Old English Division

Dear Colleagues,


Most of you have probably already seen the draft of the MLA restructuring proposal, but we wanted to take the time now to congratulate everyone involved on the successful retention of all the medieval divisions. No doubt the strong letter-writing campaign should be credited. Thanks to all who were involved.


Other aspects of the proposal require our attention, though. As outlined below, the proposal put forward by the MLA board proposes that the distinction between Divisions and Discussion Groups be eliminated. There would only be "Groups." More importantly, each group would be guaranteed only one session, and would compete for additional sessions on the basis of membership, averaged over a five-year cycle. Membership numbers would be determined by those "affiliation" boxes we check when renewing our MLA memberships.


We write to urge you to do three things:


1. Write in response to the proposal, expressing concern with tying the number of allocated sessions to the popularity of a Division or Group. If this rationale were followed for undergraduate course offerings and hiring, for example, the bulk of our courses and colleagues might well be centered on topics such as film, popular culture, and 20th-century fiction.


2. Join MLA and keep your membership current. Whether or not this proposal goes through, OE needs a greater presence in MLA, an extremely important professional organization. During our last set of debates, some colleagues suggested that we withdraw our support from MLA and form our own groups. However, MLA is central to the processes of defining Literary Studies, setting hiring priorities, and addressing the challenges that confront the profession. We need to be more involved in MLA, not less. "We" will have no critical mass if our faculty lines dry up.


3. Talk to your colleagues in other medieval divisions (for example, "Chaucer" or "Arthurian") and ask that they be sure to check the OE box when listing their affiliations. Obviously we should be prepared to reciprocate, as would be best for medieval studies in any case.

MLA members can comment on the draft. The description of process can be found here. And the draft map of proposed groups, along with a comment bar, can be found here.


Excerpt from Draft Proposal:


    What are the most significant changes?


    1. For the sake of democratization and simplification, we propose eliminating the distinction between "discussion groups” and “divisions": we propose that they all be called "groups." Every group will be guaranteed at least one session at every convention. Membership numbers—though not the size of audiences—will determine the number of additional guaranteed sessions a group receives. As in the present structure, groups will normally have either one or two guaranteed sessions and will be able to compete for more. Please note that groups will retain all their guaranteed sessions during the transition period, even if they consolidate with other groups.


    2. MLA members will be able to renew their affiliations with these new stipulations in mind. Members will be able to join up to seven groups and to change their affiliations once a year. Groups will have regular opportunities to study themselves, their histories, and their plans for the future during each five-year review process. Yes, the five-year renewal will create more work for elected representatives, but it will also create more chances to collaborate and consult with a group's members through MLA Commons. During each five-year review, the Program Committee will average the number of members for each group and determine its number of guaranteed sessions for the next five-year cycle.


    3. We have divided the groups into six broad categories: Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies; Genre and Media Studies; Languages, Literatures and Cultures; Language Studies; Teaching and the Profession; and Transdisciplinary Connections. Groups are arranged alphabetically or chronologically within those categories. Categories are incorporated into group names to eliminate redundancies under the old structure.


    4. We are proposing a new kind of session for the convention: a three-year seminar, a seminar on a topic of interest that would take place at three consecutive conventions. Proposals for three-year seminars will be invited and reviewed by the Program Committee.


Best wishes,

OE Division Exec Committee