Margaret Ferguson

Margaret Ferguson

Position Title
Distinguished Professor of English


Education and Degree(s)

  • Ph.D., Comparative Literature, Yale University, 1974
  • M.Phil., Comparative Literature, Yale University, 1972
  • A.B., History of Art and English, Cornell University, 1969

Research Interest(s)

 Renaissance women writers, Milton, Shakespeare, Feminist Theory, Literacy Studies; Common Core and Pedagogical Alliances between primary, secondary, and tertiary level teachers of languages and literatures 


Margaret Ferguson, who retired in June 2017, was a Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies in Stellenbosch, South Africa from July through September 2017;  from September to December, she was a Fellow at the Humanities Research Center of the Australian National University in Canberra. She currently lives in Davis, California, where she pursues her research and continues to direct dissertations and serve on dissertation committees.

She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014 and also served that year as President of the Modern Language Association. As a Past President in 2015-17, she chaired a MLA Working Group on K-16 Educational Alliances, which focused on creating and /or supporting partnerships between college teachers of writing, literature, and language and teachers of these subjects in elementary and secondary schools. The K-16 Working Group  sponsored a round-table session at the January 2017 MLA Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on "Futures of K-16 Alliances in the MLA," with speakers from secondary schools (including Claire Dawkins, a UCDavis Ph.D. who teaches at the Stanford Online Highschool) and universities.  Ferguson co-chaired the session with Professor Anne Ruggles Gere, the 2018 President of the MLA who has in the past led the National Council of Teachers of English and who has instituted a new MLA Standing Committee on K-16 Alliances.  The Working Group also sponsored a session on "Historical Pedagogies" and collaborated on two workshops, led by Professor Doris Sommer, Harvard University, illustrating her innovative pedagogical project called "Pre-texts" (see

Ferguson joined the UC Davis English Department in 1997. She received her doctorate from the Yale Department of Comparative Literature in 1974, and taught at Yale, Columbia, and the University of Colorado at Boulder before moving to UC Davis. She has held visiting professorships at UC Berkeley and Middlebury College (The Bread Loaf School of English). Her areas of interest include Early Modern literature, literacy studies, and feminist theory in English, French, and Italian. She has published extensively on these topics. Currently, she is a member of the advisory boards for boundary 2: A Journal of Postmodern Literature;  differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies; the Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies; Comparative Literature Studies; and Modern Language Quarterly.  She has been a member of the executive board of the Renaissance Society of America and has served as a trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America. Before her term as an elected officer of the MLA, she was a member of the PMLA Editorial Board, the MLA translation prize committee, the Elections Committee, and the Executive Committee for the Division of 17th C. British Literature.  A member of the National Council of Teachers of English, she has long been interested in cross-level theories and practices of literacy. She has been active in the "MLA Members for Justice in Palestine" and wrote, with David Simpson, a critique of the Canary Mission organizaion (published in Mondoweiss (

Ferguson received an award for Distinguished Graduate Teaching from the UC Davis Academic Senate in 2014; in 2008, she received  an Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award from the UC Davis Consortium for Research on Women and Gender. She received awards for undergraduate teaching at Yale and the University of Colorado.  She teaches undergraduate courses on Shakespeare, Milton, and early modern women's writing as well as an introductory course for prospective English majors on "Literatures in English to 1700." In 2015, 16, and 17, she led the Honors Seminar for English majors preparing to write a senior thesis; she helped many seminar members prepare to present their work at the Undergraduate Research Conference.  In 2016, she deisgned and  taught an upper-division course on "Grammar: Language and Power" that was cross-listed by the departments of English and Linguistics, and by the University Writing Program.  At the graduate level, she  taught seminars on a range of topics inluding (in recent years)  "Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern English Literature," "Questions of Authority: Spenser, Lanyer, and Milton"; and "Travel Literature and Utopian Texts."

From 2006 to 2009, she chaired the English Department and helped hire nine new colleagues. With Frances Dolan, Director of Undergraduate Studies, she facilitated a substantial revision of the undergraduate curriculum.

She has won fellowships from the NEH, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Davis Humanities Institute in addition to the two short-term fellowships mentioned above in South Africa and Australia.  She  received the UC Davis Academic Senate's Research Lecturer Award in 2011 and delivered a lecture from her book in progress, entitled "Myths of Hymen: Problems in Gender, Sexuality, and Semiotics,"  in connection with that award. She also presented three lectures drawn from that project as the Ward Phillips Lecturer at Notre Dame University and has led workshops on her research at Brown University and Syracuse University.  The book analyzes debates about Hymen, the ancient Greek boy-god of marriage rituals, and about the hypotehsized female "hymen" as a dubious somatic sign of sexual purity, in various times and places ranging from ancient Greece and Palestine through Elizbethan England to contemporary societies in which females are digitally tested for virginity and/or elect to have virginity "reconstruction" surgeries called hymenoplasties.

