Author Archives: Caroline Egan

Navigating CFPs for the MLA Convention

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!

Abstracts for CSGSP roundtable “Teaching as Theoretical Practice”

As you make plans for the MLA, be sure to add session 403, “Teaching as Theoretical Practice” to your calendar! Graduate students and professors from a range of institutions and disciplines will discuss how they integrate theory and teaching in the undergraduate classroom.

See the abstracts below, and join the conversation on Friday, 6 January, from 5:15-6:30 pm in Room 303 of the Philadelphia Marriott.

 

Hybrid Teaching, or the Performance of Comparative Theory

Germán Campos-Muñoz (Appalachian State U) and Mich Nyawalo (Shawnee State U)

The transcultural and methodological negotiations embedded in the discipline of Comparative Literature are coterminous to those of the teaching practice. As a virtual locus that attempts to relocate cultural background onto the foreground, the classroom coordinates comparatism of the most complex order–not only intellectual, but also social, institutional, professional, and political. The prestige of hybridity in our contemporary academic institutions, with its commitment to multiculturalism and multilingualism, further exacerbate the internal comparative structure of the classroom. What alternatives does this realization offer for a practice of Comparative Literature that seeks to disrupt the orthodox chasm between teaching and theory, or wishes to be pedagogical and theoretical at once?

Our presentation ventures an answer to these questions by assessing two distant cases of World Literature in which teaching is both thematized and performed: the 2nd-century Greek tale “Herakles,” by Syrian rhetorician Lucian of Samosata, and the novel The River Between, by contemporary Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. In both works, experiences and social tensions stemming from intercultural exchanges and hybridity are articulated and tackled through pedagogical imperatives and classroom spaces. As a performative exercise of comparative theory and collaborative pedagogy, both presenters will work on texts belonging to his co-presenter’s fields of specialization, peer-review their findings, and compose conclusions emerging from the comparison of both cases.

 

From Practice to Theory: Collaboration in the Composition Classroom

Joanna Grim (Lehigh U) and Dana McClain (Lehigh U)

Collaboration represents a common practice in the composition classroom, including small group discussions and peer review, yet the extent to which it shapes the writing process, as well as classroom and community relationships, often remains unacknowledged. Building off of our interest in collaborative writing methodology, we co-designed a course in which students utilize collaboration to develop their own opinions and arguments and to explore and critique collaboration in different social contexts.

In our course, Teaching and Learning through Collaboration, we examine collaboration in different cultural contexts. Students analyze collaboration in settings such as the workplace, sports, music, the college campus, and the local community in order to understand how collaboration addresses and/or reproduces imbalances of power and authority. Through group assignments like a multi-modal project addressing a specific social justice issue, students practice collaboration and theorize how it can be used to dismantle unequal power structures and create a more just world. We hope the course will lead students to engage in future collaborative work, both in the classroom and beyond the university, with greater intention and thoughtfulness.

Teaching this course has also influenced our development as scholars. We are interested in how collaborative research and writing can challenge prevailing values in the academy, especially the emphasis on individual success, which can lead to isolation. We plan to teach future iterations of this course and to do further research into how collaboration among students and teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can encourage the creation of supportive academic communities and new opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.

 

Performance and the foreign language and culture curriculum: theory and practice

Anna Santucci (Brown U)

My work focuses on the exploration of language creation as performance and on theater-based pedagogy in relation to the of teaching of foreign languages and cultures. Paying attention to the crucial role played by bodies in the production of language and culture can help us answer more thoroughly the MLA call for a FL curriculum able to produce “educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence” (2007 “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World”, 3-4). In my research and teaching practice, I strongly advocate performance-based teaching of language and culture at all levels of the curriculum: from improvisational and culturally meaningful participatory activities for the beginner classroom to full-fledged theatrical productions for the advanced classroom. Research on theater and education in general, and in more recent years on performance and foreign language and culture teaching in particular, has been constantly growing; engagement with the theater and performing arts has repeatedly been praised for promoting active and embodied learning, facilitating the dissolution of cognitive barriers, fostering cooperation among students, stimulating critical thinking, and supporting the development of trans-cultural competence. My presentation will explain how my research informs my teaching and vice versa, providing examples from my developing dissertation and my teaching experience: my research based on performance theories, which investigates language as embodied cultural practice (from Aristotle’s mimesis, through Mauss’s habitus, to Carrie Noland’s kinesthetic production of culture), language-learning as liminal play (from Richard Schechner’s conception of play and Victor Turner’s notion of liminality), and the relations between theater proper and the FL and culture classroom (how issues of empathy/alienation and theories of participatory theater by practitioners like Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal relate to the inter-cultural encounter), significantly shapes the daily choices I make as a teacher, while my practical classroom interactions with my students help me anchor my theories and productively interrogate the tensions between qualitative and quantitative research in my field.

