance’ of Ottoman, Persian, Roman, North African and new world states in the later Stuart playhouse. With chapters devoted to each major prior or rival imperial power, the study shows how English dramatists depicted ancient, Asian or Catholic antecedents as examples to be modified if not completely rejected as they tried to imagine a free, commercial and tolerant form of empire. The difficulties in reconciling such an ideal with the growth of the slave-trade, plantation slavery and wars against indigenes are analyzed in texts ranging from Sedley’s Bellamira (1667) through Dryden’s Amboyna (1672), Behn’s The Widdow Ranter (1689) to Southerne’s Oroonoko (1695) and Dennis’s Liberty Asserted (1704). Her work on late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theatre and empire continues in essays on the theatricalization of Galland’s Thousand and One Nights and the depiction of locality in late Stuart drama. She is currently completing a second book, entitled Enlightenment Theatre and Empire which examines the depiction of colonialism and cultural contact on the Georgian stage.
The other focus of Orr’s work is writing about and by New Zealanders, Maori and Pacific Islanders. She has published essays on the depiction of Tahitian women in the poetic reception of eighteenth-century voyage literature and on formal aspects of Maori fiction. She provided the first post-colonial account of Katherine Mansfield’s authorial persona and stories in a Landfall essay which has been republished for a broader audience. She has written on the differing ways in which settler cinema has depicted national identity in Australia and New Zealand. The two strands of her eighteenth-century and Pacific research come together in a couple of essays, one of which compares Katherine Mansfield’s and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s travel writing while the other uses the poetically-inspired historiography of New Zealander J.C.D. Pocock as a context for analyzing the oceanic poetics of Maori/Irish writer Robert Sullivan.
She has recently completed essays on dramatic sentiment and empire, on Richard Steele’s contribution to this development and on the theatrical depiction of journalists and newspaper production in the 1760s. She is currently writing an essay on teaching Maori and Pacific writing in the North American academy. Her pedagogy reflects her research interests, with courses focused on Maori and Pacific Islander writing and film, in addition to those which examine eighteenth-century culture and financial crisis, celebrity and empire.