Recent Presentations:

"Myths of Hymen: Representations of Virgins and Virginity Surgeries and Testing Practices in South Africa,"  seminar at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, August, 2017. Ferguson presented a different talk drawn from her current research at the Humanities Research Center in Canberra in October, 2017.

Introduced and co-chaired "The Future of K-16 Alliances at the MLA," Modern Language Convention, Philadelphia, January 2017.

"Europe and Utopia," plenary presentation at the MLA Conference on "Other Europes," Düsseldorf, Germany, June 2016

"Professional Organizations and Advocacy: The Case of the MLA,"  Ray Smith Symposium Syracuse University (Nov. 2015,

MLA Presidential Address, "Negotiating Sites of Memory" (Vancouver, B.C., January 2015); available on the Web at

"The Humanities and the Common Good," Provost's Forum on "The Humanities and the Public Good" (April 2014)

"What's an English Major Good For?", contribution to a conference at the University of Tulsa (March 2014)

"Home-Schooling Bianca and Katherine," lecture at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (August 2013)

"Feigning Hymens" (Plenary talk, Shakespeare Association of America, March 2013)

"Period," presentation for an MLA Forum on the 21st Century, MLA Convention (January 2013).

Publication Spotlights:

Introduction to Presidential Forum Essays from the MLA Convention of 2015. Profession, Summer 2016.

"Negotiating Sites of Memory." PMLA 130.3 (May 2015): 546-565. Web version with illustrations in color at

"Translation and Homeland Insecurity in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew: An Experiment in Unsafe Reading." Early Modern Cultures of Translation. Eds. Karen Newman and Jane Tylus. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. 117-152.

"Fatal Cleopatras and Golden Apples: Economies of Wordplay in Some Shakespearean 'Numbers.'" The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare's Poetry. Ed. Jonathan Post, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 77-94.

"The Letter of Recommendation as Strange Work." PMLA, 127:4 (October 2012): 954-62. 

"On Old Periods and New Comparative Literatures / De Periodos Antiguos y Nuevas Literaturas Comparadas,"Interview/Entrevista with Margaret Ferguson, by Bélén Bistué, Boletín de Literatura Comparada 37 (2012): 137-58.

"Syntax, Poetic." The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th ed. Ed. Roland Greene et. al. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2012: 1401-07.

Selected Publications:

 Dido's Daughters: Literacy, Gender, and Empire in Early Modern England and France. University of Chicago Press, 2003.


Dido's Daughters is the winner of the Roland Bainton Prize for Sixteenth Century Studies (2004), the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women Prize (2004) and Honorable Mentions for the American Comparative Literature Association's Réné Wellek Prize (2004) and the Renaissance Society of America's Phyllis Goodheart Gordan Book Prize (2004).


"Du Bellay's 'Source de Méduse." Laureations: Essays in Memory of Richard Helgerson. Wilmington: University of Delaware Press2012, 205-26.

 "Hymeneal Instruction." Masculinities, Childhood, Violence: Attending to Early Modern Women--And Men Proceedings of the 2006 Symposium. Eds. Amy E. Leonard and Karen L. Nelson. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2011. 97-129.

"Thomas Nashe: Cornucopias and Gallimaufries of Prose." Teaching Early Modern Prose. Eds. Susannah Brietz-Monta and Margaret W. Ferguson. Modern Language Assoication of America, 2010. 199-213.

Teaching Early Modern Prose. Ed. Susannah Brietz-Monta and Margaret W. Ferguson. Modern Language Association of America, 2010.

"'With All Due Reverence and Respect to the Word of God': Aphra Behn as Skeptical Reader of the Bible and Critical Translator of Fontenelle." Reading Women: Literacy, Authorship, and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500-1800. Eds. Heidi Brayman Hackel and Catherine E. Kelly. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. 199-216.

"Conning the Overseers: Women's Illicit Work in Behn's 'The Black Lady.'" In Early Modern Culture: An Electronic Seminar, Issue 5 (Spring 2006)

The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 5th ed. Ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Essay on "Poetic Syntax" by M. Ferguson, 2053-74.

