Patchwork Humanities

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Seattle, WA—  From its program, this year’s Modern Language Association (MLA) meeting of the world’s English professors looked to be tamer than such meetings have been in the past. For example, none of the hundreds of panels there featured a discussion of hillbilly porn.

When you actually go there, though, you find that this is something of a redirect. “Upward of 40 sessions are devoted to what is called the ‘digital humanities,’ an umbrella term for new and fast-moving developments across a range of topics: the organization and administration of libraries, the rethinking of peer review, the study of social networks, the expansion of digital archives, the refining of search engines, the production of scholarly editions, the restructuring of undergraduate instruction, the transformation of scholarly publishing, the re-conception of the doctoral dissertation, the teaching of foreign languages, the proliferation of online journals, the redefinition of what it means to be a text, the changing face of tenure — in short, everything,” Stanley Fish wrote in The New York Times late last year.

Fish is a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, in Miami. With all due respect to the good doctor, I went to the MLA in Seattle, checked out the “electronic literature” exhibit and saw what the MLA wants to digitize.

Most of the offerings were innocuous on their face, save one:  “Shelley Jackson’s brilliant, unforgettable hypertext novel Patchwork Girl is one of the great achievements of literary hypertext,” according to Eastgate, which produced it “What if Mary Shelley herself made the monster, not the fictional Dr. Frankenstein?”

“And what if the monster was a woman, and fell in love with Mary Shelley, and travelled to America?”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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