Iris Smith Fischer

Iris Fischer
  • Professor Emerita

Contact Info


I was trained in comparative literature—the study of literatures across cultural and disciplinary boundaries—and employed that perspective in my teaching and research. I have enjoyed all the areas of my teaching: American drama from 1860-present; the avant-garde; literary and dramatic theory; semiotics. What is semiotics? The study of the way our world works and how we understand it through feeling, action, and thought. I’m particularly interested in the semiosis involved in literature and performance. Currently I am researching and writing "Charles Peirce and the Role of Aesthetic Expression in 19th-Century U.S. Semiotics." This project examines how, in the late 19th century, theatre, actor-training, and public speaking played a significant role in the then-emerging field of modern semiotics.


Semiotics, modern and contemporary drama, literary and dramatic theory, avant-garde performance.

Selected Publications


Author, Charles Pierce and the Role of Aesthetic Expression in 19th Century U.S. Semiotics. [work in progress]

Author, Mabou Mines: Avant-Garde Theater in the 1970s (University of Michigan Press, cloth 2011, paper 2012).

Co-editor, Interrogating America through Theatre and Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, cloth 2006, paper 2009).

Editor, American Signatures: Semiotic Inquiry and Method, by Thomas A. Sebeok (Oklahoma Project for Discourse and Theory, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).


Selected Articles, Chapters, Editing Projects

Associate Editor. The American Journal of Semiotics. 2021- .

"'Worlds of Investigation': Mary Overlie Collaborates with JoAnne Akalaitis and Mabou Mines." 27 ms. pgs. On the Horizontal: Mary Overlie and The Viewpoints. Ed. Tony Perucci. University of Michigan Press, expected 2021.

"Peirce and Curry on the Making of Natural Gesture in Performance." Semiotics 2019: New Frontiers in Semiotics. Eds. Geoffrey Ross Owens and Donna West. Philosophy Documentation Center, 2020: 87-100.

"The Genius of a House: Grey Towers as 19th-Century Stage for 20th-Century Conservationism." 30 ms. pgs. Performing Family Dream Homes: Theater and the Spatial Politics of the Domestic Sphere. Eds. Emily Klein, Jen-Scott Mobley, Jill Stevenson. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019: 143-170.

"The Role of Séméiotique in François Delsarte's Aesthetics." Semiotica vol. 221 (2018): 123-142.

"Paradoxes of Reason and Inquiry in the Aesthetics of François Delsarte." Semiotics 2014. Legas Publishing, 2015, pp. 107-118.

"On the 'Realistic Hypostatization of Relations'." Charles S. Peirce in His Own Words: 100 Years of Semiotics, Communication, and Cognition. Mouton, 2014,. pp. 193-199. 

"Theatre at the Birth of Semiotics: Charles Sanders Peirce, François Delsarte, and James Steele Mackaye." Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 49.3 (2013), 371-94.

"C.S. Peirce and the Habit of Theatre." Changing the Subject. University of Michigan Press, 2009, pp. 118-48.

"The Discipline of Word and Body: Mabou Mines Stage Beckett," Text and Presentation, 2006. McFarland, 2007, pp. 43-57.

Editor. Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, 2007-2010. Currently a member of editorial board.

Editorial board. American Studies Journal, 2004-2020.

Guest editor. "Writing, Teaching, Performing America: Papers from the New Literacies Conference." Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism (2005).

"The 'Intercultural' Work of Lee Breuer." Theatre Topics 7.1 (1997): 37-58.

"Authors in America: Tony Kushner, Arthur Miller and Anna Deavere Smith." The Centennial Review 40.1 (1996): 125-42.

"Mabou Mines' Lear: A Narrative of Collective Authorship." Theatre Journal 45.3 (1993): 279-301.

Awards & Honors

Mabel S. Fry Award for Teaching, 2019;

Humanities Research Fellowship, Hall Center for the Humanities, 2015;

National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2014;

Haines Faculty Research Fellowship, 2011;

Leslie Humanities Center Visiting Fellowship, Dartmouth College, 2010;

Brooks MacNamara Book Subvention, American Society for Theatre Research, 2010;

Klemmer Research Fund Award, 2009;

Senior Administrative Fellow, 2005-2006;

John C. Wright Graduate Mentor Award, 2005;

Excellence in Teaching Award, Center for Teaching Excellence, 2001;

Mabel S. Fry Award for Teaching, 1998;

James E. Seaver Lecturer, Western Civilization Program, 1995.