 

English Remix: Curating and Enacting a Posthuman Classroom

Sarah Shelton (U of Texas at Arlington)

This presentation looks at where posthuman pedagogy is now in order to imagine where it might take us that humanism and humanist education can’t. And at how such imaginings translated into praxis (and back into imaginings and into praxis again and again) in my own classroom this past semester.

In “Reuse, Remix, Rewrite,” a sophomore literature/special topics course, I purposefully approached classroom design and pedagogical praxis from a posthuman instead of humanist schema. This did not include digitizing my entire classroom and turning my students into cyborgs. Far from this misconception of what posthumanism is and what a posthuman approach can do for individual classrooms and for education in general, my approach relied heavily on the material turn and the excellent work that art education has already done in posthuman pedagogy. Focusing on Karen Barad’s theories of intra-action and onto-epistemology as well as Hillevi Lenz Taguchi’s application of those very theories to early childhood education, I sought to not design and implement (two separate stages), but to curate and enact (two intra-acting time-spaces) a posthuman English classroom that reframed reading and writing as ontological acts, not simply tools to make students better citizens or employees. This shift in my thinking/approach allowed for a fluid pedagogy that saw meaning not as waiting to be deposited or discovered, but as being made between all actors (from bodies to desks to texts to ideologies and beyond). Such a pedagogy necessitates a reframing of the classroom itself as a unique, unpredictable and not repeatable chronotope and presented several challenges as well as significant successes, including the Journal assignment this presentation focuses on.

Annual CSGSP Meeting

The CSGSP will hold its next organizing meeting on 15-16 September 2016. Our agenda includes the following:

  • Discussing the recent NLRB decision on graduate student unionization (see this MLAgrads thread on the topic)
  • Organizing panels and social events for grads at the 2017 convention in Philadelphia
  • Proposing committee panels for the 2018 convention in New York City
  • Planning future projects to serve the graduate student community of the MLA

Let us know what you think! If you’d like to share your thoughts or suggestions with the committee, please write us at csgsp@mla.org.

Track Changes: Dissertation Writing Groups

Thinking about starting the new academic year as part of a writing group? These communities can offer a lot during the process of writing a dissertation: different readers might point out unclear aspects of an argument you have taken for granted, or let you know how your work resonates with research in another discipline; peers keep you accountable in the intervals between consultation with advisors; and of course, meeting regularly with friends leavens the isolation of long hours spent reading, coding, and revising.

If you are looking to start or join a writing group, check out a few guides and reflections, such as:

While completing my dissertation, I participated in two writing groups. Each varied in size, followed distinct organizational patterns, and impacted my work in different—but equally vital—ways. Group 1 comprised just 3 members. We met once a month, giving detailed feedback on one person’s pre-circulated chapter. By the time we went to the job market, we knew each other’s work quite well, and changed our regular meeting schedule to include practice interviews and job talks. Group 2 comprised 5 members. We were looking for a bit more accountability in our writing during the summer months, so we agreed on a rotating schedule in which we each had to send a short sample of new or revised writing (up to 5 pages) to another group member on Fridays. When the academic year became more intense, we shifted these incremental exchanges to a schedule like that of Group 1. Still, we maintained our focus on accountability by holding interim meetings where we simply caught up on each other’s projects.

Based on these experiences, I’ve come up with few thoughts on successful and meaningful work in a writing group:

1. Don’t wait

I was just drafting my prospectus when two friends invited me to join them in Group 1. I was hesitant, thinking that I simply didn’t have enough material yet. Still, I said yes and sent around the prospectus for comment. The detailed—and difficult—responses from my friends both prepared me for my prospectus colloquium and had a formative impact on my project.

2. Organize the feedback you receive

If I sent my writing group, say, a 25-page chapter section, I would likely receive back (1) a page of overall comments, (2) a copy of my file with a more specific inline notes, and (3) additional spoken points during our meeting. Implementing feedback requires a system, so decide early how you will organize these notes.

3. Cultivate the art of the response

Articulating clear questions and productive comments are skills that translate across and beyond academia. Reflect on how you go about critiquing the work of your peers, and hone these skills for use in the classroom, the conference room, and everywhere else.