Cheryl Stephenson

Cheryl Stephenson
Humanities Teaching Fellow
Foster 402
Office Hours: By Appointment
Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2018. M.A., University of Washington, 2010.
Teaching at UChicago since 2013
Research Interests: Puppet and object theater; cultural history, audiences and readerships, popular culture

"My work focuses on twentieth-century culture in Central and Eastern Europe, examining the ways ideas, questions, and anxieties are expressed and transmitted through popular culture."


My primary focus in recent years has been the history and theory of puppet theater and animation in the Czech lands and throughout Central Europe. My doctoral dissertation, The Mobilized Jester: Czech Puppet Theater in Theory and Practice, 1918-1948, explored the relationship between developing conceptions of the puppet and its performative modes and the role of the puppet theater in contemporaneous discourses of patriotism and nationalism.  Building on that project, I have taken ideas which originated in scholarship on the puppet theater and brought them into broader discussions of bodies as objects in performance. In my article “Vadí/Nevadí: Puppet Play in Věra Chytilová’s Daisies” in Studies in East European Cinema, I use conceptions of the puppet’s status beyond human morality to examine the film’s protagonists’ empowerment through self-objectification. My chapter in the Czech National Film Archive’s volume on Jiří Trnka’s film Old Czech Legends considers the use of scale in puppet animation and the animator’s reconciliation of the epic scale of the legends and the diminutive scale of the body. In Puppets and Power: censorship, propaganda, resistance, I explore the use of caricature in the performance of dissent in Czech performances opposing the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later Nazi occupiers.

My next major project is focused on the culture of the amateur, the homemade, and the handmade in socialist Czechoslovakia. Throughout the socialist period, Czechs and Slovaks retreated from the national economy to produce art, crafts, and goods, ranging from sentimental or patriotic preservation of Czech artisanal traditions to young women illicitly acquiring sewing magazines from West Germany to sew the newest European fashions unavailable in socialist shops. The aim of this project is to explore these various modes and to open the established discourse on underground production—until now largely focused on samizdat authors and banned artists—onto a broader segment of the population and a larger movement to reclaim creative and productive work for the private sphere.


  • Les héros subversifs de Josef Skupa : Kašpárek, Spejbl et la lutte pour la souveraineté tchèque.” [“Josef Skupa’s seditious heroes: Kašpárek, Spejbl, and the struggle for Czech sovereignty.”]  Marionettes et pouvoir: censures, propagandes, résistances [Puppets and Power: censorship, propaganda, resistance], edited by Raphaèle Fleury and Julie Sermon. Charlesville-Mezieres: Union Internationale de la Marionette, 2019.
  • “Vadí/Nevadí: Puppet Play in Věra Chytilová’s Daisies.Studies in East European Cinema, Volume 9, Issue 3 (2018): 219-232.
  • “Tělo i osobnost: Trnkova loutka ve Starých pověstech českých” [The Body and the Self: Trnkas puppets in Old Czech Legends”]. in Staré pověsti české, edited by Lucie Česálková, 120-133. Prague: Národní filmový archiv, 2015.

Previously Taught Courses

  • Women’s Work: Agents of Change in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Modern Central European Literature
  • Puppet Theory
  • Ruining Chekhov: Reading and Staging the Modernist Play
  • Eastern Bloc Animation
  • Beginning Czech
  • Beginning Russian
  • Readings in World Literature