The issue also includes presentations from three sessions linked to the Presidential Forum. Introduced by Susan Rubin Suleiman, the cluster “Trauma, Memory, Vulnerability” looks at how vulnerability can shed light on trauma and memory studies in a global context. It features essays by Andreas Huyssen, Ananya Jahanara Kabir, María José Contreras Lorenzini, and Michael Rothberg. In the cluster on the politics of language in vulnerable times, Suresh Canagarajah; Mary Louise Pratt; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak; and Guadalupe Valdés, Luis Poza, and Maneka Deanna Brooks consider the vulnerability of languages—and of language itself—in an era of globalization. Finally, in essays from a session on public humanities, Matti Bunzl, James Chandler, Julie Ellison, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Jean Howard, and Laura Wexler ask what the term public humanities means and consider how scholars can create a public face for the humanities in vulnerable times.
As the contributors to the session on public humanities remind us, the 2014 convention was the first to follow the publication of The Heart of the Matter, a report by an American Academy of Arts and Sciences commission, and of three reports from Harvard University’s Arts and Humanities Division. All the reports, which make the case for the importance of humanities study, also outlined the challenges facing humanities fields and sparked commentary about the value of an education that focuses on the humanities. Facing a rhetoric of crisis—whether warranted or not—those who teach languages and literatures inevitably must ask how we make a better case for what we and our students do. Do we use our skills as scholars to focus on more public texts, such as photographs in the news or historical events? present our work in accessible ways in public venues? For the authors in Profession, the answer is yes. But in addition, as Jean Howard notes, one of the ways many MLA members participate most meaningfully in the public humanities is in the classroom, by introducing texts, films, essays, poetry, performances, and language to the students who will be tomorrow’s public.
The idea of the classroom as a foundation for public humanities is evident too in the final essay, Per Urlaub’s “A New Brecht for LA: Public Scholarship through Technology in Project-Based Graduate Education,” which examines a graduate course in German at the University of Texas, Austin, in the context of efforts to reform doctoral studies. The course, which required students to do public outreach for a local theater, allowed PhD candidates to develop skills that will serve them in a variety of careers, whether inside the academy or beyond.
As I look to the ever-changing publication called Profession, I realize that it will increasingly need to speak to MLA members engaged in many professions and to serve the public humanities in different contexts and evolving ways. Profession in the world is yours to share with colleagues, and we hope it will stimulate new ideas. We look forward to hearing what you’d like to see in the Profession of the future.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Statement on Public Access to Federally Funded Research.” From the Office of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association. MLA Commons. MLA, 15 May 2015. Web. 18 May 2015. <https://scholcomm.mla.hcommons.org/blog/statement-on-public-access-to-federally-funded-research>.
Posted May 2015