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MLA Panel 550. \”Victorian\” in a Comparative Field — Major Issues

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    Katherine D. Harris

    Note: I\’m going to post this across a few of the groups in which I participate, including Book History and Romantic/19th Century

    I just attended the above session organized by this group. While the room was packed and the panel was stacked with a variety of venerable scholars doing interesting work, the panel completely ignored an important area of study that\’s thriving in 19th-century studies: periodicals and serials in addition to History of the Book and Textual Studies disciplines. Indeed, the 19th-century is so rife with periodicals (newspapers, magazines, etc.) and serials (literary annuals, gift books, etc) that several sub-disciplines and organizations exist with an enthusiastic crowd of scholars. Research Society for Victorian Periodicals comes to mind first and foremost. In addition, the 19th-century saw the explosion of these types of publications, and therefore,  Digital Humanities scholars have focused much of their work on digitizing these complex material objects.

    This is all to say that the panel lacked a participant in this area. When pressed to speak further about print culture to help Victorianists move beyond geopolitical boundaries to understand the movement of Victorian aesthetics, Yopie Prins spoke towards an example of theater and translation studies that demonstrated her awareness of periodical studies in a specific example. Sharon Marcus concluded her example by saying that periodical studies of newspapers lacks a robust history. I think many members of the MLA, me included, would balk at that statement because of the seeming ignorance about the rich swath of studies in newspaper and periodical studies already available.

    Here\’s the issue: When this professional group puts together a panel, invites venerated scholars, and allows those scholars to completely ignore a robust scholarly area, you are effectively signaling to graduate students to mimic this ignorance, which they most assuredly will do. That\’s irresponsible.

    Finally, Sharon Marcus off-handedly noted that she\’s building a digital bibliography of her research materials, but then notes that she never would expect to receive credit for this. That type of work is effectively the work of a Bibliography scholar and the start of a Digital Humanities project. So, again, a senior scholar signals to graduate students that both fields of Bibliography and Digital Humanities are not valid.

    As a member of the MLA and this group, I implore the committee members who run this group to be be exponentially more careful when putting together these panels for our largest conference of the year. And, the excuse profferred by the panelists that they can\’t do everything — I say, as the committee, be better this. Don\’t erase valid, exciting, and engaging areas of scholarship.

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