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The Dorothy Heathcote Archive

This short film offers a glimpse inside the Dorothy Heathcote Archive.

The Archive is now housed at Manchester Metropolitan University; it contains dvds, teaching materials, notes and lesson plans, theses, and more...

Dorothy once observed that people might not always be able to follow her thought processes when she was teaching, ‘because I can’t lift the top off my head and show you what’s in here’. Her Archive is one way of getting ‘inside her head.’


Jerome Bruner defined three modes of learning: the ‘iconic’, the ‘symbolic’ and the ‘enactive’ or ‘expressive’. Dorothy found the terms useful in her own teaching. She said:

It was ages before I met and instantly recognised Bruner's particularisation of iconic (get the picture); symbolic (shape it in familiar ways of writing and talking it through) before you embark on the expressive (do it now). 


All three modes can be found in the Archive: the ‘iconic’—maps, diagrams, and teaching resources which Dorothy produced; the ‘symbolic’—her notes, both rough and typed, including lesson plans, articles etc.; and the ‘enactive’—some 650 hours of video showing her at work.

Together, the materials provide a unique way of seeing her mind at work, which cannot be achieved through ‘symbolic’ modes alone (such as books and articles).

Dorothy hoped the Archive would be a resource for teachers, as well as researchers. She believed that research should always be underpinned by praxis—each inspiring the other. She saw, moreover, that it could be a resource for people from other fields—reflecting the range and scope of the work she did with, for example, the NHS, the National Trust, the police, businesses, museums/art galleries, and so on. She was clear that she wanted it to be unedited, open-ended, and in her own words: ‘Not just another dry, dusty old archive’.

In 1986, Dorothy retired from her post at the University of Newcastle; and in the same year, Sandra Hesten began working with her on the Archive.

Sandra recalls that she ‘had assembled her life’s work into cardboard boxes which she had arranged roughly under concept headings. For nearly a decade, I travelled to Newcastle at the end of each working week, so that I could go through file after file, cardboard box after cardboard box with her’.


The video is a Panel Discussion on the Archive from the "Dorothy Heathcote Now" conference (2021), with Sandra Hesten, David Allen, Tony Jackson and Agata Handley.

A random glance at some of the materials in the Archive reveals something of the diversity of the ‘bits and pieces it contains—with some intriguing titles:


Things to make for Rolling Role (lesson plan original) (AA002)

A reconstruction of a crime (notes) (AA039)

The story of Cuthman and the first church at Steyning (notes) (AA063)

Declaration Notice - United Nations (notice) (AB004)

Approaches to the teaching of text (text, drawings) (AB031)

Do I Tell, Do I Induct (chart) (AC034)

As well as Dorothy’s own materials, the Archive also contains secondary sources—the writings etc. of her students, contemporaries, and those who worked closely with her; and tertiary sources (the work of people who continue to be influenced by her).

The Archive was organised around certain key concepts in Dorothy’s work, such as role, ritual, myth, metaphor, time, productive tension, sequencing, sign, space, symbol, and so on. In her Ph.D., Sandra notes that terms like these have themselves created a ‘new language for drama in education’.

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She argues that ‘Heathcote constantly invented and re-invented herself through her use of language’. She also notes, however, that the meaning of different terms was never fixed: ‘the same terms were used to describe different concepts at different times and/or different terms were used to describe the same concepts’.


The end result of Sandra’s labours was a ‘key word’ search index to the Archive. She also turned her Ph.D. into a manual, to guide the user through the labyrinth of material.

Click on the buttons below, to access Sandra’s Ph.D, and the Keyword Index

To book an appointment to view materials in the Archive, contact Rebecca Patterson (Senior Lecturer in Drama at Manchester Metropolitan University) -

We are planning to form an International Committee to develop plans to safeguard the Archive for future generations.  The aims are:

1. To locate and connect different library holdings and archives, both nationally and internationally, and integrate them in a revised Keyword Index;

2. To digitalise as much of these archives as possible, in stages, to broaden access to the material;

3. To ensure that the Archive represents a holistic view of Dorothy’s methodology from its inception;

4. To explore and develop plans for associated activities, such as a website; conferences and events; publications    and a journal, etc., to keep Dorothy’s work ‘alive,’ and promote use of the Archive;

5. To secure the funding needed, in both the short and long term, to develop the Archive, and safeguard its future.


The result will not only be the ‘rebirth’ of the Archive, but its transformation—helping to ensure that Dorothy’s work is a living legacy which continues to inform praxis; and connecting teachers, researchers and practitioners together.

(This article has been written by David Allen, Stig A. Erikkson and Sandra Hesten. A fuller version has been published in a Special Issue of the NATD Journal (Oct 2021). Images are from the film Pieces of Dorothy [University of Newcastle, 1993].)

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