Women, Property, and the Letters of the Law in Early Modern England. Eds. Nancy E. Wright, Margaret W. Ferguson, and Andrew Buck. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 2004.

"Feminism in Time." Introduction by M. Ferguson. Feminism in Time. Ed. Margaret Ferguson and Marshall Brown. Spec. iss. of Modern Language Quarterly 65.1 (March 2004). 7-27.

"Literacies in Early Modern England." Introduction by Eve Rachele Sanders and M. Ferguson. Literacies in Early Modern England. Ed. Margaret Ferguson and Eve Sanders. Special issue of Critical Survey 14.1 (2002).1-8.

"Come Tell Me How You Live." PMLA, 115:5 (October 2000): 1246-50. Essay derived from a presentation at an MLA conference on "The Future of Doctoral Study" held at Madison, Wisconsin.

"The Authorial Ciphers of Aphra Behn." The Cambridge Companion to English Literature 1650-1740. Ed. Steven N. Zwicker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 225-249.

"Feathers and flies: Aphra Behn and the seventeenth-century trade in exotica." Subject and Object in Renaissance Culture. Eds. Margareta de Grazia, Maureen Quilligan, and Peter Stallybrass. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 235-259.

Cary, Elizabeth.The Tragedy of Mariam, Faire Queen of Jewry (1613) and The Lady Falkland: Her Life.  Ed. Barry Weller and Margaret Ferguson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.  Introduction,1-59.


"Moderation and Its Discontents: Recent Work on Renaissance Women." Review Essay, Feminist Studies (Summer 1994): 349-66.


Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourse of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe. Ed. Margaret Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy Vickers. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986. Introduction, xv-xxxi.

Feminism and Postmodernism. Ed. Margaret Ferguson and Jennifer Wicke. Special issue of boundary 2 (Summer 1992). Reissued in expanded form as a book by Duke University Press, 1994.

"Saint Augustine's Region of Unlikeness: The Crossing of Exile and Language." Innovations of Antiquity. Eds. Ralph Hexter and Daniel Selden. New York: Routledge, 1992. 69-94.

"1549: An Offensive Defense for a New Intellectual Elite," in The Harvard History of French Literature. Ed. Denis Hollier. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1989. 194-98.

 "Hamlet: Letters and Spirits," in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory. Ed. Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman. New York and London: Methuen Press, 1985, 212-38. Reprinted in Hamlet: New Critical Views, ed. David Kastan. New York: G.K. Hall, 1995; and in Hamlet: A Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed. Cyrus Hoy, 1992.

Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983.           

Margaret Ferguson's "Welcome Letter" to the MLA (2014)

MLA President's Column on "The Common, The Goose, and the MLA"

Doctoral Dissertations directed or co-directed

At Yale (1974-1986):

1. Abbe Blum, "Licensing and Authority:  Milton's Early Prose"; Dr. Blum became an Assistant and then a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of English, Swarthmore College, before deciding to pursue a different profession.

2. Charles Hatten, "Familial Narratives in Milton and Dickens" (co‑directed with Richard Brodhead).

3. Margaret Arculus, "Studies in Romance:  Malory, Spenser, and Sidney" (co‑direted with Thomas Greene).

4.  Lauren Silberman, "The Figure of the Hermaphrodite in the 1590 Faerie Queene"; three articles from this dissertation (which I co-directed with a. Bartlett Giammati) were published and one received the Spenser Society's award for the best article of 1988.  Dr. Silberman is now Professor of  English at Baruch College, CUNY; her book Transforming Desire: Erotic Knowledge in Books III and IV of "The Faerie Queene" was published by the University of California Press in 1995.

5.  Hannah Chapelle Wojciehowski, "Confessional Narratives in Petrarch, St. Teresa, Loyola, and Luther" (co‑directed with Thomas Greene); a revised version of this work was published by Stanford UP in 1995 under the title: Old Masters, New Subjects: Early Modern and Poststructuralist Theories of Will. Dr. Wojciehowski is now a Professor of English at the University of Texas, Austin.

6. Susan Schweik, "American Women's Poetry of the Second World War" (co‑directed with R. W. B. Lewis); a revised version of this thesis was published as A Gulf So Deeply Cut: American Women Poets and the Second World War (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).  Dr.  Schweik is now a Professor of English at UC Berkeley.

7. Candace Waid, "Edith Wharton and Regionalism" (co‑ directed with R. W. B. Lewis); this dissertation won the Porter Prize for the best Ph.D. thesis at Yale in 1986 and a revised version was published as Edith Wharton's Letters from the Underworld: Fictions of Women and Writing (University of North Carolina Press, 1991).  Dr. Waid is now an Associate Professor of English at UC Santa Barbara.

