Mary C. Fuller


Mary Fuller is Chair of the MIT Faculty (2023-25).  She grew up in Montréal; her family emigrated to Québec so that her father could teach chemical engineering at McGill. She received a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1981, and a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins in 1990.

Since arriving at MIT in 1989, she has focused her research on the records of early English contacts with North America and the world beyond Europe:  geographical exploration, commerce, diplomacy, and efforts at colonization all produced documents that became the basis for action, argument, and historical memory.   Her work considers the shapes that information has taken as it has been captured and transmitted, not only in the forms of maps, narratives, and other writing genres, but also those of indexes, archives, and material books.

Mary has led numerous professional seminars in this interdisciplinary field, and held residential fellowships at the John Carter Brown Library, the Huntington Library, the Newbery Library and the Folger Library.  Her recent book, Lines Drawn Across the World (McGill-Queens, 2023), studies the vast collection of travel narratives, royal letters, ships’ logs, maps, price lists, and commentaries assembled by the editor Richard Hakluyt,  Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (London, 1598-1600). Spanning two thousand pages and documenting more than two hundred voyages, Principal Navigations serves as both a window into England’s contacts with the wider world, and a source of arguments about what those contacts meant.

At MIT, Mary has taught or co-taught classes on exploration, ideas of the supernatural, early American voices, and comparative colonialisms, but her recent teaching focuses on poetry, some from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, some modern and contemporary.  She has received the Outstanding Veteran Advisor award for first year advising, the Levitan Prize, the Levitan Teaching Award, and was named a Margaret MacVicar Fellow in 2020.  She served as Associate Chair of the Faculty 2011-13, and Head of Literature 2013-19.

Outside MIT, Mary has been studying the Japanese martial art of aikido for more than thirty years, and holds the rank of godan (fifth degree black belt).


Subjects taught the current academic year:

21L.320 Big Books: Reading Paradise Lost (Fall 2024)

Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.315 Prizewinners and Laureates: Reading Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio (Spring 2024)

21L.320 Big Books: Reading Paradise Lost (Fall 2023)

21L.320 Big Books: Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio (Spring 2023)

21L.705 Major Authors: Milton’s Paradise Lost & Modern Speculative Fiction (Spring 2023)

Research Interests

Early modern geography and maritime history; history of the book; epic poetry; modern and contemporary Anglophone poetry


“Missing terms: natural law and English geography, 1550-1600,” Mark Somos and Anne Peters, eds., The State of Nature: Histories of an Idea, History of European Political and Constitutional Thought, Volume 6, (Brill, 2022), 27-59.

“Placing Iceland,” in Jyotsna Singh, ed., Companion to the Global Renaissance, 2nd edition (Blackwells, 2021). (Originally “Where was Iceland in 1600”).

“Afterword: Looking for the Women in Early Modern Travel Writing,” Traveling/ Travailing Women: Early Modern England and the Wider World, Patricia Akhimie and Bernadette Andrea, eds. (Nebraska, 2018).

“Experiments in reading Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1600),” Hakluyt Society Annual Lecture 2016 (Hakluyt Society, 2017).

“Geographical myths in Shakespeare’s time,” The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare, ed. Bruce Smith (Cambridge, 2016).

“Introduction: Negotiating travel in the Anglo-American Atlantic world, 1550-1747,” Studies in Travel Writing 17 (3), Sept. 2013; editor for special issue on “Travel in the Anglo-American Atlantic World, 1550-1747.”

“Arctics of Empire: Hakluyt’s representation of the Arctic in Principal Navigations (1598-1600),” in Frédéric Regard, ed., The Quest for the Northwest Passage (Pickering and Chatto, 2012), 15-29.

“’ His dark materials’: the problem of dullness in Hakluyt’s collections,” in Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt, eds., Richard Hakluyt and Travel Writing in Early Modern Europe (Ashgate/ Hakluyt Society, 2012).

“Arthur and Amazons: editing the fabulous in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations,” Yearbook of English Studies 41 (2011), 173-89.

“The real and the unreal in Tudor travel writing,” in Kent Cartwright, ed., Companion to Tudor Literature and Culture (Blackwells, 2010).

Remembering the early modern voyage: English narratives in the age of European expansion (Palgrave, 2008).

Kisshomaru Ueshiba, A Life in Aikido: The Biography of Founder Morihei Ueshiba (Kodansha, 2008), tr. Mary Fuller and Kei Izawa.

“Writing the long-distance voyage: Hakluyt’s circumnavigators,” Huntington Library Quarterly 70 (2007), 37-60.

“Making something of it: questions of value in the early English travel collection,” Journal of Early Modern History 6 (2006), 11-38. Reprinted in Peter Mancall, ed., Bringing the World to Early Modern Europe: Travel Accounts and Their Audiences (Brill, 2007), 11-38.

“The first Southerners: Jamestown’s colonists as exemplary figures,” in Richard Gray and Owen Robinson, eds., A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American South (Blackwells, 2004; paperback, 2007), 29-42.

“Images of English origins in Newfoundland and Roanoke,” in Germaine Warkentin and Carolyn Podruchny, eds., Decentering the Renaissance: Canada and Europe in Multi-Disciplinary Perspective (University of Toronto, 2001), 141-158.

“Myths of identity in Derek Walcott’s ‘The Schooner Flight,’” Connotations 5 (1996), 322-38.

Voyages in Print: English Travel to America, 1576-1624 (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback, 2007).

(With Henry Jenkins), “Nintendo and New World travel writing: a dialogue” in Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, ed. Steve G. Jones (Sage, 1994), 57-72. Translated into Italian and Korean.

“Forgetting the Aeneid,” American Literary History 4 (1992), 517-38.

“Ralegh’s fugitive gold: reference and deferral in the Discoverie of Guiana,” Representations 33 (1991), 42-64; reprinted in New World Encounters: Essays from Representations, ed. Stephen Greenblatt, (University of California Press, 1993), 218-40.


2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT
2015 James A. and Ruth Levitan Teaching Award, MIT
2015 Outstanding Freshman Advisor Award, MIT
2010-11 NEH Fellowship, Huntington Library
2010 James A. and Ruth Levitan Prize in the Humanities, MIT


“Footnotes along the Davis Strait: editing Anglo-Inuit encounters in western Greenland, 1585-88,” invited talk, Arctic Worlds: a Symposium on Environment and Humanities, Boston University, Boston.

“Confession and aggression: the maritime Protestantism of Sir Francis Drake,” invited talk, RSA, Toronto.

“Writing the Ocean: creating the archive of English maritime history,” keynote address, “Ocean Representations,” Seikei University, Tokyo.

“Canada in the English geographical imaginary, circa 1600,” invited talk, Before Canada:
Northern North America in a Connected World, ca. 1000-1800AD, McGill University,

“Narratives, modes, instructions: English maritime writing, 1553-1600,” Negotiating
Waters, University of Grenoble/MUN, Grenoble, France.

“Archives of Exploration, 1550-1600: how records were created and stories were told at the limits of the known world,” invited talk, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Phoenix AZ.

“Discovering women in the archive of early modern exploration,” Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University, Cambridge.

“John Davis the navigator: assembling a life,” Oxford Forum in the History of
Mathematics, Queens College, Oxford.

“Who are ‘we’? A global text in 1600,” plenary address, “Border Regimes,” University of Bern Summer School, Kandersteg, Switzerland.

“Experiments in reading Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1600),” Hakluyt Society Annual
Lecture, London.