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#MLA09

I’ve been busy tweeting up a storm at the MLA this year (or what amounts to a storm for me, anyhow), but haven’t been compelled to write a full blog post as yet — a situation that got called out when a pal of mine here suggested that this blog had turned into alternating posts reading “I’m on the road on the way to X” and “sorry for not posting; I’ve been really busy.”

Which is to say: sorry for not posting; first I was on the road on the way to the MLA, and it’s been really busy since I’ve been here.

But as I’ve got approximately 15 minutes of downtime before my next meeting, I thought I’d use the time to say, despite the undeniable gloom here this year, I’ve had a really extraordinary conference: a full day of brilliant panels yesterday, two great “tweetups” (I know) with my MLA-attending Twitter pals, and a bunch of great meetings today.

The most exciting of those meetings was with Bonnie Wheeler, president of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, who has, it turns out, not only been reading Planned Obsolescence but has also been talking about it in really exciting ways. We talked at length about the ways that the issues I discuss in scholarly book publishing are also affecting scholarly journals, and the ways that she and other editors are attempting to face them — thinking through the future of peer review, the future of publishing infrastructures, the future of intellectual property, and so forth. She mentioned that she’s working on an article for the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, which I very much look forward to seeing.

The panel I put together for the Discussion Group on Media and Literature, entitled “Media Studies and the Digital Scholarly Present,” also went fabulously, with four great papers by Chuck Tryon, Dave Parry, Tanya Clement, and Jeremy Douglass. We’ve posted lots of stuff from the panel at MediaCommons, and I hope that the discussions started there will continue.

I’ve also heard a bunch of amazing papers, including in particular Meredith McGill’s “What’s the Matter with the History of the Book?”, in which she lamented book history’s turn toward a sole focus on the material aspects of the text and away from any kind of textual analysis or interpretation, in the end suggesting that media studies (and digital media studies in particular) might provide an opportunity for book history to re-integrate textual with material analysis.

It’s clear to me that the story of #MLA09 is the digital humanities; all the DH panels were overflowing, and the presentations and conversations were energized and filled with possibility, at a moment when the future of the profession as we’ve known it seems very much in doubt.

But that’s just the thing: most of the digital humanists I know are committed to changing the profession, to making it something we haven’t yet known — and just as the need for change is becoming inescapably clear, the possibilities for such change are beginning to seem very real.

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  1. I am struck by the phrase “digital humanist,” with its overtones of a galatea 2.2-esque professoriat – which is not, I know, what you mean, but fun to imagine nevertheless. Thinking about MLA occupies the same general brain patterns as thinking about the US government: I’m wondering it’s impossible for any cohort of individuals, no matter how passionately progressively intelligent they, to change the direction of these huge inert ships. Maybe it’s b/c I’m catching up on your posts post-Mass, post-Supremes collapse in the face of big biz, but I’m thinking that eventually MLA will simply be a rotting hulk attended only by the very young or the very old, while the rest of us will be attending some terrifice tweeted panels or sharing ideas and discussions through media commons or some as yet unimagined forum.
    call this a digital sigh.