Mary Franklin-Brown is an associate professor in the Department of French and Italian, where she teaches courses in medieval culture, literature, and languages (Old French, Old Occitan). She also serves on the Graduate Faculty of the Center for Medieval Studies and the Adjunct Faculty of the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature. With extensive experience working in European manuscript libraries, she is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Medieval Society, Paris.
Professor Franklin-Brown's first book, "Reading the World: Encyclopedic Writing in the Scholastic Age," was published by the University of Chicago Press in August 2012 with a subvention from the Medieval Academy of America and won the 2013 Harry Levin Prize from the American Comparative Literature Association. It is the first book in English devoted to the encyclopedic movement of the thirteenth century. Working from manuscript and early print sources of the texts of Vincent of Beauvais, Ramon Llull, and Jean de Meun, she analyses the various discourses that are absorbed into the medieval encyclopedia (taking "discourse" in the Foucauldian sense of a paradigm authorized by institutional power that allows the construction of both the subjects and the objects of knowing), and the way in which their juxtaposition alters their interplay. This archaeological study of the scholastic encyclopedia allows her to situate encyclopedism at the heart of scholasticism, to open up the medieval compilation to new modes of reading, and to revise the claims made in Foucault's early work on the history of thought.
Professor Franklin-Brown is now working on a second book, "Rewriting the Human in the Twelfth Century: Matter, Form, Time," which reassesses the humanism of such twelfth-century writers as Bernard Silvester, Alan of Lille, Hildegard of Bingen, Peter of Blois, and the translator-poets who produced the Old French Romances of Antiquity. In the new book, she argues that these texts' ambivalent representations of the human, which are fissured by the conflicting philosophical paradigms of the period and complicated by experiments in literary form, can both deepen our understanding of the twelfth-century "renaissance" and provide useful grounds for present-day debates (elicited by artificial intelligence, robotics, and science fiction) about the "posthuman."
As a complement to "Rewriting the Human," Professor Franklin-Brown is also studying the human as political animal, or the animal that possesses language. In the period before strong central governments, how did poetry function to define or challenge community? How can we revalorize poetry as something that functions in the world, rather than simply the esoteric indulgence of a few educated readers? As preparation for this third book, which will treat liturgical poetry, hagiography, the chanson de geste (epic), and troubadour lyric, she is publishing a series of articles on twelfth-century political poetry.