Rivka Swenson and I are trying to alert everyone working in 18th-century studies to an important discussion taking place at the MLA right now. This is a proposed restructuring of the existing discussion groups and divisions that would drastically reduce the number of guaranteed panels for our field, and merge existing “Restoration,” “Early Eighteenth Century,”and “Late Eighteenth Century” fields into a single “Long Eighteenth Century” field. The effect of this proposal would be to reduce guaranteed panels at the annual conference from 8 to 2, and to demand that panels be constituted from submissions from all three sub-fields.
Here, to begin with, is Pres. Marianne Hirsch’s explanation of the “document map” concerning a proposed reorganization of the MLA’s committee structure:
There are further, general remarks found at this link, but no rationale for the specific collapsing of existing 18th-century sub-fields or reduction of panels. There is no narrative explanation for the newly constituted or merged groups or what these new names might mean.
The MLA Commons site is confusing, but please persevere until you reach this site, which contains the “document map” for the proposed changes. On the left there are the new “groups”; you will find the new collapsed groups under the heading of “English,” with “Restoration,” “Early Eighteenth Century” and “Late Eighteenth Century” now listed as part of “The Long Eighteenth Century.”
The relevant paragraphs to comment upon are 82 and 83, which can be accessed by clicking on the panel names on the left, or by scrolling down on the numbered paragraphs on the right.
Please let the MLA Working Group, and Prof. Hirsch, hear what you think about this proposal and its specific impact on eighteenth-century studies. How would it affect you and your work? How would it affect the work or job prospects of your graduate students? Does this proposal reflect an up-to-date understanding of the research going on in your field? Would it affect your willingness to attend or contribute to MLA? And so forth.
I would also suggest that all discussion for the moment go to the MLA, so that it can be seen by the MLA leadership. It would be helpful for all these comments to be on the MLA site by the 18th of September, in time for the Program Committee to consider the feedback. I will observe that the total comments on the two 18th century panels have reached about 44, and that these overwhelmingly negative comments vastly outnumber the comments on the other portions. So good luck, and I hope to see your thoughts on the MLA site.