Presenting at the 2015 Convention in Vancouver?

Whether this year’s convention presentation will be your first or your hundredth, here are a few tips to make it your best yet:

  • Don’t read your paper. Looking down and reading a paper that was written to be read rather than heard is a sure way to make your audience disengage.
  • Plan for accessibility. Give your audience the tools they need in order to engage with your work. Post your presentation on MLA Commons ahead of time, bring large-print copies of your presentation and visual materials, and make sure projected images will be easily legible from the back of the room. Briefly describe the materials for any attendees who are visually impaired (accessibility guidelines are available here).
  • Use interesting visuals. Avoid filling the screen with bullet points that mirror what you’re saying.
  • Engage with your fellow presenters. Find ways to connect your presentation with those of your fellow panelists.
  • Respect the time limit. Exceeding the time allotted for your presentation leaves less time for questions and discussion, and may even cut into your fellow panelists’ presentation time. Practice in advance to ensure that your prepared materials leave you with a minute or so to spare. That way, you have a cushion to deal with any technical issues or to make spontaneous comments.

Collaborating on Convention Materials Using Docs

If you’re working with other members on a roundtable or another type of collaborative session for the convention, you might consider using the Docs feature on MLA Commons. Much like Google Docs, Docs on MLA Commons allows more than one user to edit and save a document online without using a separate software program. This feature can help you and your copresenters prepare talking points, discussion questions, and more.

Posting Convention Materials to MLA Commons

Presenting at the convention? Consider posting your presentation on the 2015 MLA Convention group in advance. To upload a file, click Files in the left-hand navigation bar and follow the instructions. Make sure to include the session number, date, time, and location in the description. You can also add an annotation to the online Program by logging in to, finding your session in the Program, and adding a link or annotation in the text box.

Posting your presentation online not only makes it easier for all attendees to follow along and be fully involved but also allows those who may be unable to attend your session learn about your work (complete accessibility guidelines are available here).

Thank you!

Discover Vancouver

The MLA Annual Convention provides a host of ways to discover and share research, connect with colleagues, explore the newest offerings in the exhibit hall, and develop professionally. In addition to attending some of the nearly 800 presentations and events, be sure to schedule in some breaks to discover what makes Vancouver so special. We have developed a variety of excursions to help you explore Vancouver’s history, culture, and cuisine. You can sign up for excursions when you register for the convention, or you can write to Michael Reilly if you have already registered.

First Nations in Vancouver

As noted in Margaret W. Ferguson’s blog post, “Negotiating Sites of Memory in Vancouver,” the city is home to many First Nations communities, whose languages and cultures existed in the area long before George Vancouver visited in 1792. The Museum of Anthropology excursion provides a curator-led preview of an exhibit that explores the Musqueam Nation’s identity and worldview, as well as a visit to the museum’s Oral History and Language Lab. The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art  excursion examines one of Canada’s most famous indigenous artists, Bill Reid, and includes a conversation about the Haida language and culture with his granddaughter, Nika Collison (Jisgang), curator at the Haida Gwaii Museum.

International Art Exhibits

Vancouver is home to many world-class galleries and museums. Join a private morning tour of two exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery that focus on Chinese art: The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors, a showcase of nearly two hundred treasured objects from the collections of Beijing’s Palace Museum, and Unscrolled: Reframing Tradition in Chinese Contemporary Art, featuring works by Chinese artists who examine tradition’s influence on visual culture in China.


Discover why the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library is the busiest public building in the city. Join a librarian-led, behind-the-scenes tour of the building, which was designed by Moshe Safdie; the tour offers access to the special collections and highlights by the collections’ experts.


What better way to explore a city than through its food? On Thursday, join the morning excursion for a tour of Granville Island, followed by a three-course lunch at Bistro 101, prepared and served by the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts’ chefs in training. On Saturday afternoon, you can join the wine expert Jaime Kowan and Italian Kitchen’s executive chef, Mark Greenfield, for a two-hour tasting that pairs wines from British Columbia with a selection of small plates and canapés.

Preparing for the 2015 MLA Annual Convention

January 2015 is right around the corner! Or maybe it just seems that way from my desk in the convention office. MLA members have put together a great convention, and all of us on staff look forward to seeing you in Vancouver.

This year’s convention includes nearly eight hundred sessions, and more than two hundred address the presidential theme, Negotiating Sites of Memory. Nobody can attend every session, so we encourage you to extend the discussion on MLA Commons. Join the 2015 MLA Convention group and start a discussion, or create a group or blog for your session. Both are great ways to get the conversations rolling (and you’ll have a head start on your presentation).

Vancouver is a beautiful city situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountains. The convention center has views of the water and the mountains, and the MLA registration and welcome center features floor-to-ceiling windows. Great food from all corners of the globe will keep you going (along with the numerous coffee shops!). Vancouver natives and fans—we’re counting on you to post your favorites.

We’ll be back with more updates. In the meantime, we encourage you to join the conversation.

Registration will open in early September for all MLA members. Please reach out to us if you have any questions.


Karin Bagnall
Associate Director, MLA Convention Programs

Notes and Videos from Chicago Humanities Summit

Notes and videos from the Chicago Humanities Summit, held 9 January 2014, are now available. The summit, which was cosponsored by the MLA, featured a discussion of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ report The Heart of the Matter, as well as several breakout sessions on topics such as how to teach public humanities, how to start your own humanities festival, how to build relationships with foundations, and how to work with your state humanities council.

