Ruth Perry

Ann Fetter Friedlaender Professor of Humanities, Emeritus

Ruth Perry, Professor Emeritus and Ann Fetter Friedlaender Professor of the Humanities, is currently writing a biography of Anna Gordon, Mrs. Brown of Falkland, celebrated by Francis James Child a century later for her repertoire of “superior ballads.” This work combines Professor Perry’s interest in balladry, orality, women’s cultural traditions, and the Scottish EnlightenmentAlthough she had written many books and articles about 18th C. English literature and culture before this, she had no idea Scottish history and culture were so different.

The holder of grants from the NSF, Ford Foundation, Guggenheim, Rockefeller, ACLS, and NEH, she has also been a fellow at the Bunting Institute and the Institute for Advanced Study in Edinburgh. In 2000, she was elected President of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. The founder of the MIT Women’s Studies program in 1984; she lectured on Women’s Studies and feminist criticism and Black Women’s writing in six cities on the east coast of China in the fall of 1987, taught the 18th C. English novel at the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II in Naples in 1993, and lectured on the Scottish diaspora at the Sorbonne in the summer of 2013, in addition to other topics in less exotic places in the U.S. Of her more than sixty articles a third have been reprinted, some more than once.

A regular at the pools of MIT, in the summer she can be found swimming across Walden Pond or along the shoreline on Nantasket beach. She is also a folksinger, a stalwart of the early folk revival in Greenwich Village and president of the folk song club at Cornell in the early ‘60s, a member of the musician’s union in those days, singing in clubs and coffee houses. She has also raised money singing for various political causes over the years: miners’ strikes in Kentucky, progressive candidates, anti-nuclear rallies, civil rights workers, musical instruments for school kids in the Bahamas, etc. In 1965, she made a record with her folk group “The North Quarry Street Irregulars” to raise money for the voter registration drive in Fayette County, Tennessee. At present, she is on the program committee of the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston. She led the campaign against big development to preserve the town of Hull’s salt marshes; helped set up the early food coop in Cambridge; supported the anti-apartheid divestment campaign at MIT; and organized a teach-in on the war in Iraq in 1990.

Ruth Perry has taught several graduate classes in the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies which she co-founded in 1991. At MIT, she teaches a class on “The Folk Music of North American and the British Isles” cross-listed between Literature and Music, and literature classes on Jane Austen, on “Reading Fiction,” and on feminist literary criticism.


Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.023[J] Folk Music of the British Isles and North America (Fall 2019)

21L.023[J] Folk Music of the British Isles and North America (Fall 2017)

21L.473[J] Jane Austen (Fall 2019)

21L.473[J] Jane Austen (Fall 2017)

21L.707 Problems in Cultural Interpretation: Women Reading/Women Writing (Spring 2020)

Research Interests
All of my work lately has been about eighteenth-century Scotland and the family of Anna Gordon, later Mrs. Brown, an eighteenth-century Scotswoman who was the first individual ballad-source whose repertoire was deliberately sought out and recorded by collectors. I am calling the book-in-progress A Biography of Anna Gordon (1747-1810): Singer of Tales. Her story is about a woman growing up at the center of the Scottish enlightenment, for her father, who educated her, was a professor at King’s college in Aberdeen. I hope to place her history in its cultural and historical contexts. In addition to literary analyses of her magnificent ballads, the biography will offer fresh perspectives on the preoccupations of the intellectuals of the Scottish Enlightenment–their interest in oral culture, song, Scotland’s past, and the place of “tradition” in developing concepts of national identity. I hope to shed new light on the question of the contribution of the elite to traditional culture and on women’s privileged status as bearers of the collective cultural inheritance.

2008 Henrietta, by Charlotte Lennox. Edited by Ruth Perry and Susan Carlile. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008.
2006 Ballads and Songs in the Eighteenth Century. A special issue of The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 47, 2-3, (Summer/Fall 2006).
2004 Novel Relations: The Transformation of Kinship in English Literature and Culture 1748-1818. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
1990 Social Control and the Arts, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman, Alice A. Jardine, Ruth Perry, Carla Mazzio. Cambridge: New Cambridge Press.
1986 The Celebrated Mary Astell: An Early English Feminist 1666-1731. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1985 George Ballard, Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain Celebrated for Their Skill in the Learned Language, Arts, and Sciences, ed. and intro. by Ruth Perry. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. With extensive bibliography.
1984 Mothering the Mind: Twelve Studies of Writers and Their Silent Partners, introduction by Ruth Perry and edited by Ruth Perry and Martine Brownley. New York: Holmes and Meier.
1980 Women, Letters, and the Novel. New York: AMS Press.

