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In Memoriam: Robert Scholes


It is with great sorrow that we report that Robert Scholes, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities Emeritus, passed away on December 9, 2016 in Barrington, Rhode Island.  Professor Scholes was a celebrated scholar, teacher, and mentor to generations of students and colleagues, and we join Jo Ann Scholes and the Scholes-Putnam family in mourning his loss.

Robert Scholes was an eminent literary critic and theorist, a pioneer in work on narrative in its multiple forms, a Joycean, semiotician, theorist of pedagogy, and scholar of modernisms, literary, artistic, and social.  His theoretical work and innovative interdisciplinary imagination shaped path-breaking intellectual work in English Studies and Comparative Literature, cultural theory and comparative modernisms, and beyond.  Founder of the Semiotics Program at Brown, the first of its kind in the United States, his many legacies at the University include Brown’s Department of Modern Culture and Media and the Malcolm S. Forbes Center for Culture and Media Studies, as well as the Professor Robert Scholes and JoAnn Scholes Fund for Graduate Education in MCM.

Professor Scholes was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Art and Sciences in 1998 and received Honorary Doctorates from the Université Lumière Lyon 2 (1987) and the State University of New York, Purchase (2004).  He served as President of the Modern Language Association (2004) and President of the Semiotic Society of America (1989-90), and he received the Francis A. March Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession of English from the Association of Departments of English/Modern Language Association in 2000.

As a researcher, Professor Scholes was prolific and catholic, historically astute and theoretically provocative. The author of 15 books and co-author of another ten, he edited and co-edited a dozen additional volumes.  His books range from scholarly editions to classroom “Textbooks,” from theoretical interventions addressing structuralism, semiotics, and the “protocols of reading,” to timely institutional analyses of “the rise and fall of English” and “English after the fall.”  Professor Scholes’s monographs were awarded prestigious prizes, including both the Modern Language Association’s Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize (1986) and the National Council of Teachers of English David H. Russell Research Award (1988) for Textual Power, and the Research Society for American Periodicals book prize for Modernism in the Magazines, co-authored with Clifford Wulfman (2011).  Professor Scholes’s research was supported by fellowships from Guggenheim, Mellon and the ACLS, and as these honors testify, his work was read across the profession, by scholars with interests pedagogical, theoretical, and institutional that spanned the intricacy of modernist prose, science fiction and fantasy, Joyce and Derrida, and modernism’s “little magazines.” 

Professor Scholes was as engaged by the complexities and challenges of pedagogy as he was by literary texts, and he was an innovator in his classroom, his disciplines, and the university.  Arriving at Brown to join the Departments of English and Comparative Literature in 1970, he immediately began work to rethink and reorient literary and cultural studies at the university.  Even as works like Structuralism in Literature (1974) and Semiotics and Interpretation (1982) persuaded literary scholars to see their work in relation to developments in philosophy and linguistics that were to change the face of literary and cultural studies, Professor Scholes undertook to establish the Semiotics Program, where film and literature were studied in a robust theoretical frame that identified both as signifying systems and “texts.”  He was the first Brown professor in the humanities to use a computer in his courses, and he was the founder of the Modernist Journals Project, a digital archive of early-twentieth century periodicals contributing to the rise of modernism, of which he served as Director from 1995-2012.  He was instrumental to the creation of the Department of Modern Culture and Media, which he served as inaugural chair.

 Professor Scholes was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929.  After taking his A.B. at Yale University in 1950, he served as a gunnery officer in the U. S. Navy from 1952-1955.  He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1959, and he taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Iowa, before joining the Brown faculty in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature in1970.  After his retirement from full-time teaching in 1999, Professor Scholes was appointed Research Professor of Modern Culture and Media.

Robert Scholes 1929-2016 by Sean Latham

Welcome! Come in and look around. There are some links here to various aspects of my work as a scholar and teacher.

Who am I? I am a Research Professor at Brown University, based in the Department of Modern Culture and Media. I am also an Emeritus Professor of MCM, English, and Comparative Literature.

What am I doing here? I came to Brown in 1970 as an English Professor, after having taught at the U. of Virginia and the U. of Iowa. I was a founder of the Semiotics Program here, which grew into the Department of Modern Culture and Media. I have taught in three departments--courses in modern literature, art, opera, and theory--but I retired from full-time teaching in 1999. I have written--or had a share in writing--over thirty books, and served as President of both the Semiotic Society of America and the Modern Language Association. Now, as an unpaid Research Professor, I work mainly with graduate students, and do not teach formal courses. The main thing I am doing at present is directing the Modernist Journals Project at Brown, which is becoming a major resource for students of modernism.

My CV can be found here.

My Facebook page is here.

My recent books:

English After the Fall--From Literature to Textuality (U of Iowa Press, 2011).

The "Epilogue" from this book, which proposes a sample program in Textuality, may be found here.



 1. In the Providence Journal

2. In Publisher's Weekly

3. In Choice

4. In The Midwest Book Review

ModMagCoverModMagCoverModernism in the Magazines--An Introduction (with Clifford Wulfman, Yale U Press, 2010)






1. In Choice

2. In Harper's

3. In Modernism/Modernity

4. In The Journal of Modern Periodical Studies

Paradoxy CoverParadoxy CoverParadoxy of Modernism (Yale U Press, 2006)




1. In Bloomsbury Review

2. In Rocky Mountain Review

3. In Modernism/Modernity

Some courses I have taught:

In the Fall of 2003 I taught a graduate seminar in the theory and practice of literary history. Here is a version of the home page for that course, (Comparative Literature 265).

During the Spring Semester of 1998-99, I taught a graduate seminar in Comparative Literature, CO 282.1, called "What was Enlightenment?" that emphasized the work of Mozart and Jane Austen. Here is a schedule for that course.

I also taught a course in MCM, MC 150.6, called "The Rise of the Private Eye." Here is a schedule from that course.

During the fall semester of 1998-99, I taught a course in British writing of the 1930's, called A Low Dishonest Decade, using this syllabus.

Recent Lectures:

"Teaching and Clowning as Modes of Performance" (given at Dalhousie University in September, 2011)

"Academic Writing--Euphemism or Oxymoron" (given at MIT in October, 2011)

Modernist Art in the Magazines, 1893-1922 (given at the ACLA conference at Brown in March, 2012)

Recent Articles

"General Introduction to the Marsden Magazines" (from the MJP web site editions of The Freewoman, The New Freewoman, and The Egoist)

"Modernist Art in a 'Quality' Magazine, 1908-1922" from the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies