Sydni Dunn

Staff Reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education

4 Scholars to Watch at MLA 2014

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There are all sorts of fabulously smart people presenting at the upcoming Modern Language Association convention. But when we asked a handful of academics who they had on their radar, a few names kept coming up. From digital humanists to adjuncts to avid bloggers, we caught up with four scholars you shouldn’t miss in Chicago.

Roopika Risam (@roopikarisam)
Assistant professor of English, Salem State University

Where you can see her:
Session #187: “Teaching Outside the Classroom Through Digital Humanities: Alt-Academic Feminism.” Thursday, January 9 from 7 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. in Indiana-Iowa at Chicago Marriott
Session #679: “Decolonizing DH: Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities.”
Sunday, January 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. in Purdue-Wisconsin at Chicago Marriott

What to expect from her:
Smart thoughts on the intersections of digital humanities and diversity, and the evolution of postcolonial studies in the digital age.

How she’ll spend her time at MLA:
Risam will be presenting for the fourth time at this year’s MLA Convention, but it’s her first time to appear on two panels. Aside from her presentations, Risam said, she is looking forward to attending presentations on postcolonial studies, African American literature and the digital humanities—all topics that parallel her teaching and research interests.

But perhaps the thing she is anticipating most is finally having a chance to enjoy the overall MLA experience, without worrying about interviewing.

“This is the first MLA in two years that I’m not on the job market,” she says. “My first MLA, in Los Angeles, I was overwhelmed by the convention, as most first-time attendees usually are, and I didn't know many people there. In Seattle and Boston, I was focused on job interviews, not on the convention itself. I can't wait to learn more about innovative scholarship in my subfields and see colleagues and friends I usually only cross paths with at MLA.”

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Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer)
Assistant professor of digital humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Where you can see him:
Session #418: “Vulnerability and Survivalism of the Humanities in Corporatized Academia.” Friday, January 10 from 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Erie at Sheraton Chicago

What to expect from him:
Progressive discussion of contingency and how it’s changing the humanities.

How he’ll spend his time at MLA:
Stommel, who is also the director of Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology, will be presenting “Right Leaders of Wrong: A Revolution in Higher Education," as part of the Community College Humanities Association’s special session. It is his second year to present.

But this MLA is not just about presentations, he says. “For me, MLA is a chance to interact in person with all the folks I spend the rest of the year collaborating with virtually. It's amazing to me that I maintain really deep friendships with colleagues around the country, some of whom I only see once a year.”

It’s also a time to attend sessions that “break the mold,” he says, noting an electronic literature reading on January 10 and the MLA Subconference, an unaffiliated event focused on the role of graduate students, contingent workers, and autonomous intellectuals, on January 8 and 9.

When he’s not catching up with friends or watching a panel, you can find Stommel and his pooch—a 12-year-old white-shepherd mix—at the hotel. “When MLA was in Seattle, I brought my dog Mary, not to sessions but to the hotel,” he says. “Conference hotels can have a stressful energy, and it was really sweet to watch my dog diffuse some of that energy.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Lee E. Skallerup-Bessette (@readywriting)
Instructor of English, Morehead State University

Where you can see her:
Session #418: “Vulnerability and Survivalism of the Humanities in Corporatized Academia.” Friday, January 10 from 5:15 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Erie at Sheraton Chicago
Session #482: “Making Digital Counterpublics.” Saturday, January 11 from 10:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in Arkansas at Sheraton Chicago

What to expect from her:
Thoughtful commentary on issues facing rural students and part-time faculty (and some stellar live-tweeting).

How she’ll spend her time at MLA:
Skallerup-Bessette, who also writes Inside Higher Ed’s College Ready Writing blog, isn’t new to the MLA. She presented in Philadelphia in 2009 and then again last year in Boston—events she describes as “two very different experiences” because of her growing social-media presence. The first time she ever presented she wasn’t even on Twitter. Now, she’s got nearly 5,300 followers.

This year, she’s looking forward to the book fair and exhibit, the electronic literature exhibit, seeing old friends and eating some “good Chicago Food.” (Her recommendation: The Paris Club).

“I spend most of my time going from panel to panel, live-tweeting them for the benefit of those who can't make it to the conference,” she says. “But I'm always open to getting side-tracked by impromptu meetings with friends. I was also elected this year to the executive for the Part-Time Faculty Discussion Group, so I hope to speak to as many part-time faculty as possible to see what they want or need from us moving forward.”

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Liana M. Silva-Ford (@lianamsilvaford)
Editor, Women In Higher Ed; managing editor, Sounding Out

Where you can see her:
Session #218: “Rethinking the Seminar Paper.” Friday, January 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. in Chicago H at Chicago Marriott

Session #788: “Back Up Your Work: Conceptualizing Writing Support for Graduate Students.” Sunday, January 12 from 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Grace at Chicago Marriott

What to expect from her:
Advice on how graduate students should approach seminar papers and get support in their writing endeavors.

How she’ll spend her time at MLA:
After a last-minute emergency forced her to sit out of a panel last year, Silva-Ford, who also writes for University of Venus, is making her debut at this year’s MLA by participating in not one, but two, sessions.

“I was scheduled to present last year as part of a panel on alternative academics, but I had emergency dental surgery the morning of my presentation,” she says. “It was a worst-case scenario that I couldn’t even fathom. This year I’m hoping I will make it through the conference with no medical emergencies.”

Barring any trips to the ER, Silva-Ford will be spending her conference time attending panels on alternative academics and gender, spending time with friends from graduate school, meeting Twitter friends in real life, and touring Chicago—“even if it’s just for an afternoon.”

“Lastly—and this is not just limited to conferences—I try to go and find quirky postcards to add to my postcard collection,” she adds.

♦ ♦ ♦

Won’t be at the MLA to catch up with these folks? These accounts will bring you up to speed:

For conference news: Follow the conference @MLAConvention, the member network group @MLAcommons, Rosemary Feal, the MLA executive director, @rgfeal, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the MLA Director of Scholarly Communication, @kfitz.

For commentary: Follow Adeline Koh @adelinekoh, Brian Croxall @briancroxall, Heather Froehlich @heatherfro, William Pannapacker @pannapacker, Stacey Lee Donohue @BendProf, Matt Thomas @mattthomas, Noel Jackson @noeljackson, Mark Sample @samplereality, Amanda French @amandafrench, Sarah Werner @wynkenhimself, Ryan Cordell @ryancordell.

For giggles: Follow the @MLAElevator, because “all of the things happen in MLA Elevator.” And try its angry alter-ego: @MLAElevatorHulk.

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