Selected Articles

In Press, 2015 “Music in Emma,” Cambridge Companion to Emma, ed. Peter Sabor, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. (2015).
2015 “All in the Family: Consanguinity, Marriage, and Property,” Oxford History of the Novel, vol 2, eds. Peter Garside and Karen O’Brian, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K. (2015): 407-423.
2014 “The Maternal Body and the State: How Women’s Reproductive Capacity has Undermined Their Share in State Power,” Changing Places Feminist Essays on Empathy and Relocation, eds. Valerie Burton and Jean Guthrie, Inanna Publications and Education Inc., Toronto (2014): 33-55. Link to Publisher
2012 “The Printed Record of an Oral Tradition: Anna Gordon Brown’s Ballads,” Studies in Scottish Literature, 38, 1 (2012): 73-91. Link to article
2012 “The Famous Ballads of Anna Gordon, Mrs. Brown.” Book Chapter in Volume Four: A Cultural History of Women in the Age of Enlightenment, ed. Ellen Pollack, Michigan State University, USA, 2012. Link to article
2011 “Brother Trouble: Murder and Incest in Scottish Ballads” in Sibling Relations and the Transformation of European Kinship 1300-1900, eds. Christopher H. Johnson and David Warren. Link to article
2010 “Self and Society: Attitudes towards Incest in Popular Ballads,” in A Cultural History of the Human Body in the Enlightenment, ed. Carole Reeves (New York and Oxford: Berg, 2010) pp. 193-211 and notes 252-53. Link to article
2010 “War and the Media in Border Minstrelsy: The Ballad of Chevy Chase.” Ballads and Broadsides in Britian, 1500-1800. Ed. Patricia Fumerton, Anita Guerrini, and Kris McAbee. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010. p. 251-269. Link to article
2009 “The Morality of Orality: Grace Paley’s Stories.” Contemporary Women’s Writing 3.2 (2009): 190-196. Link to article
2009 “Family Matters: Kinship in Jane Austen,” Blackwell’s Companion to Jane Austen, ed. Claudia Johnson. Blackwell and Co., 2009, pp. 321-31. Link to article
2008 “The Finest Ballads”: Women’s Oral Traditions in Eighteenth-Century Scotland,” Eighteenth-Century Life 32, 2 (Spring 2008):81-97.
2006 “Brother Trouble: Murder and Incest in Eighteenth-Century Ballads,” in Ballads and Songs in the Eighteenth Century, special issue of The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 47, 2-3 (Summer/Fall 2006): 289-308.
2006 “Kinship in Clarissa,” in Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Samuel Richardson, ed.Lisa Zunshine and Jocelyn Harris (New York: MLA, 2006)”Home Economics: Representations of Poverty in Eighteenth-Century Fiction,” in Blackwell’s Companion to Eighteenth-Century Fiction, ed. Paula Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Co., 2006)
2005 “Mary Astell and the Enlightenment,” in Women, Gender and Enlightenment, ed. Sarah Knott and Barbara Taylor, Palgrave, 2005, pp. 357-70.
2004 “Jane Austen, Slavery, and British Imperialism,” Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Emma, ed. Marcia McClintock Folsom, New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2004, pp. 26-33.”The Sexual Politics of Emma,Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Emma, ed. Marcia McClintock Folsom, New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2004, pp. 110-119.Entry on Mary Astell in Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
2003 “Sleeping with Mr. Collins,” Originally published in Persuasions: Journal of the Jane Austen Society of America 22 (2000): 119-35, and reprinted in Jane Austen and Co., ed., Suzanne Pucci and James Thompson, SUNY Press, 2003, pp. 213-28.Entry on Mary Astell in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment.
2001 “Engendering Environmental Thinking: A feminist analysis of the present Crisis,” originally in The Yale Journal of Criticism 6 (Fall 1993), 1-16. Reprinted in Women, Science, and Technology, ed. Mary Wyer, Mary Barbercheck, Donna Glesman, Hatice Orun Ozturk, Marta Wayne (New York: Routledge, 2001): 302-11.
2000 “Sleeping with Mr. Collins,” Persuasions: Journal of the Jane Austen Society of America 22 (2000): 119-35.
