Modern Language Association Report, 2020

WESS Newsletter

Spring 2020, Vol. 43, No. 2

In my role as the ACRL LES/ESS liaison to the Modern Language Association, I attended the 2020 MLA Convention in January. This year’s theme was “Being Human.” It is always hard to summarize everything that happens at a large convention like MLA, but from what I saw, major themes this year included public humanities and advocacy, the #metoo movement, and prison literature. 

Before I dive into some of the sessions I attended and committee work I was involved with this year, I wanted to highlight an easy way that you can keep up with what happens at the convention, even when you can’t attend in person. Panels at MLA are assigned a number, and frequently participants at the conference use these numbers with a hashtag and the letter “s” on Twitter, which makes it easy to find.  You can look up Session Listings and then go on Twitter to see if anyone was discussing that session. It can also be helpful to add the #mla20 hashtag to help narrow the results. For example, there was a great discussion on Twitter around the session “From Exclusion to Access: Disrupting the Academic Prestige Economy” (486). 

A highlight for me this year was a session sponsored by the Advisory Committee on the MLA International Bibliography called “What is Humanities Research Now” (308). It focused on a study cosponsored by the MLA and Ithaka S+R. Different librarians reported on the findings from their institutions, with a focus on different topics, such as digital humanities, public humanities, research and instruction, scholarly communication and copyright, interdisciplinary nature of literary scholarship, and special collections. It was a well-attended session with some great questions, especially a great conversation about how to define what public humanities is. Some of the individual reports are now online, and I think they are well worth reading.

I went to many other sessions, but I’m going to highlight two other ones that I found interesting. One was “Making, Preserving, and Curating Born-Digital Literature” (594). This session was sponsored by the Electronic Literature Organization, and I found it very interesting to hear the steps they are taking to preserve these electronic literature projects, including using retro machines and relying on metadata. Another session I went to that I found very interesting was “Comics and the Digital Humanities” (659). This session also made me think about preservation in terms of what we are trying to do to preserve both physical and web comics.

This year was my first year on the Advisory Committee on the MLA International Bibliography. Our committee met during the convention, which provided me with a great opportunity to meet other librarians and faculty members on the committee. We discussed next year’s MLAIB related programming for the convention, so I can provide you with a sneak preview now. The topics will be about impact metrics in the Humanities and celebrating the MLAIB’s centenary year with a panel celebrating its history and looking towards the future. Being on this committee has given me an interesting perspective on committee work at MLA and a deeper understanding of the work it takes to make a tool like the MLAIB. I would definitely recommend to both LES/ESS members that they consider getting involved with an MLA committee.

I’ll leave you on a fun note.  The last year or two I’ve been lucky enough to take part in a cultural excursion. This year I went to the Chihuly Garden Tour and Glass Blowing Demonstration. Any fans of Netflix’s show Blown Away can probably relate to how exciting it was for me to see a glass blowing demonstration in person! 

As always, I would love to hear from you if you have suggestions on topics related to MLA that you would like me to address in the future!

Arianne Hartsell-Gundy
Librarian for Literature and Theater Studies
Duke University