Apologies for no post last week–my work load got a bit overwhelming and then the election sort of deflated me for a few days. Then, I had to head off the the 2016 convention of the Midwest Modern Language Association (MMLA) in St. Louis. I assumed that the conference would be filled with references to the election and discussion of same, but it was not entirely gloomy. In fact, I even managed to find some inspiration while I was there.
I presented on a panel that was in the very first slot of the very first day of the conference, and yet we had a surprisingly good number of people who attended (8). My presentation was about conducting effective–and respectful–discussions in an online class environment, particularly with respect to race and gender. So, it seemed somewhat timely, anyway.
There were some graduate student scholars doing amazing work throughout the conference, which was great to see, despite the dismal nature of the job market right now. But I was most inspired by an informal talk hosted by the Civil War caucus, which featured Barbara McCaskill of the University of Georgia and Eric Gardner of Saginaw Valley State University. In particular, Dr. McCaskill’s discussion of her work in archives and with digital humanities tools to explore and publicize the story of William and Ellen Craft was motivating and encouraging. She spoke of having to fight for her focus on early 19th century Back writers back in graduate school and that she still has to fight to do the work she thinks is important, regardless of what would be most effective or efficient for her career track. She also made an important case for collaboration as a legitimate scholarly activity, even though it is typically dismissed by tenure and promotion committees and other higher level administrators in higher education. She did observe, though, that over the past 10 years, she has seen a shift toward acceptance of interdisciplinary (and multidisciplinary!) work in English and the humanities more broadly, so she thinks the same thing will happen for collaboration.
I left that talk feeling more empowered to do the work I think is important, and to continue my work of centering minority and female voices in the classroom. This continues to be critical work. I do consider my work in the classroom as a type of activism, and while there is much more I know I should be doing, I can at least keep doing this.