Holding Court is an interview series that features the authors of the new books on display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.
In this week's edition, we speak with Laura Edmondson, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Theater. The research and writing of Laura's book, Performing Trauma in Central Africa: Shadows of Empire (Indiana University Press, 2018), developed over the span of more than a decade, proving that quality scholarship takes time and persistence to produce.
What is your book about?
My book explores theater and other forms of cultural production that respond to conflict and post-conflict in Rwanda, northern Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Basically, it’s a journey through the performance of war in Central Africa.
Where did you get your ideas for this book?
From fieldwork. In 2004, I traveled to northern Uganda to research how theater artists were responding to the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government. Based on my previous work in neighboring Tanzania, I anticipated that theater in northern Uganda would serve as a vital forum of community (re)building and cultural resilience; instead, I found that it had been thoroughly appropriated as a humanitarian tool of “marketing trauma.” This launched an exploration into what I call, after Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, an “empire of trauma.”
What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?
To understand the complexities of an empire of trauma, I draw upon both fieldwork and textual analysis. And the element that I need is time, time, and more time. The research and writing of my book took over a decade. I was pregnant with my second child when I started doing research in Uganda in 2004—she had just celebrated her 13th birthday when my book came out last April (!).
What do you think the library of the future will look like?
I’m hopeful that the library of the future will always include material books. Wandering the stacks of Baker-Berry leads to unexpected paths of inquiry, far more so than the soullessness of a Google search.
What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?
Find your prime writing time (first thing in the morning, late at night, whenever). Then, protect it as much as possible and utilize it as much as possible, even if you can only manage half an hour.
And finally, what do you read for fun?
I love novels. Right now, I'm reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. In the Summer 2018, I directed the theater Foreign Study Program in London, and I took the students on an excursion to Bath. It was a fun excuse to get reacquainted with Austen.