8. Miranda Johnson, "Ariosto as a Reader of Dante" (co‑ directed with Paolo Valesio); Dr. Haddad took a position as Assistant Professor of English at Howard University and is now pursuing a writing, parenting, and theater reviewing career in Los Angeles, CA.

9. Margaret Kilgour, "Ingestion as Metaphor and Literary Technique in Rabelais, Milton, Burton, Ruskin, and Northorp Frye."  Dr. Kilgour is now a well-published Professor of English (and former department chair) at McGill University; her dissertation was published in 1990 as From Communion to Cannibalism: An Anatomy of Metaphors of Incorporation(Princeton University Press). .

10.  Leslie E. Moore, "Milton and his Eighteenth Century Readers" (co‑directed with Ronald Paulson); Dr. Moore published a book incorporating parts of this thesis with Stanford University Press in 1990:  Beautiful Sublime: The Making of Paradise Lost, 1701-1734. She  taught at Yale as an Assistant and Associate Professor until she decided to enter Yale Law School to pursue a legal career.

11.  Clare Kinney, "Narrative Theory and the Long Poem: Chaucer's Troilus, Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Milton'sParadise Lost" (co‑directed with Marie Boroff). This dissertation was revised and published as Strategies of Poetic Narrative: Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Eliot. Cambridge University Press, 1992. Dr. Kinney holds a tenured professorship off English at the University of Virginia.

At Columbia (1986-89):

12.  P. A. Skantze, "Drama as Performance and Text: Jonson, Milton, and Behn" (co-directed by me and Jean Howard.  English, 1988.  Dr. Skantze published her dissertation as Stillness in Motion in Seventeenth-Century Theater (New York: Routledge 2003), and is currently a Professor of Theater at Roehampton University, School of Arts, UK.

13.  Mary Cregan, "The Uncommon Reader: Virginia Woolf Reads Milton and Shakespeare." English 1989. Dr. Cregan teaches English at Barnard College in New York City.

At University of Colorado (1989-97):

14. José María Rodriguez-Garcia, "Bacon's Institutionalizing Narratives." Comparative Literature, 1993. Dr. Garcia currently is  Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures at Duke University and won the 2010 PROSE Award for Excellence in Literature, Language and Linguistics for The City of Translation: Poetry and Ideology in Nineteenth-Century Columbia.(Association of American Publishers/Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division)

15. Julie Radliff, "Feasting and Hospitality in Renaissance Epic."  English, 1994. A brilliant scholar and beloved young mother and wife, Julie Radliff died soon after finishing her doctoral degree. 

16. Robin Bott, “Sociolinguistics and Renaissance Drama” (co-director with Katherine Eggert). English 1997. Dr. Bott obtained a tenure-track position and held a tenured position at Adrian College in Michigan, where she was a beloved teacher.  She died in December 2016.

17. James Tasse, "Public and Private Domains in the Shakespearean Theater" (English, 1998).

18. Rhonda Sanford, "A Sense of Place: Maps and their Representations in English Renaissance Literature." English, 1999. Dissertation published in revised form as Mapping the Renaissance (Palgrave, 2001).  She is currently a Professor of English at Fairmont State University.

19. Deborah Uman, “This Defective Edition: Notions of Translation, Gender, and Authorship in Renaissance England” (co-director with Katherine Eggert and Richard Halpern). English 1999. Dr. Uman obtained a tenure-track position at Eastern Connecticut State University and now is tenured at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, New York.  Her book Women as Translators in Early Modern Europe was published by the University of Delaware Press in 2012.

20. Laura Wilson,  “Playing Parts: Components of the Body on the English Early Modern Stage” (co-director with Katherine Eggert). English 2002. Wilson works at a public library in Westminster, Colorado.

At University of California / Davis: (1997-present)

21. Steve Cassel, "'Honesty' in Shakespeare." English, 2004. A talented teacher and meticulous scholar, Dr. Cassel died young of heart failure.

22. Andrew Majeske, "Equity in English Renaissance Culture." English, 2003.  Dr. Majeske published his dissertation  asEquity in English Renaissance Literature: Thomas More and Edmund Spenser. New York, Routledge, 2006. He is currently a Professor at John Jay College.

