Tuesday, March 22, 2016
March 22, 2016: NeMLA Recaps: The Public Humanities
[This past week, after many years of planning and many posts in this space, I helped host the 2016 Northeast MLA convention in Hartford. It was an amazing four days, and I could write much more than a week of recap posts—so here I’ll focus specifically on the new initiatives I brought to the convention. If you were part of NeMLA 2016 in any way, please share your own recaps and responses in comments!]
On three standout moments from Friday’s deeply inspiring series of President-sponsored sessions at the Mark Twain House on public humanities.
1) The opening sesson on digital humanities and the public included wonderful presentations from Ivy Schweitzer, the NEH’s Jennifer Serventi, and AmericanStudier pére. But I knew the least about the work being done by Trinity’s Jack Dougherty and a group of student collaborators on their open-sourced, digital book project On the Line, and I found it both fascinating and exciting. The project is about as interdisciplinary and as public humanities as it’s possible for work to be, but it’s also and just as importantly making vital use of technology on every level, from content (featuring interactive maps and video/audio clips in the chapters, for example) to delivery (allowing readers to download PDF or e-reader versions or order hard copies from a publisher along with reading on the website, for another). Can’t wait to learn more about it!
2) The next few sessions featured so many wonderful moments, from Carolyn Karcher discussing her brand-new book on Albion Tourgée to Capital Community College’s Jeff Partridge, the Twain House’s James Golden, and the Stowe Center’s Emily Waniewski sharing the phenomenal Hartford Heritage Project (among many other great presentations). But I have to focus here on the day’s final president-sponsored session, which featured John Jay’s Jonathan Gray, UT-Austin’s Juliet Hooker, and educator and activist Zellie Imani (a fourth presenter, Wesleyan student and #BlackLivesMatter’s Sadasia McCutchen, was unfortunately unable to make it) on the topic of “Scholarship after Ferguson.” I can’t possibly do justice to their challenging and compelling, provocative and powerful, and entirely vital talks here, so I’ll just say that this session (which followed up a roundtable in last summer’s issue of Modern Language Studies) was one of my very favorite moments from any conference ever.
3) Which is fitting, because it was followed with my very favorite conference moment, and one of my life favorites to date: introducing our keynote speaker, Jelani Cobb. Dr. Cobb’s address itself was, to be clear, even better than I could have imagined, as engaging and funny as it was nuanced and analytical, as righteously depressing and angry as it was vital and ultimately (I believe) critically optimistic. But nonetheless, the chance to introduce a talk by Dr. Cobb, as part of a conference I had helped organize, at the end of a day I had been imagining for more than three years, with my parents and fiancé and many friends in the audience (on all of whom more in Friday’s post)—yup, all-time favorite moment.
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this post? Other NeMLA follow ups you’d share? I’d really love to hear them (and feel free to email them to me if you prefer)!