- MLA Honored Scholar of Early American Literature, 2018
Carla J. Mulford, professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, has been named the Honored Scholar of Early American Literature for 2018 by the Modern Language Association's Forum for American Literature to 1800. Mulford is a distinguished scholar, editor, pedagogue, and institution builder. Trained by J. A. Leo Lemay at the University of Delaware, Mulford shared her mentor's concern that the riches of the vast corpus of unexamined early American writing be made available for study in professionally edited formats. Her dissertation, "Joel Barlow's Letters, 1778–1788" (1983), is an extraordinarily useful and thorough presentation of a central figure's formative communications; it is one of the important unpublished dissertations in early American letters. She later published two significant critical scholarly editions. A best text presentation of the enormously popular Revolutionary-era satire by John Leacock, The First Book of the American Chronicles of the Times, 1774–1775 (Delaware, 1987), was followed by the pioneering collection of the manuscript and print verse of Annis Boudinot Stockton, a central figure in the women's literary sphere of the last decades of the eighteenth century. Mulford's edition mapped the extent of a women's literary domain that was also explored by Pattie Cowell, Susan Stabile, Karin Wulf, and Sharon Harris. Only for the Eye of a Friend: The Poems of Annis Boudinot Stockton (Virginia, 1995) is an award-winning work that introduced readers to the richness of the largely manuscript world of women's wit, sociability, and belles lettres.
Mulford served as period editor of the pre-1800 materials contained in the canon-expanding Heath Anthology of American Literature (first ed., 1990, through third ed., 1997). She later edited Early American Writings (Oxford, 2002), a vast undertaking that includes materials representing [End Page 637] cultures indigenous to the Americas as well as writings by British, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, Swedish, German, African, and African American peoples in America from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Her anthology work made her think deeply about what students should encounter in the pages of these volumes. This project had two enduring effects on her work: an engagement with pedagogy and a concern with adequately presenting Native American voices in any consideration of American letters. The fruit of her pedagogical thought is found in the MLA series volume Teaching the Literatures of Early America (MLA, 1999), and in her work with indigenous expression in nearly every graduate course she has taught at Penn State, which have been conceived in terms of multicultural encounters.
In 1990 Mulford founded the Society of Early Americanists and defined its mission in terms of early American studies conceived broadly, and not restricted to literary scholarship. As founding president, Mulford formulated the charter, institutional structure, and governance documents. The SEA since its organization has been an inclusive and active scholarly community. It continues to thrive, serving the field and expanding its purview in valuable ways.
Since the turn of the millennium, Mulford has repeatedly used Benjamin Franklin as a means of exploring a host of issues around cultural collision, empire, and enlightenment in a dozen articles. This inquiry culminated in her monograph Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2015. The book has been warmly received in a number of well-placed reviews. As Mulford says of Franklin himself in her preface to that study, the book exemplifies "the life of the mind [as] an ideal made palpable in the act of writing" (xi). Her unprecedented immersion in all things Franklinian makes for a book so rich that there is virtually no page on which one is not introduced to details about this towering literary, philosophical, scientific, and political figure that have escaped the repertoire of many an early Americanist. To summarize a complex treatise in a few words, the study argues effectively that Franklin's theories of empire developed in the context of an unflagging if initially implicit dedication to the political success of a young and potentially unworkable North American nation, despite his early allegiance to Britain and his carefully cultivated international reputation. At heart this [End...