Mary Isbell, Ph.D.

Mary Isbell, Ph.D. Image
Assistant Professor
Director of First-Year Writing and Writing Center

English Department
College of Arts & Sciences

Ph.D. English, University of Connecticut, May 2013.

M.A. English, University of Connecticut, May 2007.

B.A. English, Loyola University, New Orleans, May 2004.

About Mary

My highest priority as a teacher is to strike a balance between my students' perspectives on the texts I assign and the critical conversations surrounding those texts. My classroom strategies and assignments cultivate a space in which students can genuinely react to a text if it delights, confounds, or offends. I strike this balance by engaging students—from year one in a writing seminar and sophomores in a survey course to advanced English majors—as collaborators in the exploration of course texts.

Broadly speaking, my research focuses on book and theater history of the nineteenth century, the period just before/as technological innovations made possible the moving images and recorded sound we often take for granted today. I contrast the experiences of nineteenth-century readers and spectators with our own to encourage my students to think more critically about the ways we encounter culture.

I believe students can and should pursue projects that contribute to academic disciplines. I have worked with my students on practice-based research into the history of shipboard theatricals through a production of a nineteenth-century farce aboard US Brig Niagara and the performance of a collaboratively written rehearsal play aboard USS Constitution. I am especially energized by the digital humanities, an area of research that encourages projects that make student contributions to humanistic inquiry more feasible and legible. With students at the University of New Haven, I will be developing a scholarly digital edition of The Young Idea: A Naval Journal Edited on Board the H.M.S. Chesapeake in 1857, 1858 & 1859. The Young Idea was an illustrated weekly newspaper edited by A.D. McArthur (a clerk aboard the Chesapeake), circulated in manuscript at sea, and published by facsimile in London in 1867.

Research and Teaching Interests

Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, Theater History, Victorian Studies, Maritime Studies, Book History, Digital Humanities, Narrative Theory, Composition Studies

Book Manuscript

"The Debut of the Amateur: Nineteenth-Century Theatricals" (in progress) Theorizes how the careful maintenance of amateur status shaped theatrical culture in the long nineteenth century and recovers the material conditions of amateur theatricals to document the widespread popularity of the practice with diverse social groups including aristocrats, middle-class families, university students, office clerks, and sailors aboard naval vessels.

See More See Less

"When Ditchers and Jack Tars Collide: Benefit Theatricals at the Calcutta Lyric Theatre during The Indian Mutiny of 1857-9." Forthcoming in special issue of Victorian Literature and Culture on "Victorian India," 2014.

"P(l)aying off Old Ironsides and The Old Wagon: Melville's Depiction of Shipboard Theatricals in White-Jacket." Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 15.1 (2013).

"The Handwritten Playbill as Cultural Artifact: A French Amateur Theatrical Aboard the British Prison Ship, Crown." Inquire: A Journal of Comparative Literature 1.2 (2011).


"Playing with Dramatic Adaptations: Charades as an Approach to John Brougham's 1849 Adaptation of Jane Eyre." Critical Insights: Jane Eyre. Salem Press. 2014.

Co-Editor, with Judith Hawley. Amateur Theatre in the Long Nineteenth Century. Special Issue of Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film. 38.2 (2011).

"Documents of Performance: Illustrated Reviews of Naval Theatricals." Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film, 38.2 (2011).

Editor. Writing Through Literature: An Anthology of Literary Texts for Academic Inquiry. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt, 2011 (revised printing, 2012). Custom Textbook for UConn's First-Year English Program.

Selected Conference Presentations

"Re-Classifying Bombastes Furioso: Burlesque in the Amateur Repertoire" North American Victorian Studies Association Annual Conference. London, Ontario. November 2014 (Paper Accepted).

"Reconstructing the Community Cultivated by The Young Idea." Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing Annual Conference. Antwerp. September 2014. (Paper Accepted).

"Imperial and Shipboard Circulation: The Places and Spaces of The Young Idea." Research Society for Victorian Periodicals Annual Conference. Delaware. September 2014. (Paper Accepted)

"Private Venues and the Theatrical Commons." The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists Annual Conference. Chapel Hill. March 2014.

"Imagining Victorian Periodicals and Theatricals at Sea." North American Victorian Studies Association Annual Conference. Pasadena. October 2013.

"'Maintaining the Dignity of the Stage' at Sea: Culture Wars aboard the USS Macedonian." Canadian Association for Theatre Research. University of Victoria. June 2013.

"Managing A Shipboard Theatrical aboard the US Brig Niagara." What signifies a theatre? Conference (The third event in a conference series on amateur and private performance hosted by Royal Holloway, University of London). London. July 2012.

"The Aesthetics of Amateur Theatricals: Private Performances of the Public Repertoire." Northeast Modern Language Association Annual Conference. St. John Fisher College. Rochester, NY. March 2012.

"Communicating the Goals of "Writing through Literature." Theoretical Perspectives: Writing Through the Genres. Writing Program Administrators Conference. Baton Rouge. July 15, 2011.

"A Travestied Drama and an Involuntarily Burlesqued Burlesque: The Sailor Amateurs of H.M.S. Chesapeake perform at the Calcutta Lyric Theatre." What signifies a theatre? Conference 2 of 3. University of London. Royal Holloway. June 2011.

"Question-less Assignments: Some Thoughts on Promoting Genuine Student Inquiry." Conference on the Teaching of Writing. University of Connecticut. March 25, 2011.

Selected Seminars, Symposia and Workshops

Session chair, "Class and the Classifications of Victorian Theater" (Panel Accepted). North American Victorian Studies Annual Conference. London, Ontario. November 2014.

Co-Organizer, "Paying the Piper: Economies of Amateur Performance." First Annual Conference for RAPPT (Research into Amateur Performance and Private Theatricals) incorporating a practice-based research project. London. June 2014.

Organizer, "Performance and the Sea: An Interdisciplinary Symposium." Yale University. March 2014.

Session co-chair, with Nancy Friedland. "DH & Theatre Studies: An ASTR Unconference." American Society for Theatre Research Annual Conference. Dallas. November 2013.

See Full Resume Details See Less Full Resume Details