The 126th MLA annual convention: something for everyone

In the middle of the week, downtown Los Angeles was very much its usual self – with teenagers lining up to catch glimpses of the celebrities emerging from this year’s People’s Choice awards.

January 6, 2011

By this morning, however, academics had taken over several blocks for the annual Modern Language Association of America humanities convention.

The whole event is on a very Californian scale, with more than 800 sessions in all – about 40 for each 75-minute slot. Even individual sessions often bring together scholars from several different departments and disciplines.

One setting out to “redefine female detective fiction across cultures” juxtaposes examples from Catalonia, France and Russia alongside Alexander McCall Smith, author of the popular series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. There is probably not a single scholar in the world who has read all the books under discussion.

And that is just one option. Delegates at the MLA convention can also ponder whether to start with a session on African trauma or Arab literature, “digging into data” or disability poetics, Philippine Studies, Spanish cinema, women’s spiritual narratives or “how we read now”. And that does not take account of sessions on more local topics such as Riverside’s Mission Inn, “California’s unique museum hotel”, or professional challenges such as teaching senior seminars.

Nor are wider issues of academic freedom, teaching literature “in an age of scarcity”, the crisis in academic publishing or “rehabilitating scholarly ethos in hard times” neglected.

Even once participants have made their initial selection, that only takes them through to lunchtime on day one. There are going to be some tough choices over the four-day event.

MLA conference coverage

For coverage of the MLA convention, see and Times Higher Education magazine on 13 January.

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