Category Archives: MLA

MLA 2014, pt III: The Revised Draft of the MLA Forums, Open Hearings, plus updates


Hi folks,

I won’t be attending MLA this year, but I wanted to provide a few 18c updates for those attending and those staying at home:

As always, at the Long 18th, we’re always happy to hear about any news or thoughts about the matters discussed in or out of the panels at MLA. Hit Reply if you want to pass along some bit of news.

Stay warm,


MLA 2014, pt II: sessions organized by the late-18c division, Jan. 9-11


And now for the later 18c.

Below you will find the sessions organized by the Late 18c Division for this year. As with the other post, please feel free to share your thoughts about these sessions, or about MLA more generally, below. Thanks, DM

113. Have We Ever Been Secular?

Thursday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Division on Late-Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Presiding: Deidre Shauna Lynch, Univ. of Toronto

1. “Never: The Making of the Modern Aura,” Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, Univ. of California, Irvine

2.  “Pretending to Believe, Pretending Not to Believe,” Lori Branch, Univ. of Iowa

3. “Was Sentimentalism Secular?” Lisa M. O’Connell, Univ. of Queensland

4. “Quasi-nonsecularism; or, The Eighteenth-Century Sublime,” Richard A. Barney, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York

Session Description: This session revisits customary narratives about Enlightenment and secularization and explores 18th-century studies after the “theological turn.”

235. Life: Before and after 1800

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Late-Eighteenth-Century English Literature and the Division on the English Romantic Period

Presiding:  Kevis Goodman, Univ. of California, Berkeley
Speakers:  Amanda Jo Goldstein, Cornell Univ.; Heather Keenleyside, Univ. of Chicago; Catherine Packham, Univ. of Sussex;Andrew Piper, McGill Univ.

Session Description:
“Until the end of the eighteenth century . . . life does not exist: only living beings.” Our two divisions will revisit Foucault’s still influential, periodizing thesis to question its validity in the light of recent work in the field and to think about what we do and do not share.

  608. War and Literature, 1754–1815
Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., O’Hare, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Late-Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Presiding:  William Beatty Warner, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

Speakers:  Siraj Ahmed, Lehman Coll., City Univ. of New York; Betty Joseph, Rice Univ.; Scott Krawczyk, United States Military Acad.; Daniel O’Quinn, Univ. of Guelph

Session Description:
In the wake of the 250th anniversary of the Seven Years’ War, considered by many as the first worldwide war, we would like to open a discussion of war and literature. On both the continent of North America and the Indian subcontinent, war for empire among the European nations swept away first nations, redrew boundaries, and inflected communal identities.

MLA 2014, pt I: sessions organized by the restoration and early 18c english literature division


In light of earlier posts urging continued representation of all three sub-periods in our 18c MLA sessions, I would urge any ASECS members attending MLA this year to attend as many sessions as possible and show your support.

Below you will find the sessions organized by the Restoration and Early 18c English Literature Division.  Feel free to comment here if you have any thoughts about the session you saw, or about MLA more generally. Thanks, DM

MLA 2014_Page_1

MLA 2014_Page_2

Last Year’s Letter from the Exec Committee for Late-18c English Literature (Anderson, Goodman, Lynch, Macpherson, Warner) about the Proposed Reorganization

Hi folks,

Since the program committee is meeting  soon, I would suggest, yet again, that if you feel a stake in the proposed reorganization, please visit the draft proposal site to register your response ASAP. The relevant paragraphs concerning 18c studies are paragraphs 82 and 83.

There is also an online petition getting circulated by Rivka Swenson, Danielle Spratt, Deidre Lynch, and Jonathan Kramnick, which would be helpful for you to sign. Please take a look, and if you agree, sign and share with your colleagues.

Here is the very thorough response that last year’s Late Eighteenth-Century Division made to the proposal to reorganize the 18c group and reduce its conference panels.  The writers of this letter are making it available to the Long 18th and its readers, so that the 18th century scholarly community can see the efforts they have made to work with the MLA in its ongoing development.  It is clear, however, that this letter was not taken into consideration when MLA moved forward with the proposal. Take a look:

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_1

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_2

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_3

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_4


David Mazella

18th century folks: please add your comments to the MLA draft proposal before September 18th

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.



simon gikandi’s slavery and the culture of taste: a collaborative reading?

