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.

Discussion of Career Options for Humanities PhDs

If you’re a graduate students or recent doctoral program graduates who is thinking about pursuing careers beyond the classroom, you won’t want to miss Friday’s discussion on career options for humanities PhDs.

This nuts-and-bolts conversation features three career-services professionals, who will lead an informal discussion and offer brief presentations about the various employment paths and postdoctoral opportunities open to recipients of PhDs in the humanities. It will cover 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. The discussion is part of the MLA’s ongoing work, with support from the Mellon Foundation, to broaden the career horizons of humanities scholars and graduate students. Participants are encouraged to bring their CVs and other application materials for review. The presenters will be Jennifer E. Hobbs, Northwestern Univ.; Patrick Houlihan, Univ. of Chicago; and Kamilah McCoy, Northwestern Univ.

The discussion will take place from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, 10 January, in the Regal Room, Fairmont Chicago.

Exhibit Hall Events

Going to the convention? The exhibit hall in the Sheraton Chicago (River Exhibition Hall, level 1) will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Pick up an exhibitor map or visit the MLA Web site for a complete list of exhibitors.

Once again this year the exhibit hall will feature an Exhibit Hall Theater, where exhibiting companies will conduct presentations, feature publisher highlights, and offer product demonstrations during exhibit hall hours. Don’t miss the demonstrations of MLA Commons on Friday at 4:50 p.m. and on Saturday at 9:50 a.m.

Visit the MLA booth (100) to catch up on the latest MLA publications and services, to meet with MLA staff members, or just to take a breather and sit in a comfy chair. All MLA titles will be available to order at a 25% discount off the list price, with free shipping.

A reception celebrating new MLA titles will be held on Friday, 10 January, at 3:30 p.m. Please join us for wine and cheese and visit with the authors of our latest titles.

Check the Convention Daily (available free at the registration and welcome centers on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) for updates on receptions and events that will be taking place at various exhibit booths throughout the hall—and remember to wear your badge!

Making the Most of Convention Resources

The MLA offers more ways than ever to stay on top of the latest convention information—the Program is available in print, Web, and mobile versions; MLA Commons features two groups for attendees; we’ll continue to post resources and reflections on this blog; and informal conversations are already under way on Twitter using the #mla14 hashtag. Whether this is your first convention or you’ve been attending for years, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you don’t miss any of the details.

  • Join a convention group on MLA Commons. Two groups—2014 MLA Convention and First-Time Convention Attendees—will help you navigate the convention, connect with colleagues, and keep up with the latest information.
  • Annotate the online Program. Did you know you can add information to your session’s entry in the online Program? Log in to, find your session in the online Program, add information to the text box below the Program entry, and click Update Annotation. The annotation will be publicly visible. This is a great way to add links to supplementary materials, such as a blog or Web site that you and your copresenters have created. (Note that annotations are not visible in the mobile version of the Program.)
  • Share your presentation materials. If you’re presenting, we hope you’re already planning to bring large-print handouts to your session. Why not make those materials available online as well? Join the 2014 MLA Convention group on the Commons and upload your handouts as a file or post the text in the Forum. If you have your own blog, either on the Commons or elsewhere, link to it from the Forum so it’s easier for fellow convention goers to find. Make sure to include the session-specific Twitter hashtag (“#s” plus the session number [e.g., #s471]), and annotate the online Program to include a link to the materials.
  • Know where to find the information you need. If you’re looking for general information and aren’t sure where to find it, check the 2014 Convention Information and Services page. Maps and floor plans are available in the Convention Guide (PDF), as well as in the mobile Program. For the latest updates, make sure to pick up a copy of the Convention Daily each of the first three days; there, you’ll find special notices, changes in schedule, and brief reports on convention activities. (Copies of the Convention Guide and the Convention Daily are available free at the MLA registration and welcome centers.)
  • Give Twitter a try. Not sure where to start? Guest contributors Roopika Risam and Ernesto Priego share their tips in two recent posts.

