Lauren Robertson Appointed as Assistant Professor of Renaissance Drama

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Department of English and Comparative Literature is pleased to introduce a new Assistant Professor of Early Modern and Renaissance Drama, Lauren Robertson. Prof. Jean Howard, who headed the search committee, conveys the faculty’s enthusiasm. “All of us early modernists are extremely glad that Lauren Robertson will be joining the department in September. She knows a dazzling range of things: plays canonical and obscure, philosophical and political traditions, theater history, Spenser.”

Ph.D. candidate Alexander Lash collected feedback from graduate students in the field and was impressed by Robertson’s ability to connect style and theory. “Graduate students were excited by the ways in which Lauren gets at issues in cultural and intellectual history through a close engagement with theatricality. Her work, that is, pays close attention to theatrical form and to the processes of performance, and then moves out to address bigger questions about the emotional and philosophical stakes of early modern drama.”

For the past two years, Robertson has been an Instructor at Trinity Washington University where she taught undergraduate courses such as “Stories and Their Writers,” “Plays and Playwrights,” as well as Trinity’s college composition course, which she designed around  narrative, argumentative writing, and textual analysis that focused on writing by women of color. In 2013, Robertson won the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence as well as fellowships in Digital Humanities. “With a deep commitment to teaching and a lot of experience doing it, Lauren is going to be a great addition to the department as well as to the early modern and theater programs,” says Howard.

Robertson begins her teaching at Columbia with two new courses. “In the Fall," she says, "I’m looking forward to teaching a lecture course on Shakespeare’s early works, and in the spring, a seminar on the surveillance of women in early modern drama.” Robertson explains that this latter seminar will focus on the “means of scrutinizing women’s bodies in the period, as well as the recovery of historical strategies of liberation from this culture of surveillance.” Along with these courses for the English Department, Robertson will be teaching Columbia’s unique Literature Humanities class, a course particularly suited for her as a graduate of St. John's College Great Books program. “I’m grateful and excited for the chance to return to texts that profoundly shaped my own undergraduate experience,” says Robertson.

Earning her Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis, Robertson’s dissertation analyzed the relationship between the cultural and intellectual histories of doubt during the Renaissance, which she is now editing into a book, Spectacular Skepticism: Entertaining Uncertainty in the Early Modern English Theater. Robertson explains, “I work out the relation between the theater and an early modern English culture of skepticism. The late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries were witness to the aftershocks of the Protestant Reformation, the crisis surrounding Elizabeth I's succession, and the slow rejection of classical natural philosophy, among other provocations to doubt—each of which could reduce to anxieties about how (and whether) it might be possible to know anything for certain.” Importantly, Robertson’s research indicates that the high philosophical debate of the time manifested in more places than one would anticipate. Explaining those stakes, Robertson says, "I hope to show with this project that the theater—a form of popular culture—encouraged its spectators affectively and collectively to grapple with epistemological questions that might otherwise appear only the pages of philosophical texts.”