1999 “Fanciulle oneste e donne perdute: la figura della prostituta nel romanzo inglese del Settecento,” Il delitto narrato al popolo: Immagini di giustizia e stereotipi di criminalita in eta moderna, ed. Roberto De Romanis e Rosamaria Loretelli (Palermo: Sellerio editore, 1999): 143-155.”Good girls and fallen women: representations of prostitutes in eighteenth-century fiction,” Narrating Transgression: Representations of the Criminal in Early Modern England (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1999): 91-101.”Defamiliarizing the Family, or Writing History from Literary Sources,” Modern Language Quarterly 55 (December 1994), 415-427; reprinted in Eighteenth-Century Literary History: An MLQ Reader (Durham, and London: Duke University Press, 1999): 159-171.”Clarissa’s Daughters; or, The History of Innocence Betrayed. How Women Writers Rewrote Richardson,” in Women’s Writing in the Early Modern Period 1 (1), 5-24; reprinted in Clarissa and Her Readers: New Essays for the Clarissa Project, ed. Carol Houlihan Flynn and Edward Copeland (New York: AMS Press, 1999): 119-141.
1997 “‘Suis-je le gardien de ma soeur?’: Freres et soeurs intellectuels en Angleterre au XVIIIe siecle” in L’Education des femmes en Europe et en Amerique du nord de la renaissance a 1848, ed. Guyonne Leduc (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997): 279-96.
1996 “Inventing a Feminist Institution in Boston: An Informal History of the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies,” NWSA Journal 8,2 (Summer 1996): 60-83.
1995 “Postscript on the Public Libraries” in Profession 95, Journal of Modern Language Association: 48-50.”I Brake for Feminists,” Concerns 25,2 (Spring 1995): 21-34. Reprinted in Transformations 7,1 (Spring 1996): 1-13; also reprinted in Chinese volume on American feminism (2000).
1994 “Austen and Empire: A Thinking Woman’s Guide to British Imperialism,” Persuasions 16 (December 1994), 95-106.
1993 “Engendering Environmental Thinking: A Feminist Analysis of the Present Crisis,” in The Yale Journal of Criticism 6 (Fall 1993), 1-16. Reprinted in Women, Science, and Technology, ed. Mary Wyer, Mary Barbercheck, Donna Giesman, Hatice Orun Ozturk, Marta Wayne (New York: Routledge, 2001): 302-11.”Embodied Knowlege,” in The Harvard Library Bulletin, n.s. 4 (1 & 2), 57-62.
1992 1992 “A Short History of the Term ‘Politically Correct,'” originally published in the Women’s Review of Books (February 1992) and reprinted in Beyond Politically Correct: Towards a Politics of Understanding, ed. Pat Aufterheide, St. Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, pp.71-79.
1991 “Colonizing the Breast: Sexuality and Maternity in Eighteenth-Century England,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 2 (2), 204-235. Reprinted in Eighteenth-Century Life 16 (n.s.1), 185-213 and reprinted in Forbidden History: The State, Society and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe, ed. John C. Fout (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
1990 “Mary Astell and the Feminist Critique of Possessive Individualism,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 23 (3), 444-458.”Women and Computers: An Introduction,” with Lisa Greber, Signs 16 (1), 74-102; reprinted in Gender and Scientific Authority, ed. Barbara Laslett, Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, Helen Longino, and Evelynn Hammonds (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996): 155-182.”From Hard Drive to Software: Gender, Computers, and Difference,” The Computer Cluster, edited Ruth Perry, Signs 16 (1), 74-173.
1985 “Radical Doubt and the Liberation of Women,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 18 (4), 472-494; reprinted in Feminist Interpretations of Rene Descartes, ed. Susan Bordo (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999): 169-189.
1981 “Anality and Ethics in Pope’s Late Satires,” British Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 4 (2) 139-55; reprinted in Pope, ed. Brean Hammond (New York and Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1996): 170-184.