23. Katie Kalpin, "Charming Tongues: Representations of Women's Persuasive Speech in Early Modern England." English, 2005. The thesis was co-directed with Frances E. Dolan. Dr. Kalpin, now Dr. Katie Kalpin-Smith, holds a tenured professorship at the University of South Carolina at Aiken and is the author of Gender, Speech, and Audience Reception in Early Modern England (Routledge, 2017).

24. Onnaca Heron, "Chiasmus in Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum." English, 2005.

25. Jung Kook Paik, "Ideas of the Crowd in Shakespeare's Othello, Merchant of Venice, and The Tempest." English, 2007.  Dr. Paik teaches English in Seoul, Korea.

26. Karen Wilson, "Marriage and the Problem of Evil: Milton's  Material Moment." English, 2007.  Dr. Wilson retired to Ashland, Oregon from a position as a Lecturer in Writing at the University of Southern California.

27. Tara Pedersen, "A Picture of Mermaids: Gazing at an Early Modern Image.” English, 2009.  Dr. Petersen now holds a tenure-track position at University of Wisconsin-Parkside and has published a revised version of her thesis as Mermaids and the Production of Knowledge in Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2015).

28.  Belén Bistué, "The Difficulty of Thinking Translation in Early Modern Europe." Comparative Literature, 2009.  An article derived from this dissertation won the Owen A. Aldridge prize awarded by the American Comparative Literature Association in 2009. Dr. Bistue also won the Allen G. Marr Prize for the best dissertation at UC Davis (2011). She holds a tenured research position at the National University of Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina; a revised version of her dissertation was published as Collaborative Translation and Multi-Version Texts in Early Modern Europe by Ashgate in 2013.

29. Kyle Pivetti. "We'll Remember With Advantage: Mnemonic Arts in English Renaissance Literature." English 2010.  Dr. Pivetti holds a tenure-track position at Norwich University in Vermont, and a revised version of his dissertation, Of Memory and Literary Form: Making the Early Modern Englishg Nation, was published in 2016 by The University of Delaware Press. Dr. Pivetti has also co-edited a book with Dr. John Garrison called Sexuality and Memory in Early Modern England: LIterature and the Erotics of Recollection (Routledge 2016) and has co-authored a book with Garrison on Shakespeare as Pacifist, forthcoming from Routledge.  Pivetti and Garrison are also editing a series for Routledge called "Spotlight on Shakespeare."

30. John Garrison. "Friendship in English Renaissance Texts." English, 2011.  Having worked as an assistant and then a tenured associate professor at Carroll University, where he won the Outstanding Teacher award in 2013 and an award for outstanding service in 2015, Garrison has recently moved to a tenured position at Grinnell College in Iowa.  His bookFriendship and Queer Theory in the Renaissance: Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern England was published by Routledge in 2014, followed in 2015 by his book Glass, for the Bloomsbury Press's series on "Object Lessons." In addition to authoring many articles, Dr. Garrison has co-edited a book with Dr. Kyle Pivetti called Sexuality and Memory in Early Modern England: LIterature and the Erotics of Recollection (Routledge 2016). They have co-authored Shakespeare as Pacifist, forthcoming from Routledge, and are co-editing a Routledge series called "Spotlight on Shakespeare."

31. Natalie Grand, "Female Tutors in Early Modern English Drama."  English, 2011. Dr. Grand works as a free lance writer in Sacramento, CA.

32. Claire Dawkins, " Not a Whore: The Defense against Sexual Slander in Early Modern English Romances."  English, 2013. Dr. Dawkins has a full-time position teaching English literature at the Stanford Online High School. She will be speaking in a Roundtable on "K-16 Educational Alliances" at the 2017 MLA Convention in Philadelphia.

33. Valerie Billing. English, 2014. Her dissertation, co-directed by M. Ferguson and Gina Bloom, is being revised for publication as "Size Matters: The Erotics of Stature in Early Modern English LIterature and Culture."  She has published five articles and  currently holds a tenure-track Assistant Professor position at Central College in Pella, Iowa, in 2017.

34,  Dyani Johns Taff, "Contested Vessels: Gender and the Maritime in Early Modern Texts." English, 2015. Dr. Johns Taff holds a Lectureship in English at Ithaca College.

I am currently directing dissertations by Chris Wallis, Teresa Nelson, Victoria White (Comparative Literature, co-directing with Professor Juliana Schiesari) and Thomas Nez (co-directing with Professor Nathan Brown of Concordia University). I am serving on the dissertation committees of Samantha Sniveley, Lee Emrich, and Ashley Sarpong. I chaired  Averyl Dietering's Qualifying Examination in June 2017.