Remembering Doug Steward, Director of the Association of Departments of English

Doug Steward Doug Steward, associate director of programs and director of the Association of Departments of English (ADE), died suddenly on 5 November, at the age of fifty. Doug had been central to the ADE since 2003, and he became director in 2017. He did extensive work in support of English departments, graduate students, and, in particular, students and faculty members of color. He was meticulous and passionate in his work, and he was instrumental in making the profession more humane and equitable. Doug’s colleagues and the faculty members he worked with over the years miss him tremendously and will long remember his smile, his graciousness, and his love for life.

MLA Bibliography Honors Fellows

The MLA International Bibliography congratulates the 2020 Fellowship Award recipients:

  • Brian Flota, humanities librarian, James Madison University
  • Carmela Mattza, associate professor of Spanish, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
  • Amanda L. Watson, librarian for English and comparative literature, New York University

The fellows, who have contributed to the bibliography from 2017 to 2020, will be awarded a certificate of accomplishment and a check for $500 and will be recognized during the 2021 MLA Awards Ceremony, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, 9 January.  We offer our sincere thanks and appreciation for their service to the MLA International Bibliography!

MLA Executive Council Statements on COVID-19 and Higher Education

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, higher education faces unprecedented challenges, with significant consequences for institutions, faculty members, and students. In its statements about the pandemic, the MLA Executive Council has appealed to institutional leaders to uphold their central mission and support faculty members, staff members, and students in their vital work in the humanities—now and as colleges and universities continue to face the pressing issues of this crisis.

Below is an overview of statements related to COVID-19, issued or endorsed by the MLA Executive Council. Click on the statement names to learn more.

In March 2020, the Executive Council approved a statement drafted by the MLA, calling on colleges and universities to implement practices that will ward off disastrous consequences of the COVID-19 crisis for graduate students; contingent faculty members, including adjunct, postdoctoral, non-tenure-track, and graduate instructors; untenured faculty members; and international scholars and students. It was endorsed by twenty-eight other organizations or their executive committees.

In March 2020, the MLA Executive Council added the MLA’s endorsement to this statement, which was drafted by the American Sociological Association and endorsed by thirty-five other organizations. It calls on all institutions of higher education to consider appropriate temporary adjustments to their review and reappointment processes for tenure-line and contingent faculty members during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In April 2020, the MLA Executive Council added the MLA’s endorsement to this statement, which was drafted by the American Sociological Association and endorsed by thirty-two organizations. It states, in part, “In the context of COVID-19, we recommend that institutions make temporary adjustments to timelines for student progression and completion, including revising funding timelines as appropriate.”

In June 2020, the Executive Council approved this update to the MLA’s “Statement on COVID-19 and Academic Labor” to address the health risks that faculty members, students, and staff members are facing while working and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the MLA encourages institutions to take into account the gendered inequities, socioeconomic inequities, and the needs and constraints of marginalized communities, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students and faculty members working during this time.

In August 2020, the Executive Council approved adding the MLA’s signature to this statement, drafted by leaders of academic organizations, libraries, and research centers. It calls on “all leaders of institutions of higher education to uphold the central importance of the humanities and the social sciences” as they “make important decisions that will shape the institutions under [their] stewardship for years and perhaps generations to come.”

In September 2020, the MLA Executive Council approved the MLA’s endorsement of a resolution, written by the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials, regarding challenges in the collection development ecosystem for Latin American and Caribbean studies, brought about by COVID-19 and the associated budgetary restrictions.

New Resource for Teaching Literary Research with the MLA Bibliography

The MLA has just released “Literary Topics,” the fifth subject-area module for use in conjunction with our free teaching resource Understanding the MLA International Bibliography: An Online Course. The other four subject modules are “Film, Television, and Radio,” “Folklore,” “Linguistics,” and “Rhetoric and Composition.” The subject modules build on the general database search skills taught in the online course, so students should complete the online course first.

The “Literary Topics” module provides detailed guidance on performing searches on specific literary works and authors as well as on broad topics. The module also contains sections on understanding search results, using the MLA Thesaurus, and how to search for scholarship that uses particular theoretical approaches or methods of analysis.

