MLA Meeting Designed for Broader Appeal

I haven’t been to the Modern Languate Association’s annual conference in the last several years, in part because the time slot (between Christmas and New Year’s) is horrible if you want to spend time with your family (imagine that!).  Some of it is just sour grapes — I pitched a few proposals to the MLA that didn’t get accepted, but the proposals I pitched to the 4Cs did get accepted, so I went where my scholarship was a good fit.

Last year I blogged about my frustration with the 4Cs conference hotels that don’t make wireless access available to attendees, which not only frustrates presenters who assume they’ll be able to show a YouTube clip during their presnestation, but also severely limits the amount of liveblogging that happens. I wasn’t staying at the conference hotel, so I didn’t have wireless access during the conference, so this year I chose not to liveblog… I imagine many others made a similar choice. It’s frustrating to be presenting on a Web 2.0 topic, without being able to demonstrate Web 2.0 techniques to your audience. 

Recently the 4Cs announced a search for a “web editor,” but apparently the job description went out without any input from the fellow who had been volunteering for four years in a very similar position, and the move drew some criticism.

But it looks like blogging is part of the MLA’s strategy to open up its conference to a wider audience.

Rosemary G. Feal, the MLA‘s executive director, is blogging the conference this year. That isn’t the only thing that’s new, as she explained in a conversation with The Chronicle.
The pragmatic bent of many of the program offerings (see our previous
blog post) is part of a deliberate strategy to respond to “the changing
demographics” of the MLA‘s membership, Ms.
Feal said. That means workshops and more teaching-oriented sessions to
supplement panels devoted to lace collars in the work of Jane Austen
(Ms. Feal’s hypothetical example of a traditional MLA panel topic).

It’s kind of a tradition for a journalist to get ahold of the MLA program, or maybe even attend a small handful of panel sessions, and then publish an article that makes the whole thing look like a bunch of navel-gazing, angels-dancing-on-pin-counting book nerds with nothing better to do than make up ridiculous things to say about obscure books, or obscure things to say about pop culture, or popular things to say about ridiculous books (or anything at all other than what literature professors are supposed to be doing, which apparently doesn’t include presenting papers at the MLA).

Any group of experts is going to talk about things that don’t make sense to outsiders, so it’s not hard to cherry-pick with the intention of making the MLA look ridiculous. I think the MLA oranizers have the right idea in their intention to address changes in the profession and present, for a wider audience, a broader view of the totality of the organization’s accomplishments.