Comparative Literature and English

Professor Brenton Hobart Honored by L’Académie Française

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Professor Brenton Hobart

On June 25, the Académie Française announced its list of prizewinners for 2021. The American University of Paris is thrilled to report that Professor Brenton Hobart of the Department of Comparative Literature and English has been awarded the Prix Monseigneur Marcel for best book in the field of history of philosophy for his book La Peste à la Renaissance. L’imaginaire d’un fléau dans la littérature au XVIe siècle (Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2020). “I’m simply stunned,” says Hobart. “It’s like winning an Oscar in my field. To win such a prestigious prize, recognizing a work, in French, dedicated to history and sociology, is all the more humbling.”

Hobart explains that historians often deal with writing on the Black Plague by exposing scientific documentation such as evidence of mass graves, bacterial infections, reports of suddenly deserted towns or death registers kept by church parishes, as well as comparative narratives written by medieval and early-modern chroniclers. “To reproduce historical attitudes of people faced with the plague, historians necessarily rely on the latter of these examples – the written word – including plague narratives in works of literature,” says Hobart. La Peste à la Renaissance looks at the mobility of clichés in historical and literary plague narratives to prove that our historical understanding of the disease is still today, to a large extent, based on a codified literary genre. “This fictional account of the disease, rehashed time and again over the course of the past three thousand years, necessarily ignores other, most likely more pertinent, facts.”

Such accounts may also influence how humans carry themselves in times of contagion. “Undoubtedly the same thing is happening right now with Covid-19,” says Hobart. He notes that journalists reporting on the disease, as well as fiction writers currently producing Covid-related works, are necessarily relying on the written word of others, likely more than their own objective worldviews. “We have an innumerable quantity of media from which we gather our information,” he explains. “If we were to take a good look at the content of these diverse, global sources, we’d probably recognize common traits, or clichés, which draw on an astoundingly limited corpus.”

About Professor Hobart

Professor Hobart holds doctoral degrees from Harvard University and the Université de Paris-Sorbonne. His research looks at representations of epidemics known as plagues in Renaissance literature from 15th- and 16th-century France. His prizewinning publication, La Peste à la Renaissance. L’imaginaire d’un fléau dans la littérature au XVIe siècle, was published by Classiques Garnier in 2020 and awarded the 2021 Prix Monseigneur Marcel by the Académie Française. He is currently working on his second book, covering plague representation in Rabelais’s time and titled « Y a il icy dangier de peste ? », which will also be published by Classiques Garnier.