Dear MLA Members,
It is our pleasure to announce that the Executive Council has approved a proposal for a new division and discussion group structure starting with the 2016 convention. As cochairs of the working group that developed the proposal over three years, with broad-based consultation among individual members, numerous MLA committees, and the Delegate Assembly, we are delighted to introduce the new structure and to invite you to become involved in implementing it. We know you will have lots of questions, and you will find answers to many of them here.
This extensive review was the first in forty years. It aimed to respond thoughtfully to intellectual changes that have occurred since 1974, which have affected the kinds of work done in long-established MLA fields while also contributing to the formation of new fields.
Several priorities guided the multifaceted review process:
- a commitment to the deep study of language, literature, and their histories
- the protection of small fields, including the study of less commonly taught languages
- the attempt to minimize hierarchies and exclusions among fields, large and small
- the aim to lessen the divide between English and foreign languages in the MLA
- the desire to add new fields in emergent areas
As you review the new structure, you will find much continuity as well as a number of significant changes.
- For the sake of democratization and simplification, the distinction between discussion groups and divisions has been eliminated in favor of the single category forums.
- The forums are grouped under nine rubrics, which are meant to enhance the legibility of the new structure while allowing intellectual exchanges within and across categories. Forums are arranged alphabetically within these nine rubrics:
- Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
- Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies
- Genre Studies
- Media Studies
- Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing Studies
- Language Studies and Linguistics
- Theory and Method
- Transdisciplinary Connections
- Higher Education and the Profession
- Forums will be reviewed every five years and will thus have regular opportunities to study their histories and their plans for the future.
- Each forum will have a group site on MLA Commons for year-round communication.
- Many new forums have been preapproved by the council and can hold sessions as early as 2016.
- Members may propose additional new forums starting with the 2018 convention.
- A new kind of convention session, the three-year seminar, is geared to specialized topics that call for sustained attention beyond that which is offered by the special session format. They will be introduced for the 2018 convention.
As we introduce this new structure, we are keenly aware of the many negotiations and imperfect compromises that produced it. The discussions in which we have engaged with many of you during these last three years have been both invigorating and humbling. We are grateful for the time and thought you put into your comments. We learned from them all, and they led us to think hard and in new ways about how to negotiate among many differing ideas and stakes in the future of the MLA.
Beginning this process, we knew that we could not actually complete it, if completion meant devising a structure that would stand unaltered for decades. We hoped to provoke a conversation among members about the shapes and priorities of our fields. This conversation has certainly occurred, and it has produced a structure that includes, as a constitutive element, a process of regular review.
With this letter, we happily announce that one phase of the conversation has concluded, and we look forward to the new phases that will occur at MLA conventions, in MLA committee meetings, and on MLA Commons. Our thanks go to the working group (Srinivas Aravamudan, David Bartholomae, Brent Edwards, Carla Freccero, Mary Louise Pratt, Richard So, and Patricia Yaeger); to members of the Executive Council, who gave us much advice; and to all MLA members who commented on the various drafts circulated over the past year. We also thank Rosemary G. Feal, who encouraged us at every step of the way, and the many MLA staff members who contributed to the revision process and who will now be working with the membership on implementation. We can’t wait to see how members use the new structure to expand their interests at the convention and on MLA Commons.
Margaret Ferguson, President
Marianne Hirsch, Immediate Past President