Mary Franklin-Brown is an associate professor in the Department of French and Italian, where she researches the literature and intellectual history of premodern France. Named a Distinguished University Teaching Professor in 2016, she offers courses in medieval literature and languages (Old French, Old Occitan, and Medieval Latin) and serves on the Graduate Faculty of the Center for Medieval Studies.
Professor Franklin-Brown's first book, "Reading the World: Encyclopedic Writing in the Scholastic Age," was published by the University of Chicago Press in 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 analysed 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 allowed 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 series of volumes, "The Human in the Middle," which exploit twelfth-century texts to fill a historiographical and temporal blindspot in recent work on the posthuman or new materialism. Through interpretations of Latin lyric, philosophical poetry, commentaries on classical texts, the translation/adaptations of classical epic in the romans d’Antiquité, and the romances of Chrétien de Troyes, she uncovers a complex, sometimes self-contradictory interrogation of what it means for us to be beings caught in the web of time and matter.
The first book in the series, "Time and the Lyric," ranges across classical and medieval literature but is organized as a study of a single text, the Arundel lyrics, a collection of erudite poetry from later twelfth century now owned by the British Library. Written by poets trained in the liberal arts, philosophy, and theology, these poems refract much of the learning available in their time and are strongly marked by the temporal regimes of music, astronomy, calendars, and humanistic learning. The book thus investigates the multiple temporal regimes that shaped the experience of medieval intellectuals. More broadly, it locates the human being at the intersection of temporal regimes--natural, cultural, and technological.
As a complement to "The Human in the Middle," 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 constitute or shape community? How can we revalorize poetry as something that functions in the world, rather than simply the esoteric indulgence of a few educated readers? This project is producing a series of articles on the chansons de geste (French epic, especially the songs of the rebellious barons) and the sirventes (invective poetry) of the troubadours Bertran de Born and Guillem de Berguedà.