No matter which resources you choose, we hope that they help you make the most of your time in Chicago. As the convention progresses, please consider providing feedback for the sessions you attend by clicking the Session Survey button at the bottom of each session page in the online Program. Your input helps shape future conventions.

Virtual MLA: A Quick Guide to Using Twitter at the MLA Convention

This year’s MLA convention name tags are getting a makeover, as participants were given the option to include their Twitter handles on the badge. Since 2007, MLA convention attendees have been extending their participation beyond the session room on Twitter. Tweeting convention-goers mark their 140-character observations about the convention with a common hashtag (this year, #mla14), allowing other Twitter users to keep tabs on convention happenings. A quick look at hashtags of yore (from the first tweeted convention, #mla07, to the most recent, #mla13) reveals a neat archive of the convention discussion, which has grown to include commentary on sessions, questions about conference logistics, calls for casual meetings (or “tweetups”), and even tips for a good breakfast.

There are a number of compelling reasons for engaging with the MLA convention Twitter back channel. First, it opens up convention spaces to members and scholars unable to attend. In doing so, convention tweets emphasize the importance of public scholarship to our work and expand the conversations in which we engage broadly. At this vulnerable juncture in our profession, the Twitter discussion renders our labor as academics visible to the public. Within academic circles, convention tweets give us insight into developments in fields beyond our own. With so many choices for sessions, we are limited in what we can attend, but we can catch up and forge connections on Twitter. There, we can widen our academic communities beyond the divisions of department, college, and university that may otherwise circumscribe our intellectual communities.

Tweeting from the convention offers the potential for both richer experiences and missteps. Here are a few tips for maximizing the convention experience through Twitter:

Follow the Hashtag: The official hashtag of this year’s convention is #mla14. Tag your conference tweets with the hashtag, and search #mla14 to keep track of convention events. For laptop users, the TweetDeck app lets you keep a window dedicated to the hashtag open and pushes updates to it automatically. On a smartphone, the HootSuite app lets you combine Twitter with other forms of social media.

Work the Network: At loose ends for dinner? Looking for a running buddy to brave the frigid clime? Send a tweet using the convention hashtag. Check out #mla14 tweeters whose content matches your interests and follow them. Look at the lists those people are on to find others who share your interests. Building academic networks and finding support beyond the local has never been easier.

Invite (or Decline) Tweets While Presenting: Presenters who welcome tweets about their talks should consider making an announcement to that effect to the audience. Presenters with Twitter handles may wish to share them with the audience so they can include it in their tweets. Presiders on panels with presenters who are all comfortable with tweets should consider making an announcement on behalf of panelists and remind attendees of the specific hashtag for the panel: “s” and the session number (e.g., #s597), alongside #mla14. Presenters who do not want audience members tweeting during their talks should consider requesting that the audience refrain from doing so.

Tweet with Care: Respect the wishes of all presiders and panelists when tweeting. The #mla14 hashtag will be followed by a lot of people, so Twitter-averse colleagues may not want their ideas disseminated beyond the session room. When tweeting, make sure to name the speaker, being careful to properly attribute and faithfully represent the speaker’s words. When responding to tweets about others’ talks, remember that the tweets are a snippet of a larger conversation. Asking questions may be a more meaningful way to begin engaging than making assumptions or drawing conclusions.

Remember that Twitter Is “Real Life”: Abstractions of the digital world notwithstanding, tweets feel very real when someone is talking about you, directly or indirectly. Maintain decorum, professionalism, and civility on Twitter. If you wouldn’t say it during the Q & A at the end of a talk, do not tweet it. Tweets can be limited in their ability to convey complexities, so whether tweeting or being tweeted about, do not be quick to react, judge, or attack. Tone, snark, or sarcasm can be difficult to discern, so start with the benefit of the doubt and pursue concerns through more private channels.

Not convinced? Test the waters by signing up for a Twitter account, and check out the conversations about #mla14 that are ongoing. You may be surprised to find clever conversation, a new group of colleagues, or even friends.