The course usually takes students around ninety minutes to complete, and the “Literary Topics” module takes around forty-five minutes. Both are asynchronous learning objects that can be done at students’ convenience online. Progress is saved, and students receive digital badges to certify their completion of the course and the subject module. Students can sign up for the course and module at Only an e-mail address is required to register. Students will need access to the MLA International Bibliography through their library’s website to complete all aspects of the course. An instructor’s guide is available at

Growing Humanities Commons

Launched in 2016 as an expansion of MLA Commons, the Humanities Commons platform now serves more than 20,000 users who can share their work, create sites, and connect with scholars around the world. To support the continued growth of the network, hosting of Humanities Commons will be moving from the MLA to Michigan State University, and its development will be overseen by MESH Research, a research and development unit of the university.

The platform will soon be the home to additional membership organizations, including the Association of University Presses, the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Art Libraries Society of North America. In addition, colleges and universities will be able to become members. To support this expansion, Humanities Commons will be joined by disciplinary hubs dedicated to the social sciences and to STEM fields. All of these hubs will be united by a new top-level hub, the Commons, that will aim to foster cross-disciplinary collaborations.

To learn more about the move and expansion, including how this change will affect the network’s terms of service and privacy policy, please visit Sustaining the Commons.

Florence Howe, Former President of the MLA, 1929–2020

Florence Howe portraitThe MLA mourns the passing of former MLA president Florence Howe. A pioneering scholar of feminism, Howe began her career in the 1950s and carved out a space for the discipline of women’s studies at a time when academia was overwhelmingly dominated by men. In 1970, she cofounded Feminist Press with her husband, Paul Lauter. What began as a small operation run out of their house in Baltimore quickly became an indispensable feminist institution that published or republished works by Zora Neale Hurston, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Alice Walker, among many others. Feminist Press continues to publish through the City University of New York and is celebrating its fiftieth birthday in 2020. Howe was the author and editor of numerous books and articles, including Myths of Coeducation, a 1984 volume of her selected essays on the rise of women’s studies. In addition to her myriad contributions to scholarship, Howe was active in the civil rights movement. She organized against segregation in Baltimore in 1963 and traveled to Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964, where she helped open the Freedom School for Black Children in the basement of a Jackson church, an experience she wrote about for the Harvard Educational Review. Aside from her term as eighty-third president of the MLA in 1973, Howe served on the Commission on the Status and Education of Women from 1969 to 1971. You can read more about Howe’s life and legacy here.

Help Shape PMLA

Special features are clusters of essays on a topic of wide interest that appear under the rubrics Theories and Methodologies, which addresses a timely issue or recent work of scholarship, and The Changing Profession, which takes up new and emerging fields in the humanities. 

Under new procedures, each fall members will be invited to submit clusters of essays for the special features, and all submissions will receive thorough review and feedback. In keeping with the journal’s new statement of values, the PMLA Editorial Board encourages submissions that represent a variety of viewpoints and that seek to bring timely, emerging issues, areas of study, and works to the attention of the journal’s readership; to put scholars in dialogue with one another; and to expand the scope of the fields represented in the journal. 

To learn more about the new procedures for special features, visit the PMLA submissions page.

MLA Members Receive 2020 NEH Grants

Congratulations to the fifteen MLA members who are among the winners of the National Endowment for the Humanities grants announced in July. Their projects include a group biography of five female members of the American transcendentalist movement; institutes on Frederick Douglass and Zora Neale Hurston; and the creation of a vital digital humanities infrastructure, including digital editions of literary works, a digital publishing platform, and an institute on natural language processing for humanities scholars.

Maram Epstein, University of Oregon

Project Title: The Early Modern Vernacular Novel in China and Japan

Project Description: A four-week seminar for sixteen higher education faculty members to study early modern vernacular literary works from China and Japan, in the context of the growth of global commercial markets and urbanization in these countries.

Randall Fuller, University of Kansas

Project Title: Bright Circle: Five Remarkable Women in the Age of Transcendentalism

Project Description: A group biography of five female members of the American transcendentalist movement: Mary Moody Emerson (1774–1863), Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804–94), Sophia Hawthorne (1809–71), Lidian Jackson Emerson (1802–92), and Margaret Fuller (1810–50).

