An Open Discussion of MLA Group Structure

A working group cochaired by Marianne Hirsch, president of the MLA, and Margaret Ferguson, first vice president of the MLA, in consultation with members of the executive committees of current divisions and discussion groups and with the advice of a large number of members, has created a draft proposal for a new MLA group structure and is seeking your guidance. Visit groupsdiscussion.commons.mla.org to join the discussion.

9 Comments

Gema Pérez-Sánchez

I am having technical problems leaving my comment directly in the section of the draft proposal on which I wish to comment, that is, the change in name of the former Division of 20th-century Spanish Literature, into the new Division of 20th- and 21st-century Iberian, so please forgive my sending the comment through here.

I have read the rationale for the proposed changes to the structure of groups and divisions and I agree with it on principle. However, in practice, the elimination of “Spanish” and “Portuguese” from the list of languages in divisions seems absolutely baffling to me. The MLA keeps headings such as French, English, German, and Hungarian, but eliminates from the list two of the main languages spoken in the world?

I concur with many of the comments on the side of the newly renamed “Iberian” section and would like to emphasize that, while “Iberian” makes perfect sense as a label prior to the Early Modern period, it makes very little historical sense after that. Renaming the former Division of 20th-century Spanish Literature, “20th- and 21st-century Iberian” while at the same time creating divisions for Galician and Catalan–which already would take care of the issue of possible exclusion of Catalan- and Galician- (or Basque-) language scholarship under this division–does not seem wise. Having been a member of the executive committee of that division, I can guarantee you that scholars who submitted works on Catalan or any of the other languages of the Spanish State (this is the preferred, politically-correct name for the country, by the way, i.e., “El Estado Español”, which already acknowledges the inclusion of all the historical nationalities in the Iberian Peninsula and their languages, of course, minus Portugal), where always included in our panels.

Also, there is the issue of subsuming Portugal and Portuguese culture under the term “Iberian.” Is this country included in your view under “Iberian”? I suspect not, since there are two other divisions called, respectively, “Global Lusophone” and “Luso Brazilian.” Why not include Portuguese there?

In short, I urge the MLA not to make the mistake of taking out the categories of Spanish and Portuguese from its Divisions.

Profile photo of Anna Chang Anna Chang

Dear Professor Pérez-Sánchez,

Thank you for taking the time to join in this important discussion. I’m sorry that you encountered problems with the groups discussion site. My colleagues and I will follow up with you by e-mail to make sure you have the opportunity to post your comment on the draft proposal itself.

All best,
Anna

Richard Barney

I am also having technical difficulties leaving a comment regarding the proposed group reorganization, since after signing into the MLA website, it does not allow me to sign into the Commons section.

In any case, I concur with pretty much all the comments regarding why it is a bad idea to collapse the Restoration and early 18th-century and the late 18th-century British sections into one. Aside from the problems of historical definition or conceptualization in such a move, which have already been pointed out, there is a related matter of sheer numbers, since it would produce a field covering approximately 140 years, with only one panel pertaining to it for the convention. This would be an extraordinary impoverishing of our ability to give the area any kind of just consideraiton, especially when we compare that arrangement to other neighboring periods, including Romanticism and Victorianism, which cover roughly only 40 to 70 years–from less than one third to about one-half the amount of time. In cases like this, quantity tells us something significant regarding our chief concerns regarding the quality of the MLA’s categories.

Profile photo of Anna Chang Anna Chang

Dear Professor Barney,

Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry for the trouble you experienced. There is a separate log-in required for MLA Commons, and posting a comment on the draft proposal does require creating a Commons log-in. I do hope that you will be willing to create a Commons account and to post your comment at groupsdiscussion.commons.mla.org so that it will be seen by the Program Committee, the Executive Council, and others that will be discussing the draft proposal. If you—or others—are having difficulty logging in, please feel free to e-mail commons@mla.org. We’re happy to help!

Best,
Anna

Profile photo of Lisa Vollendorf Lisa Vollendorf

I’ve given more thought to the overall restructure of the groups. I do not like the conflation of Spanish with Iberian because I worry about what will happen to the various groups within the current Spanish and Portuguese configurations if we move to Iberian as the overall category.

That said, my primary concern is that we are trying to accommodate many conflicting, rational, and usually important goals within the MLA right now but we cannot avcomplish all of these goals with equal success so we need to stop and prioritize. It seems to me our conflicting goals are: want to be better positioned for public engagement with the humanities and educational issues; we want to accommodate the changes in our fields so we are creating new subdivisions within MLA (digital humanities, Galician, etc.); and we are responding to the development of new sub disciplines by conflating or eliminating old fields to bring in the new. I worry that we are simultaneously delving into significantly more specialization (in response to pressures coming from various camps whose titles or languages or interests are not currently represented in explicit ways in the MLA structure) and also forgetting or eliding our broader goal of speaking more effectively, cohesively, and accessibly to the public about humanities advocacy. In short, I worry that we are becoming even more sub divided and highly specialized at a time when we need more than ever to be cohesive, united, and coherent as a group of humanists when humanities need articulate defenders.

Profile photo of Anne J. Cruz Anne J. Cruz

Dear Anna, The site is not allowing me to scroll down to the specific group “paragraph” to leave my comment, so I am leaving it here.

The MLA’s revision of its divisional structure is timely and, indeed, necessary in order better reflect the changes that have occurred within, across, and beyond the fields and disciplines currently represented by the organization. For reasons that are not at all well understood, however, some of the divisions that continue to be functional and serve a vibrant and large constituency have been reconfigured to such an extent as to have disappeared altogether. As expressed in the above comments, I am particularly concerned with the change from the division title of “Hispanic Literatures” (which problematically included Luso-Brazilian) to the group now called “Iberian,” a paleo-geographical term that from the 16th century to this day holds no meaning linguistically, culturally, socially, or politically. Catalan and Galician have rightly been recognized as languages and cultures equally as significant as (and different from) Spanish, and deserve their own subgroup. My Portuguese colleagues have made a strong case for the separate identity of Portugal, whose linguistic and cultural extension beyond the Iberian peninsula, however, is included in a new group called “Luso.” Yet nowhere is Portuguese or, what is most worrisome to me, Spanish specifically mentioned. For the MLA to create a mythical group that does away entirely with the name known across the world of the language officially spoken, written, and read in 20 countries and unofficially in the U.S., Belize, and Andorra, sends a perplexing message not only to those of us who have fought for years to establish the value of Spanish literature, language, and culture in American university curricula and in academic organizations, but also to those of us who have endorsed Spanish in states with strong “English only” movements, and who have defended native and heritage speakers of Spanish, as the largest non-English speaking group in the U.S., against language discrimination. I urge the MLA working group to reconsider the literal and symbolic importance of granting independent recognition both to Portuguese and Spanish.

Profile photo of Anna Chang Anna Chang

Dear Anne,

Thank you so much for your comment. I’ll send you an e-mail to see if we can resolve the trouble you’re having with posting on the site. I would hate for your feedback not to be included in the full record of the discussion.

All best,
Anna

Profile photo of Katina Rogers Katina Rogers

Dear Professor Vollendorf,

Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’d like to encourage you to post it at http://groupsdiscussion.commons.mla.org/ as well so that it will be seen by the Program Committee, the Executive Council, and others that will be discussing the draft proposal. You might add it using the first link in the list of comments, which is intended for comments on the proposal as a whole.

I see that you’ve been able to successfully comment on the site, but if you do run into any technical difficulties, please don’t hesitate to email us at commons@mla.org. Thank you!

Best,
Katina

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