Ben Franklin expert receives rare honor, continues mentor's legacy

July 13, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Filled with books about American literature and history, Carla Mulford's office is evidence of the passion she has for her research. Her fervency on her latest subject has already proven to be rewarding.

Mulford, a Penn State associate professor of English and expert on the subject of Benjamin Franklin, recently was elected as a member of the American Antiquarian Society, which she explained is "a rare honor granted to scholars, public leaders and others whose credentials, expertise and experience meet the high standards set by the society and its members."

Thirteen U.S. presidents have been members of the Society and fewer than 2,800 people have been members since it organized in 1812. Currently, there are 906 members and 75 of these have received Pulitzer Prizes for their work.

"One does not seek election to the society," Mulford said, "one is granted membership."

For her scholarly work about Franklin, Mulford has received grants for research from such institutions as the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She also has been invited to speak on Franklin at Cambridge University, Groningen University in the Netherlands, the Georg-August University in Goettingen, Germany, and at conferences in Ireland and Italy, in addition to several institutions across the United States.

In the early 1980s, when she was writing her dissertation for her doctorate in early American literature and culture at the University of Delaware, Mulford's mentor, J.A. Leo Lemay, was in the process of researching and writing about Franklin. Too intimidated to write about Franklin while Lemay’s student, Mulford held off for a while, knowing she would revisit Franklin's life. His fascinating personal history and his incredible skill in diplomacy have sustained her interest for many years.

Mulford spent the first half of her career examining problems in learning about and teaching American literature. She has spent the past several years researching the impact of early modern liberalism on early American culture, economics and politics. She has written more than a dozen pieces on Franklin and is in the process of finishing a book, "Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of the Empire."

In October 2008, MULFORD was one of four experts invited to speak at the National Archives on Franklin's role in negotiating the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

"The Treaty of Paris of 1783 was the document that officially severed any ties between Great Britain and the British colonies of North America, and it established the possibility of a separate and sovereign American nation with independent status in trade and everything else," Mulford said. "My role was to represent Benjamin Franklin's part in negotiating the Treaty of Paris. He was the central negotiator with whom and around whom all the others circulated their ideas."

She said her Franklin studies forged a great friendship with her mentor, Lemay, and she and he became, in the decade-and-a-half prior to his death, also in October 2008, each other's point person for questions regarding Benjamin Franklin.

At Penn State's University Park campus, Mulford teaches early American studies, comparative colonial studies and Native American studies. The founding president of the Society of Early Americanists, an interdisciplinary professional organization designed to sponsor research and collegiality in the field, Mulford also has served on the Executive Committee for the Modern Language Association's Division of American Literature to 1800, the oldest sponsored division in the field of American Literature at the MLA.

  • Carla Mulford

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated January 09, 2015