Petition to Preserve the C18 Divisions and Sessions at MLA
***PLEASE NOTE:Tthis petition is not meant to circumvent, in any way, the MLA's admirable efforts to garner commentary and input from members via the MLA Commons website. Indeed, we include the URL here:
We urge you, if your membership is up to date, to log-in to that site using your MLA member number and password and leave an extended comment there, in addition to signing this petition. The MLA Program Committee will be meeting next week to discuss these changes, a discussion that will continue well into the next MLA Convention. Please consider adding your voice to the conversation in these *two* ways.***
To: Rosemary Feal, Margaret Ferguson, and Marianne Hirsch
From: Jonathan Kramnick, Professor of English, Johns Hopkins University
Deidre Lynch, Chancellor Jackman Professor of English, University of Toronto
Danielle Spratt, Assistant Professor of English, California State University, Northridge
Rivka Swenson Assistant Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University
And the undersigned
Petition to Preserve the Divisions and Sessions of “Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century English Literature” and “Later Eighteenth-Century English Literature”
As scholars and teachers of the literature of the Restoration, early- and late-eighteenth-century British periods, we thank the MLA Group Structure Working Group, the Program Committee, the Executive Council, and the MLA staff for their tireless efforts in their proposal to better serve and reflect the work of all current and future divisions and discussion groups. We value the goal of having the MLA more accurately reflect the ever-growing and changing field of literary studies, and we recognize the relevance of implementing interdisciplinary global perspectives to map our fields.
We appreciate your invitation to respond to the newly proposed groups, and we thus write to voice our strong opposition to the proposal to merge the "Restoration and Early Eighteenth Century" and "the Late Eighteenth Century" into one large group, “The Long Eighteenth Century," as well as to the drastic 75% reduction in allotted sessions for the period that would follow. The proposed merger would not reflect the history or current state of work in eighteenth-century studies. It would serve to conceal, rather than clarify, the distinctions in scholarly and pedagogical methodologies employed by those members working in our expansive and varied time period, and it would enforce arbitrary period boundaries at the century's beginning and end. Along with the reduction in sessions in the period, it would have a chilling effect on MLA membership and attendance for scholars in the field.
We are concerned that a single group designed to cover over a hundred years of literary history would harm the study of both the literature and culture of the two periods in question. Such a revision, in fact, effectively counters at least three of the five priorities identified by the working group: “1. A commitment to the deep study of language, literature, and their histories; 2. The protection of small fields, including the study of less commonly taught languages; 3. The attempt to minimize hierarchies and exclusions among fields, large and small.” The suggested merger of divisions would marginalize the literature of the Restoration along with many non-canonical texts, authors, and topics from the later 1700s. It would the diminish MLA's commitment to historical coverage and historical periods at a time when the literary humanities have to fight for recognition and support from university administrations.
A brief survey of the MLA Database demonstrates the continued relevance of the specific field of Restoration study, from publications in broader eighteenth-century journals, to monographs and dissertations, to the journal Restoration, itself a vital contributor to our field as a whole. Likewise, an exploration into recent publications focused on literature and culture from across the eighteenth century represents an ever-increasing re-evaluation of the canon: a movement to reclaim and/or discover the diversity of Anglophone writing from the period.
Fundamentally, we express our collective concern over the suggested single division of the “Long Eighteenth Century” because one group—with only one or two MLA convention sessions—would fail to respect the rich and nuanced scholarly work that characterizes our field as a whole. Rather than seeing our request to remain a two-group field as a holdover or a cursory nod to antiquated scholarly norms, we assert that maintaining the two-group, multi-session structure of our field for the MLA represents the cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary methods and innovations forged by current scholars even as it best recognizes the sustaining intellectual backbone of our period.
The MLA has already agreed that it is inadvisable to collapse the distinction between the Romantic and Victorian periods, despite their relative chronological proximity. We stress that a collapse of our field simply to one broad time period would have similarly and unjustifiably devastating effects.
We commend the MLA’s move to accommodate new groups and areas from multiple disciplines and fields, a change that must result in a restructuring of the number of total sessions offered to groups and divisions. We recognize the need for a reduction in panels, but we respectfully seek an allocation that still adequately reflects the diversity of scholarship in our field. We are not only amenable to but also actively interested in continuing to encourage joint sessions with other groups and divisions, as we have done fruitfully in the past.
We thank the MLA Committee for hearing our concerns and look forward to a further dialogue about this issue. This letter is endorsed by the undersigned:
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