Former Erikson Scholar Lisa Barksdale-Shaw, JD, PhD, Reflects on her Time at Riggs



Lisa Barksdale-Shaw, JD, PhD is a former Erikson Scholar at the Austen Riggs Center.Lisa Barksdale-Shaw, JD, PhD, Erikson Scholar at the Austen Riggs Center from September to December 2016, reflects on her time at Riggs, what she worked on while she was here, and what she learned.

Q: How did you hear about/decide to apply to become an Erikson Scholar?

A: Fortuitously, I discovered the Erikson Institute for Education and Research at the Austen Riggs Center in a call for postdoctoral research fellowship applicants during my search of the Modern Language Association’s electronic resource. In this unique opportunity as an Erikson Scholar, I could explore notes that I had made previously for a second book project – a project that I felt would benefit from this scholar-in-residence program at the Austen Riggs Center. Little did I know how significant an impact the small town of Stockbridge would have on my work.

Q: What project(s) did you work on during your time as a Scholar at Riggs?

A: During my stay at the Austen Riggs Center, I worked on one larger book project and another smaller project, an essay for an edited collection. My book project, entitled The Warrior Gene: Race and Identity in William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, aims to investigate the racial and martial journey that Moors illustrate in drama and within early modern culture by interrogating texts with this overarching question: How do war and racial traumas affect the perception of the Blackamoor as the stereotypically aggressive, cruelly violent warrior? I also critique how we read the nature of the pre-modern individual, using clinical psychiatry, as a pivotal framework for this interdisciplinary intervention. In September 2016, I delivered a talk analyzing the history of trauma, war, and its effects, using Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello as a case study.

While at Riggs, I also revised an essay for an edited collection on early modern ciphers (i.e., codes) and cryptologists for Routledge’s “Material Readings in Early Modern Culture” series. In the essay, I argue that in drama, the illicit letter emerges as the central instrument through which the fates of the state’s intelligencers (i.e., spies), and its secrets, become intertwined. In some instances, the illicit letter tragically falls, thereby illustrating how this written evidence functions to expose and disrupt communities and relationships. This study further weighs how law intervenes through what appears merely as letters. However, these letters serve as legal and political instruments to monitor the current condition of the sovereignty’s power and the subject’s individual rights, and recalibrate the society’s future course by avoiding the pitfalls found in stories of this nation’s history. I discovered some rarely discussed ciphers and cryptographers through a cooperative effort with researchers at The National Archives in London as well.

This time in New England afforded me an opportunity to give a talk at Bennington College on my first book project, Tainted Proofs: Staging Written Evidence in Early Modern Drama, which examines the role of documents, as both legal instruments and stage props, across the plays of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and John Webster. In October 2016, before a collaborative course event for Society, Culture, and Thought, I delivered a discussion on “Truth and Lies,” the theme for the semester, based on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, where I revisited a chapter under revision to present as a part of a book proposal this year. The students were eager in their questions not only about one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays, but also the graphic adaptation by Julie Taymor, and my use of law and material culture.

Q: How did being at Riggs as a Scholar impact/influence your work?

A: In the midst of these projects, I grew as a scholar in innumerable ways. As I dissect characters in drama, I create topics for my research and teach students to formulate character profiles. During my attendance at weekly case conferences at Riggs, I observed, understood, and employed an even more detailed approach to embracing the nature of these figures, particularly as I examined their traumatic journeys. I saw, with a renewed vision, what these early modern playwrights attempted to convey through the tragic military personages of Shakespeare’s Othello the Moor and Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great. In this attempt to “see again,” I explored the different therapeutic and theoretical paths used by many therapists, fellows, social workers, nurses, and the like. From lunch and dinner with the clinicians and administrative personnel to the Suicide/Self-Harm Study Group and Fellows Seminars on Psychological Testing and Semiotics, I gleaned a wide range of resources, perspectives, and approaches for my project on racial trauma.

Q: What did you enjoy most about your time at Riggs? / What would you say to other scholars considering applying to this residency?

A: Above all, I believe the people whom I met best served my projects and my time as the Erikson Scholar. Earlier, I briefly outlined the many people—too many to name—at Riggs who contributed to my fruitful stay in Stockbridge. The beauty of New England unfolded through peak season in Vermont and Christmas on Main Street in Stockbridge. I enjoyed learning some of the history of New England, including W.E.B. DuBois and his connection to Great Barrington. I must also mention the many archivists, historians, and other scholars from Boston University, Middlebury College, Williams College, Bennington College, the Houghton Library at Harvard, Yale Law School, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. Finally, I must acknowledge the Erikson Scholars who preceded me—several of whom made time for me to assist me in my endeavors. I am most appreciative to all of those who shared their work and resources. I highly recommend this experience to future Erikson Scholars as well. Nevertheless, I end this piece with an apology—for there is no way to explain sufficiently how this time at Riggs expanded my journey as a researcher and a scholar.