When I arrived at MLA, I learned that Gikandi’s book, Slavery and the Culture of Taste had just been awarded, along with Greenblatt’s The Swerve, the James Russell Lowell Prize. Would readers of the Long 18th be interested in arranging a collaborative reading of this book for this spring?  If I get enough responses, I’ll see if I can solicit Simon Gikandi to participate.  If you’re interested in participating, or better yet, organizing, hit the Comment button or contact me offline at dmazella at


PS: It would be helpful if those responding would let me know the best time to schedule this week-long event.  Thanks.

MLA 2012: The Future of Early British Studies

A Marketplace of Ideas? The Future of Early British Literary Studies

Presiding: Robyn Malo, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette; Manushag Powell, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette

1. “Problems for the Future,” Helen Deutsch, Univ. of California, Los Angeles

2. “Curricular Requirements and the Problems of the Present,” Seth Lerer, Univ. of California, San Diego

3. “Solutions?” Emily Hodgson Anderson, Univ. of Southern California

The subject of this panel was the challenges and opportunities facing Early British Studies in the current climate. What kind of future does Early British Studies have in higher education?  How can we engage students?  The panelists considered these questions in various ways.

Helen Deutsch looked back in order to look forward, we might say.  She implicitly argued against the suspicion that Early British Studies have no relevance to what people care about now.  Her strategy was to demonstrate in fascinating detail the influence of Jonathan Swift over Edward Said.  She reminded us that Said had long planned a book on Swift; she suggested the profound connections between the kind of public intellectual that Said became and vigorous eighteenth-century models for such a position.

The next two panelists focused on student engagement with the period.  Seth Lerer discussed the challenges of teaching Early British Literature to a new generation of students.  He described a large lecture class he was teaching at San Diego, in which the majority of students spoke English as a second language and only one had brought the book.  The rest were reading the material on their iPads, laptops, and even iPhones.  Yet in spite of this set-up, the talk did not turn curmudgeonly.  These students were welcome on his lawn, and he took seriously the challenge of communicating with them.  He proposed that we include the history of technology in the way we teach Early British Literature, drawing connections between the move to the digital and the transition to the codex.  He argued that this kind of contextualized narrative would be consistent with the discipline itself, suggesting that one of the distinguishing characteristic of humanities disciplines was concern with its own history.  The sciences, he pointed out, supersede their history and thus have little interest in what came before.

Finally, Emily Anderson offered some thoughts about the problem of “relevance.”  She noted tensions in eighteenth-century courses between our impulse to historicize and the student desire to find themselves in the literature, collapsing those historical differences.  She pointed out that students often come to literature classes out of a desire to write their own story.  Her strategy, which she has found to be effective, has been to use this to her advantage and cultivate this impulse, but then also, we might say, to theorize the impulse itself.  For this she uses Tristram Shandy, though a difficult text for undergraduates, as a model, which is after all the story of someone writing himself into being. She has even started to offer students a creative option to the usual critical paper, although they also need to discuss their choices and strategies in a critical way.

Overall, a worthy and engaging panel, filled with great ideas about how to bring Early British Studies into the 21st Century.


MLA 2012: When Assessment Goes Bad

[x-posted at]

On the first day of MLA 2012 I attended “Assessing Assessment(s),” chaired by Jeanne A Follansbee (Harvard), with talks by Donna Heiland (Teagle Foundation), John M. Ulrich (Mansfield University), and Eve Marie Wiederhold (George Mason). Reed Way Dasenbrock was unable to attend, which is a shame because I heard an excellent talk that he gave last year and was looking forward to his perspective on this issue. (I have also taught his essay from Falling into Theory in my “Critical Methods in Literary Study” class.)

All the papers were sharp and interesting, with Heiland considering the role of assessment in cultivating student learning, Ulrich reporting on the highs and lows of his institutional practice, and Wiederhold offering a vigorous critique.

But what really enlightened me at the panel was the Q&A, during which it became clear that there was a lot of really terrible assessment going on out there. One speaker described how an “assessment professional” had been hired at her institution to set the learning outcome goals for all the programs. Another reported that he regularly turned in a series of graphs charting student grades, much to the delight of local assessment administrators.