Matthew Gold and Douglas Armato, CUNY Research Foundation, Graduate School and University Center

Project Title: Digital Publishing for Open Pedagogy

Project Description: Expanding the technical infrastructure in the Manifold digital publishing platform to enable the creation and publication of free open educational resources in the humanities.

Thomas Hahn, University of Rochester

Project Title: Middle English Text Series

Project Description: Preparation for print and digital publication of six volumes of medieval literary texts (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries) and implementation of an updated digital interface to enhance and expand user access.

Ayesha Hardison, University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc.

Project Title: Hurston on the Horizon: Past, Present, and Future

Project Description: A three-week institute for twenty-five higher education faculty members on the life and works of author Zora Neale Hurston.

Noah Heringman, University of Missouri, Columbia

Project Title: Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Project Description: Completion of an open-access digital edition of volume 3 of Vetusta Monumenta (Ancient Monuments), an eighteenth-century collection of engraved prints and essays published by the Society of Antiquaries of London from 1718 to 1906.

Paul Israel, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Project Title: Edison Papers Digital Book Edition

Project Description: Preparation for publication of volumes 10, 11, and 12 of the selected papers of the inventor Thomas Edison (1847–1931), covering the years 1890–1905.

Andrew Janco, Princeton University (Haverford College)

Project Title: New Languages for NLP: Building Linguistic Diversity in the Digital Humanities

Project Description: An institute to help humanities scholars learn how to create linguistic data and apply statistical models to new languages.

Cameron Leader-Picone, Kansas State University

Project Title: Making a Statement: Gordon Parks’s Gift of Photographs

Project Description: Planning for a 2,950 square-foot temporary exhibition, a catalog, and a website exploring the life and work of the multidisciplinary artist Gordon Parks (1912–2006) and his relationship with his home state of Kansas.

Daniel Mosquera, SUNY Research Foundation

Project Title: Passion Plays of Eighteenth-Century Mexico: Nahuatl and Spanish Festival Performances under the Eye of the Inquisition

Project Description: Preparation for publication of a digital edition of ten colonial Mexican Passion plays and contextualizing historical documents.

Andrew Newman, SUNY Research Foundation, Stony Brook

Project Title: The History of Literature Instruction in American Schools

Project Description: A two-week seminar for sixteen English teachers (grades 6–12) on the history of literature instruction in the twentieth century.

Clara Pascual-Argente

Project Title: The Story of Apollonius of Tyre: An Edition and Translation of Two Medieval Iberian Texts

Project Description: Preparation for publication of a critical edition and translation of two medieval Iberian texts: the thirteenth-century verse romance Libro de Apolonio (Book of Apollonius) and Vida e historia del rey Apolonio (Life and Story of King Apollonius), the latter printed in 1488 and illustrated with thirty-five German woodcuts.

Guy Raffa, University of Texas, Austin

Project Title: Dante’s American Afterlife

Project Description: Research and writing of a book on the influence of Italian poet Dante Alighieri (d. 1321) on American culture.

Howard Rambsy, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville

Project Title: Frederick Douglass and Literary Crossroads

Project Description: A one-week institute for twenty-five schoolteachers on Frederick Douglass and African American literary studies

Results of 2020 Ratification Vote

Voting on the 2020 ratification ballot concluded at midnight (EDT) on 7 August. Members ratified the election of Kamau Brathwaite, Amit Chaudhuri, Richard Flanagan, Susan Howe, M. NourbeSe Philip, Lev Rubinstein, and Luis Valdez to honorary fellowship in the association. Support for the candidates ranged from 84% to 90% of the members who voted in that section of the ballot. All seven candidates will be invited to accept the honor.

Members also ratified the 2020 Delegate Assembly’s approval of one constitutional amendment that clarifies the deadlines and procedures for the consideration of motions, creates a new category called “emergency motions” for motions occasioned by events that take place after 1 September, and explains the deadlines and procedures for the consideration of such motions. 93% of the members who voted in that section of the ballot supported the amendment. The amendment, which takes immediate effect, has been incorporated into the text of the constitution at the Web site.