Welcome to the Modern Language Association. As 2011 President of the MLA, I want to share with you some of the resources and opportunities of the association. If you are already a member, I hope you will explore our Web site further and find ways to deepen your involvement. If you are a visitor, I want to give you an overview of some our activities and concerns and invite you to become a member. The MLA is a leader in the advocacy for humanistic learning, particularly the study of languages and literatures, and we stand in the forefront of the broader defense of higher education. I hope you will join us in this important matter. There’s plenty of room for more help.
Founded in 1883, the MLA is chartered “to promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects.” We are the largest professional organization of humanities scholars in North America. While most of our more than 30,000 members are located in the US and Canada, there are healthy contingents of members from other countries as well: whether you teach Shakespeare in Shanghai or Borges in Berlin, we welcome you to our international community. Many of our members hold academic positions at colleges or universities, and graduate students make up a very large group. A growing number of MLA members teach at community colleges, and we also have members who teach in high schools or who are independent scholars. Wherever your location and whatever your employment status, the MLA can be your organization as long as you are dedicated to learning about language and literature.
For much of the public, the MLA is associated especially with the annual convention, a vibrant and intellectually exciting gathering of thousands of scholars, presenting papers, seeking jobs, and (re)connecting with colleagues at the cutting edge of research. I hope to meet you at the Seattle convention in January 2012. For researchers, the MLA may primarily invoke the International Bibliography
, which indexes scholarly publications on a wide range of topics in literature and language. Our robust publication agenda includes much more, the journals PMLA
, the bulletins of the Association of Departments of English and the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, a dynamic list of books on literary and pedagogical topics, and, of special importance to students and instructors alike, the MLA Handbook
, an indispensable guide to scholarly writing.
Yes, the MLA does a lot (and what I’ve mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg). But we aren’t resting on our laurels here. The truth is, we have a lot to do. The study of languages and literature is broad, dynamic, and multifaceted, and the MLA serves as the professional and intellectual engine. Recent decades have witnessed extraordinarily innovative scholarship, and much of the attendant debates have played out in the MLA, at the convention and in the journals. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we are living through hard times for the humanities. Cultural tendencies under way for decades but exacerbated by the Great Recession have eroded the credibility of liberal arts education, especially the standing of literature and language, which has led to a degradation of working conditions for instructors, as well as to program closures and—even as students clamor for more language courses in this age of globalization—short-sighted attacks on the value of second language acquisition.
We don’t take this lying down. Far from it. The MLA plays a leadership role in the Coalition on the Academic Workforce to resist the mistreatment of faculty members. Faculty members need good conditions to promote student learning, and student learning is what it is all about. The MLA Constitution
defines us as teachers, and our mission is teaching language as well as literature, an especially rich venue of language use. We are all language teachers. By bringing students to literature, Anglophone or otherwise, we bring them into language and build the intellectual capacities linked to language. As language teachers—whatever language—we equip our students with the verbal skills at the core of their intellectual lives. The MLA is the primary organization of scholar-teachers engaged in this enterprise. I hope you’ll join us.
President, Modern Language Association, 2011