Paul Fisher

Professor of American Studies

Cultural historian of the Belle Époque and biographer of the Henry James family and John Singer Sargent.

My research in American Studies has combined literature, art history, cultural history, and gender and sexuality studies. I often examine American internationalism and transnationalism, so that my work is comparative as well as interdisciplinary. My first book is Artful Itineraries: European Art and American Careers in High Culture, 1865-1920. My second, House of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family, looks at Henry, William, and Alice James in the light of social and cultural developments of their time as well as family dynamics underemphasized in previous accounts: mental illness, alcoholism, and sexuality. My most recent book, The Grand Affair: John Singer Sargent in His World, treats Sargent’s life in its larger cultural context, specifically in respect to historical constructions of gender and sexuality. It foregrounds Sargent’s private work as well as the women and men, the patrons and models, who helped shape his artistic production, especially Mary Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Albert de Belleroche, Nicola d’Inverno, and Thomas McKeller.

My teaching interests embrace 19th-century American literature and culture; poetry, especially Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; American art of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, especially John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt; transnationalism, expatriatism, and multiculturalism; biography, life stories, and memoir; American material culture; the American West; American popular culture, historical and contemporary; public writing; and gender and queer cultures and histories.

I'm a contributing member of several professional organizations, including the American Studies Association and the Henry James Society, but I have also tailored my work to public audiences. I have presented my work on the James family in radio, television, print, and Web interviews in the United States, Britain, and Ireland. My work has been reviewed in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Spectator, and the Times Literary Supplement, and many other publications. I have also contributed to exhibitions and lectured on Sargent, Gardner, and Cassatt in many venues, including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Recently I participated in the Gardner Museum’s landmark exhibition, Boston’s Apollo, which treated John Singer Sargent and his Black model Thomas McKeller. This exhibition catalog won a George Wittenborn award for excellence in art publishing. My most recent book, The Grand Affair, was named a New Yorker and a Times Literary Supplement book of the year in 2022 and was nominated for the Biographers International Organization’s Plutarch Prize in 2023.


  • A.B., Harvard College
  • B.A., Trinity College (Cambridge)
  • M.A., Trinity College (Cambridge)
  • M.A., Yale University
  • M.Phil., Yale University