I had mostly assumed that everyone hated assessment because it is part of the paradigm shift described by Tagg and Barr from “Instruction” to “Learning” (a point discussed by Heiland) which pretty radically goes against the status quo and thus makes people anxious. (Maybe this goes back to Dave’s discussions of “threshold concepts.”) Further, I too hated it at first, as it seemed redundant and intrusive. Now, though, I see it as part of a potential change from counting credit hours (or as my former provost used to say, “butts in seats”) or relying on student evaluations (or, as Roksa calls them, “student satisfaction surveys”) to opening up new ways of emphasizing, appreciating, and thinking about learning itself as the goal, which in turn leads to thinking that there might be better ways to get there than counting up things up, be they credit hours or survey scores. So while assessment has the reputation of bean counting, in fact we are currently wading through heaps of beans (credit hours; evaluation scores; grades; office hours; chairs bolted to the floor; multiple choice tests) without even noticing them as they have become so natural to our environment. In a true “culture of assessment,” there would be fewer beans.

It seems, though, at some institutions assessment has not been part of a larger consideration of student learning, but instead the evil bureaucratic exercise that many feared it would become.

Why do students hate groupwork? Part 2

[X-posted on Assessment for Learning 101]

One of the most-read posts on this blog is David Mazella’s classic, “Why do students hate groupwork?”  The original post prompted a lively discussion, including comments by students themselves telling us why, in fact, they hate groupwork.

I was thinking about this discussion yesterday at my MLA panel, “Academically Adrift,” which featured Josipa Roksa, one of the authors of the book after which the panel took its name.  Offering a brief overview of her findings (with co-author Richard Arum), Josipa introduced the section on study groups by saying, “This is the one that always gets me in trouble.”  And indeed, part of the discussion that followed concerned this issue.

In short, Arum and Roksa found that students who worked in study groups showed significantly lower learning than those who studied on their own.  What does this mean for collaboration?

To me, the most interesting point that came out of the conversation was that the problem might not be group work itself, but the way it is done.  Roksa speculated that there is a tendency for the professor to assign group work without enough structure and also without providing any training for students in collaboration itself.  We tend to come up with a project, give it to a group of students, and say “go collaborate,” which turns out to be ineffective.  She briefly discussed a colleague of hers who teaches a semester-long course specifically on collaboration.  So perhaps her answer to the question posed by Dave’s original post might be that students hate it because they don’t know how to do it and as a result they don’t learn much.

What I found particularly interesting was Roksa’s emphasis on collaboration as a skill that needs to be learned.  As someone raised on theory that taught me how gender, race, and all kinds of identity formations are constructed, I had never given much thought to collaboration as “constructed” as well.  Perhaps for too many of us, it seems like something that students should just know how to do.  But apparently they don’t (and in fairness, we often don’t either).  I wonder, then, if we should be thinking about ways to get collaboration skills into the curriculum—not just in the form of collaborative assignments but as a learning outcome goal in itself.


What’s Going On at MLA

Ted Underwood has a very smart response to Stanley Fish’s recent article in the New York Times, in which the latter characterizes digital humanities as an “insurgent” successfully overturning postmodern theory.  Underwood takes Fish’s characterization to be flattering for digital humanists (although off base, for persuasive reasons); Rosemary Feal, however, astutely points to the article’s crankiness in her twitter summary: “I see you on my lawn, kids.”

Having read all the comments to Fish’s article so far, I think we could summarize them as follows: “why are these people talking about things we don’t understand and why aren’t they talking about literature, language, and learning like they are supposed to be doing?”

Oddly, however, the Presidential Forum, with 70 linked sessions, is on “Language, Literature, Learning.”  These sessions overlap with many other interests, including digital humanities, but nevertheless they all explore the very topic that commentators seem to find so lacking at MLA.  This central theme does not make its way at all into Fish’s trend round-up.  Perhaps it would make a very dull column to report that thousands of scholars will converge to renew their fascination with language, literature, and learning, sharing their research, insights, and commitment to higher education.

How do we more accurately communicate what is really going on and liberate ourselves from these (dated?) Oedipal narratives?