The Year in Conferences (YiC) is designed to speed up the circulation of ideas between and among scholars by covering the major conferences in the field. These “reports from the field” are written by graduate students from across the country in a collaborative group-authored article and published annually in the first issue of the journal. Now in its fourth year, this Year in Conferences has expanded to include ALA, ASA, C19, MLA, and SSAWW.
Modern Language Association
Written by Annie Dwyer; Bill Hunt; Kathryn Walkiewicz; Dominique Zino
A photo of Seattle Central Library graces the cover of the 2012 MLA Convention program. In the picture, a splashof white light bounces back at the camera from the library’s glass shell, deflected in myriad directions by the multiangular turns of the building as it mushrooms out over the city block between 4th and 5th Avenue downtown. Only a few clear patches in the glare expose silhouettes of the objects beneath that surface, and they are evanescent at best. Architect Rem Koolhaas, in fact, designed this library as a fortification against the “Barbaric” digital – a breakwater to protect books from the swelling current of electronic media and the obsolescence of print. Koolhaas’ polemics aside, many panels on nineteenth-century American Literature at the MLA [End Page 113] sought to identify ways in which scholars can accommodate the growing diversity of media and even allow their pedagogy to benefit from it, to discover how the foundation of the humanities can be strengthened and reinforced through new technologies of the Digital Age.
Program link: http://www.mla.org/conv_listings_res
Archival Futures and Digital Possibilities
A strong theme at this year’s MLA was the role of the digital: How does the field of digital humanities expand and change the field of literary studies? How does this reveal what the humanities have to offer to other disciplines and the larger civic sphere? What are the stakes? For the roundtable “What’s Still Missing? What Now? What Next?: Digital Archives in American Literature,” speakers reflected on their experiences during the first two decades of the digital archive. Much of the panel was devoted to historicizing digital history and parsing this history into distinct eras. While acknowledging that the current era still calls for continued experimentation and elaboration, participants emphasized the need to increase the sustainability of digital-based scholarship, and stressed the importance of improving the accountability of the digital artifact through increased attention to scholarly practices of vetting and verification.
Complementing this discussion was “Reconfiguring the Literary: Narratives, Methods, and Theories,” which explored the methodological implications of the digital humanities. This session asked attendees to reconfigure common approaches to the literary by re-imagining what we do when we do literary analysis. Alison Booth presented her bibliographic website, Collective Biographies of Women (CBW), while Mark Byron’s “digital transcription” of Samuel Beck-et’s Watt (1953) offered a multilayered interface with the text. Øyvind Eide presented a self-built program that creates computer-generated maps based on geographic description in literary texts. Alexander Gil and Rita Raley pushed the audience to think through the potentials as well as possible future challenges for digital humanities. [End Page 114]
“Principles of Exclusion: The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Archive” not only explored the literary gaps that are redressed by digital technologies, but also identified the gaps that the digital perpetuates itself. Using Stanford’s online archive Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls as a case study, William Gleason praised the increasing availability of text via the digital, but cautioned that these resources do not necessarily fill in the gaps initiated in print archives. Also concerned with archival absences, Amy Earhart walked readers through the surge in small operation literary websites beginning in the mid-1990s. Earhart saw the do-it-yourself impulse of the era as deeply generative, but noted that many of these sites have gone dormant or are no longer easily accessible. Elizabeth Lorang turned to the absence of authorial naming in pseudonymic poetry, arguing that the interface of both newspaper poetry, much of which was pseudonymic, and digital archives can help us better understand and curate anonymously authored...