Notes from all sessions are now publicly available. In addition, the following sessions were recorded in full:

  • introductory session on The Heart of the Matter, featuring John Rowe, energy executive, Chicago philanthropist, and commission cochair; Richard Brodhead, commission cochair and president of Duke University; and Judge Diane Wood, of the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals
  • How to Do Digital Humanities Right,” a session led by Cathy N. Davidson, of Duke University, and Patrick Jagoda, of the University of Chicago
  • closing session, featuring the past MLA president Michael Bérubé, of Penn State University; Cathy N. Davidson, of Duke University; Alison Cuddy, arts and culture reporter at WBEZ 91.5 FM Chicago Public Radio; and Clark Hulse, chair of the board of the Chicago Humanities Festival

We hope you’ll enjoy these materials, especially if you were unable to attend the summit.

Vibrant Discussion on Career Paths at the 2014 MLA Convention

Humanities scholars have always flourished in a range of careers in, around, and beyond the academy, but graduate programs have typically not focused on preparing students for the variety of careers they pursue after their studies. This year’s MLA convention featured several sessions, discussions, and workshops on postgraduate career paths, reflecting not only member interest in the topic but also the MLA’s ongoing commitment, with support from the Mellon Foundation, to support increased transparency about and preparation for graduate students’ wide range of career pursuits.

One discussion of note was a pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts discussion about career options for humanities PhDs. Presenters included three career services professionals who specialize in working with graduate students. The discussion covered practical suggestions about where to begin, how to approach different kinds of searches, how to prepare application materials, how to incorporate a postdoc into career development, and how to make good use of campus career-services offices.

Audience members in the packed room tweeted using the #mla14 and #altac hashtags. An archive of the tweets provides a record of the many suggestions that the presenters offered and also reveals points of particular interest and discord. Speakers emphasized the importance of networking, professionalism, and maintaining general application materials that can easily be customized for different searches. They also suggested a range of resources, including Web sites that post jobs that may appeal to graduate students (e.g., HigherEd Jobs, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, USAJOBS, and Versatile PhD).

The MLA is already beginning to plan related events for next year’s convention in Vancouver. We welcome your suggestions for topics that might be of interest.


A few notes from the discussion

Finding Funding for Your Work

Humanities faculty, staff, and #altac professionals are often encouraged to seek outside funding for developing their humanities projects, but it’s often difficult to even know where to start. A quick visit to the website of the National Endowment for the Humanities ( can provide a sometimes dizzying array of grant programs. As a first step, I recommend you read “How to Get a Grant from NEH”, written by my colleague Meredith Hindley for NEH’s Humanities magazine. She effectively compiles some of the most common advice program officers share with potential applicants, and it’s worth a careful review.

When looking for the right grant program, it’s also useful to understand how NEH is structured.  There are six grant-making offices and divisions, and it’s helpful to think about the audiences and project types each might serve.  The Division of Research, for example, offers grant programs to pursue specific scholarly inquiries, either individually (through Fellowships or Summer Stipends) or collaboratively (Collaborative Research, Scholarly Editions & Translations).  The Division of Preservation & Access, as the name suggests, offers NEH’s primary program for digitization (Humanities Collections and Reference Resources), and centers on making humanities collections in archives, libraries, and museums more readily available to scholars and the public.  Collaborations between humanities scholars and librarians/archivists are a common feature in proposals to this division.  I heard a colleague recently describe the aim of the Division of Public Programs as translating humanities scholarship for the general public.  This public outreach often happens through programs at cultural organizations (Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Organizations: Planning and Implementation Grants) or through Media Projects (Development and Production Grants), which funds film documentaries, radio shows, and increasingly digital media projects. The Division of Education Programs helps scholars and school teachers focus on specific areas of humanities inquiry that can enrich their scholarship and teaching (Seminars & Institutes).  The Office of Challenge Grants offers large matching grants to support anything from infrastructure-building to recurring humanities programs. Finally, the Office of Digital Humanities supports basic research and innovation (Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants and Implementation Grants), professional development in new digital methodologies (Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities), and international collaboration (Digging into Data and the DFG-NEH Bilateral program).

It’s important to understand that while some projects really do fit best in one grant category, it’s not uncommon for more than one grant program to be appropriate for a larger project.  We encourage applicants to contact a program officer to discuss a possible submission, and in many grant programs we even are willing to read an early draft and provide comments. Check the guidelines for more information about these services.  For projects that are strongly located in a state or locality, I would also encourage you to contact your state humanities council, as they can be a wonderful resource.

Finally, even if you’re not quite ready to apply for a grant, consider taking advantage of our professional development programs.  The Summer Seminars and Institutes program offers two- to five-week-long sessions on an array of humanities topics, and the Institutes for Technology in the Digital Humanities help scholars learn about technology tools and methodologies (and the theories that inform them) relevant to the humanities. For most institutes, attendance is free and includes reimbursement for travel and lodging.

Each year at MLA, we offer a grant workshop to discuss these programs in detail, so look for us next year in Vancouver!


Tonight’s MLA Awards Ceremony

We hope you will join us tonight as we honor the winners of the MLA book prizes. The awards ceremony is open to the public and will be held at the Sheraton at 6:45 p.m. President Marianne Hirsch will preside, and the awards will be presented by First Vice President Margaret Ferguson and Executive Director Rosemary G. Feal. A reception will follow the ceremony.

Learn more about the winners of this year’s prizes on the MLA Web site.

Tonight’s Presidential Address and Reception

Don’t miss tonight’s Presidential Address, “Connective Histories in Vulnerable Times.” Beginning at 6:45 p.m., President Marianne Hirsch will discuss her personal and scholarly interests in how traumatic stories are transmitted—in images and narratives made in the aftermath of violence—in the light of her current work on vulnerability. These connections provide a fulcrum for her reflections on the MLA and on the challenges facing the humanities. Hirsch will suggest that an acknowledgment of vulnerability, whether shared or differentially imposed, can create new space for connective engagements in vulnerable times.

All are welcome to enjoy a reception immediately following.