MLA Publishes New Guidelines on Evaluating Publicly Engaged Humanities Scholarship

The MLA has just released new guidelines to help departments, institutions, and faculty members in languages and literatures value and assess public humanities work. Created by the MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Valuing the Public Humanities, the document seeks to acknowledge the importance of scholarship that reaches audiences beyond the university and that demonstrates the value of the humanities in the world. Providing a framework for those evaluating public humanities scholarship in hiring, tenure, and promotion contexts, the guidelines also raise key questions for those seeking to undertake public humanities work. Because public humanities scholarship often engages with communities, the guidelines put ethical concerns at their core, at the same time engaging with the fundamental questions that drive a peer-review process. We encourage you to read the guidelines and to consider these strategies for putting them to use:

  1. Use the guidelines to review your department or college bylaws regarding promotion and tenure and to identify gaps where public humanities scholarship might go undervalued or unidentified.
  2. Circulate the guidelines among faculty members and suggest the creation of a subcommittee reporting within promotion governance structures to ​draft an evaluation rubric for promotion and tenure that addresses public humanities scholarship informed by the “Guiding Questions for Assessing Public Humanities Scholarship.” How can such a rubric highlight how public humanities scholarship can further the core values of the department? How can this rubric help to advocate for faculty members?
  3. Review your hiring practices. Are there channels for job candidates to report public-facing work? Identify ways that your hiring process could inquire directly about or center public humanities scholarship. For program leaders: meet with faculty members to discuss what work they are involved in that does not easily fit within promotion requirements.
  4. Establish a peer-review network at your institution. Create opportunities for intra- and cross-institutional exchanges, including off-campus partnerships, where faculty members share their work, provide feedback, and foster connections using the prompts in the guidelines. Can these exchanges generate suggestions for external reviewers with knowledge bases in the public humanities who have successfully navigated processes for promotion? Can they facilitate ethical collaboration?
  5. Make spaces (virtual or physical) for faculty members to share and disseminate their work beyond the classroom or peer-reviewed journals, like a public humanities showcase. Find opportunities to celebrate and engage with work that might not otherwise be acknowledged in formal reviews.
  6. Find opportunities to involve students in ways that help make the case for valuing faculty advising, mentorship, and community-engaged and collaborative scholarship.