Dominique Brancher named Henri M. Peyre Professor of French

Brancher, a specialist in the French Renaissance, joined the Yale faculty in the fall of 2023.
Dominique Brancher
Dominique Brancher

Dominique Brancher, a specialist in the French Renaissance, was recently appointed the Henri M. Peyre Professor of French, effective immediately.

Brancher, who joined the Yale faculty in the fall of 2023, is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in the Department of French.

With a research focus that spans France’s medieval period to the early 17th century, Brancher works at the intersection of several disciplines, including the history of the book, history of medicine, sexuality studies, and animal and plant studies. She has helped to revitalize the field of French Studies by contributing to the foundation of a new subfield, the biological humanities. Her research explores the strategies used to describe and stage the natural world and its creatures, a strikingly original process she refers to as “an archeology of ‘la pensée du vivant.’” She combines the history of knowledge and anthropological paradigms with cultural history and models of the living world.

Before coming to Yale, Brancher held the chair in ancient French Literature at the University of Basel, a city that played a decisive role in the development of humanist culture. She also taught at the University of Geneva, Bern, Bordeaux, and Johns Hopkins. While a visiting professor at Yale, she organized international colloquiums and conferences, such as the Colloquium Herbaria and “’Artialize’ Nature, Naturalize Art: When Plants and Other Creatures Become Living Books,” reflecting her interest in the interplay between so-called “literary texts” and other disciplines such as medicine, botany, and philosophy. Her interdisciplinary graduate seminars similarly broaden French Studies to connect cultural and intellectual history, anthropology, and reflections on the connections between humanity and other forms of life. By establishing a fruitful dialogue between the natural sciences and textual studies, she transcends the traditional boundaries of history and literary criticism.

Her scholarship invites students to free themselves from their chronocentrism, by tackling ancient texts written in a language that is no longer ours, which “estrange” us and are therefore interesting.

She has authored many publications, including two ground-breaking books: “Équivoques de la pudeur: Fabrique d’une passion à la Renaissance” (2015) and “Quand l’esprit vient aux plantes” (2015) and has directed numerous special issues, including “Montaigne en Asie” in 2024 and edited volumes (“‘L’admirable greffier de nature’: Héritages botaniques et zoologiques de Pline au XVIe siècle” (2023). She is now preparing a book on the French philosopher Montaigne and is involved in several multidisciplinary and international projects, including one on “lithic culture,” which explores the boundary between the animate and the inanimate. She has received numerous prestigious awards and fellowships, including the Prix de l’essai et de la critique littéraire for “Équivoques de la pudeur.”

Brancher is also engaged in collaborative projects that span the globe. With colleagues from universities around the world, she co-directed a project on the ecology of relations between humanity, animals, and plants in early modern Europe. She is also co-lead in a major project on the role of the book in the development of collecting practices of early-modern Europe — a project that asserts the digital as a heuristic form of knowledge, interprets the poetics of inventory, and interrogates the archiving of the bizarre in a genre to which she brings fresh critical attention: the catalogue. In addition, Brancher is a member of the scientific team for the project “An Archeology of Pain, 16th-18th centuries,” and she has organized and participated in numerous international conferences and events that explore subjects as wide-ranging as the history of medicine and health, including the pox epidemic in Early Modern Europe, metaphors in Renaissance books, animal anecdotes from the 16th-21st centuries, forms of life and models of discourse, the history of censorship, the auctoriality of the publisher, and the encrypted universe of La Fontaine's fables.

Brancher has a master of arts degree from the University of Geneva, a DEA [diplôme d’études approfondies] from Paris-Nanterre. She earned her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and her second Ph.D. from the University of Geneva.

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