Judith Yaross Lee, Ph.D.

Judith Yaross Lee, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor Emerita
1 Park Place 330 Baker University Center

Specialization: Literary Rhetoric; American Humor; Media History and Theory; Narrative Theory; Graphic Narration

Judith Yaross Lee, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Communication Studies, is an interdisciplinary Americanist who studies popular rhetorics at the intersection of media, social, political, and intellectual history. Educated at Oberlin College (A.B.) and the University of Chicago (A.M., Ph.D.), she arrived at Ohio University in 1990 after teaching at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, Helsinki University (Finland), Long Island University (Brooklyn, NY), and the Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago).  Her work reflects a transnational view of American culture as a site of ideological contention born of contrast with other places, especially Europe; she draws on archival and other historical records to build contexts for formal, genetic, and rhetorical criticism. Since 1986 her research program has produced 5 well-regarded university press books, an award-winning encyclopedia of American regional culture, 5 special issues of scholarly journals, 60+ peer-reviewed articles in notable journals and edited volumes, and, as principal investigator or co-PI, grants for research on American culture totaling $1.31 million from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ohio Humanities Council, and other sources. Before her 2019 retirement from teaching, Lee held the Charles E. Zumkehr Chair of Rhetoric & Public Culture, led the Central Region Humanities Center at Ohio University (which she co-founded in 2001), and contributed to shared governance as a representative to Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees as well as the chair or member of many departmental, college, and university committees. She chaired OU’s Society of Distinguished Professors in 2019-20 and continued as a CRHC advisor through 2021. 


Internationally recognized as a leading authority on American literary humor from Mark Twain to the present, Lee also has expertise in historical and contemporary rhetorics of popular science and technology, including electronic media, as well as in American graphic, radio, and performance humor. Always she examines individual examples in the context of larger cultural concerns, especially political ideology. Her volume Seeing MAD: Essays on MAD Magazine’s History and Legacy (2020) offers the most comprehensive and detailed view of a contender for “America’s most important humor magazine”; her historical introduction establishes Mad’s place in American humor and its significance among print media. Her previous book, Twain’s Brand: Humor in Contemporary American Culture (2012), which WorldCat reports has been acquired by libraries in 52 countries plus the U.S. and Canada, shows how recent American humor in many media--from contemporary fiction, stand-up comedy, and television satire to comic strips, graphic novels, and animated cartoons--offers insights into the post-industrial culture created by the information economy, for which Mark Twain created the earliest global comic brand. Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America (1991) and Defining New Yorker Humor (2000), the first scholarly studies of their topics, likewise probed relationships between American humor and larger cultural trends such as urbanization, Modernism, the New Woman, and secondary orality. Journal articles such as “Fossil Feuds: Popular Science and the Rhetoric of Vernacular Humor” (1994) and “‘The Culture Demanded by Modern Life’: The Galaxy and the Popularization of Science in America, 1866-1878” (2002) trace in popular media the tensions arising when scientific advancements challenge American ideological investment in the ordinary citizen. Her book chapter “Charting the Codes of Cyberspace: A Rhetoric of Electronic Mail” (2002/1996) remains the major theoretical statement on the subject. The Center for Mark Twain Studies devoted its 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium to research inspired by her article “American Humor and Matters of Empire” (2020); selected papers appeared in a special 2021 issue of Studies in American Humor. 


For her intellectual leadership, Lee has been asked to write the annual review of scholarship for Studies in American Humor, invited to lecture in Europe, Asia, and Australia as well as across the U.S., appointed editor of Explorations in Media Ecology (2001-04) and Studies in American Humor (2013-17), elected president of the American Humor Studies Association and the Research Society for American Periodicals, elected the first Executive Director of the Society for Literature and Science (which she helped to found), and commissioned to contribute to major editorial projects, including The Oxford Mark Twain (1996). In 2015 she was appointed the 2016 Fulbright Senior Professor of American Culture in The Netherlands for research and teaching on the theme “American Humor and Matters of Empire” at Leiden University. Ohio University recognized her achievements with its highest faculty honor, the Kennedy Distinguished Professor Award, in 2016. 

Judith Yaross Lee CV