Yesterday (28 February) was the last day to post calls for papers for the 2018 MLA Convention. If you are looking to present a paper next year, you will probably start scrolling through the list, searching for key words, and typing up a meticulous abstract in the hopes of making it onto a panel.
There are great resources on writing up an abstract that succinctly conveys the importance, originality, and pertinence of your research—see, for example, these posts from Grad Hacker and The Professor Is In.
But every conference is different. What should you keep in mind about the MLA when applying? For a start, that there are different kinds of CFPs, reflecting different streams of conference organization. This may not be obvious if you simply search CFPs for key words or names, but knowing the differences could help you craft a more effective abstract.
The “Browse Calls for Papers” page offers links to five subcategories of CFPs: (a) Allied Organizations, (b) Special Sessions, (c) Forums, (d) MLA Committees, and (e) Working Groups. Let’s take these one at a time.
(a) Allied Organizations: these are professional societies external to the MLA, like the Cervantes Society of America and the South Asian Literary Association. So if, for example, you are already a member of the Poe Studies Association (or thinking about joining!), you might find their proposed sessions especially pertinent, and a great way to connect with other specialists.
(b) Special Sessions are proposed by individual members and reviewed by the Program Committee. If you submit to a Special Session, it is worth considering what the session organizer needs in order to create a successful proposal and how session proposals will be scored, and then composing your abstract with those goals in mind. Focus on the specific relevance of your project to the theme and aims of the session.
(c) Forums (unlike Allied Organizations) are internal to the MLA, and each member may have five primary forum affiliations. If you do not have any forum affiliations, log in to the MLA site and go to Membership >> My MLA >> Forums in order to sign up!
(d) MLA Committees organize panels on a range of professional and scholarly concerns. Looking to contribute to current debates on activism, pedagogy, or the digital age? You will find these opportunities (and more) here.
In 2018, the CSGSP will put forward panels on “Interviews in the Digital Age,” “Possibilities of the Public Humanities,” and “Precarity and Activism.” Check out the descriptions and send us your proposals!
(e) Working Groups are new for the 2018 Convention, and the format aims at facilitating intensive, seminar-style collaboration. Participants exchange materials beforehand and meet over multiple days at the Convention. Look out for a Working Group CFP that resonates strongly with your research.
Good luck with your abstracts, and hope to see you in New York!