2015 Special Sessions Call for Papers
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Theorists of Afrofuturism suggest that the boundary crossings that exist in posthuman cultures enable African Americans to make empowering connections to black history in the present and also find authority in their visions of black futures. Afrofuturist theorists such as Ytasha L. Womack suggest that the liminality inherent to Afrofuturism extends beyond temporality to issues of space, place, and genre.
This panel solicits proposals for papers that explore liminality in Afrofuturist texts. Questions for consideration include: How does liminality shape identity? What role does the body play in Afrofuturist conceptions of intertwined pasts, presents, and futures? Where do Afrofuturist texts defy genre conventions and to what effects?
The panel welcomes papers on literature, film, visual art, and performance pieces.
Please submit a 250-word abstract and a brief biography to Kristen Lillvis at firstname.lastname@example.org by April 5, 2015.
This panel seeks to explore the conference theme of “Arts and Sciences” by examining the intersection between artistic representation and scientific (or, pseudoscientific) inquiry into crime and punishment. How have American literature, theatre, film, and television engaged not only with ongoing innovations in forensic technologies, but also with longstanding or recently devised theories about criminal behaviors, the processes of detection, and practices in incarceration? To what degree of accuracy, and to what extent does accuracy matter? Who, or which private or governmental agencies, are shown to possess the authority to cultivate these sciences? In the context of such artistic movements as realism, naturalism, modernism, and post-modernism, not to mention developments in literary forms and media, what are the aesthetics that have been attached to fictional narratives about “law and order” and the sciences that presumably equip us to attain it? More significantly, how might we tease out the entrenched social politics—with regard to class, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, or even spirituality—that American writers have shored up, broken down, or reconfigured by incorporating criminology and penology into their work? In what measure can we account for the pervasiveness of the sciences of crime in American popular culture and national discourse? At that, which critical methodologies are most or least instructive when it comes to broaching any of these questions?
This panel welcomes papers on American works from any period, which should give us a trans-historical perspective on this particularly charged junction of art and science. Send submissions and a 250-word abstracts to Joshua Leavitt at email@example.com by April 5th, 2015.
In keeping with this year’s MMLA conference theme of “arts and sciences,” and inspired by the affective turn in literary studies, this Special Session invites papers on the art and science of medieval emotions. Medieval texts often fuse artistic and scientific approaches to understanding and representing emotion, feeling, and affect. Witness, for example, the fact that we find texts as diverse as romances and sermons drawing on optical theory to explain how feelings like love and lust are transmitted: these texts explicate medieval science, but at the same time use artistic strategies to visualize invisible processes.
Contributors are invited to address the fusion of art and science in medieval discussions of emotion, but are also welcome to engage the art or the science of emotion separately. Papers might address questions including, but not limited to, the following: How do medieval sciences inform literary representations of affect? How do medieval texts use metaphor, analogy, or allegory to concretize feelings which are so often experienced as ineffable? To what extent do discussions of emotion inform medieval perceptions of contemporary political or religious developments and controversies? How can medieval texts help present-day readers to see our own cultural conceptions of emotion in a new light?
Please submit 250-word abstracts by 5 April 2015 to Dr. Bonnie Erwin, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comics and other image-text hybrids—from illuminated manuscripts to commercial lithographs to modern-day flow charts--have been used successfully to communicate information, explain complex or difficult concepts, but also to teach audiences how to perform important, sometimes life-saving, skills or maneuvers. But do image-texts like these count as “art”? Or does the didactic function of these texts disqualify them as art? For example, is a comic showing how to perform the Heimlich maneuver art? What if the text was altered slightly to undercut the imagery in a humorous manner? Why is it that an explicitly didactic function of certain forms of representation, perhaps especially image-texts, render them “artless” to some? As everyday modes of communication and representation increasingly rely on image-text combinations, does it even matter if these image-texts are considered art or not?
Current trends in non-fiction comics reveal that artfulness and didacticism may not be mutually exclusive. The recent wave of non-fiction comics dealing with health and illness reveal the power of narrative in providing helpful information, and still others challenge our narrative expectations, especially as they may be shaped by literary traditions. Lynda Barry’s recent publications—part memoir, part how-to, part theory—defy any easy categorization, but is explicitly pedagogical in content. These and other non-fiction comics reveal that the identification of comics as “literature,” even as narrative, is only one way of conceptualizing the form; and that comics, as well as other image-text hybrids, can break open and offer new ways of thinking about traditional aesthetic categories and criteria.
This panel welcomes papers that explore any kind of image-text in all kinds of media—new and old—that has a didactic function, but challenges our preconceptions of what is considered art or artful or perhaps suggests the necessity of new aesthetic criteria. Papers that explore the ways in which “non-fiction” comics challenge traditional aesthetic categories and boundaries are especially welcome. Please send submissions and 250-word abstracts to Ji-Hyae Park, Roosevelt University, at email@example.com by April 5th, 2015.
As both science and the arts engage in conversations about the proposed new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, this interdisciplinary panel seeks papers addressing the “human layer” in turn of the century and early twentieth century literatures. Currently, scientists measure the human layer quantitatively, defining the human in terms of geological impact. But how is the human layer conceived before such sophisticated scientific measurement was possible? Where does the human species—proven to be a geological agent —fit into the division of the Earth into spheres—the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere? How does the identification of these spheres affect the concept of the human, or does it? Are science and the arts in agreement of where the human fits into these systems or can a study of a particular author or text suggest a difference?
Papers that engage the idea of the noosphere—first proposed to add an additional human layer to the existing four systems—are particularly welcome. Do discussions of a noosphere imply that humans do not belong in the biosphere—the sphere containing life? Does the proposal of a noosphere suggest an understanding that the human is separate, exceptional? What is the distinction? How does modernist literature articulate the noosphere? Is there use in formulating a distinct human layer? Is the noosphere a helpful concept—then and now? In the age of the Anthropocene, the human layer often connotes destruction, but is there a way to make it more positive?
Broadly conceived, papers might address the way in which the human species or an individual interacts with earth systems. Is the human separate or included in these earth systems? Does turn of the century and early twentieth-century literature suggest humans capable of interrupting or altering natural processes, interfering with earth systems, or depict humanity as a system all its own? Papers might even enter the topic through a study of the treatment of air or sky—atmosphere—soil or digging—lithosphere, for example. Is there evidence in literature of the early twentieth century that identification of earth systems affects humanity’s conception of itself? How does science categorize the human versus the arts?
This session will be a 4-person panel or 5-6-person roundtable. Please submit 350-500 word proposal interpreting the “human layer” problem, together with a short biographical note to Rebekah Taylor, Kent State University: firstname.lastname@example.org by April 5th. Alternative presentation styles are also welcome.
Completing an undergraduate research project can be one of the most important components of a student's university experience. Undergraduate research can challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills in a meaningful way; to work closely with faculty; to collaborate with peers or members of the community – factors which, in turn, are deeply connected to student engagement and learning. This roundtable aims to gather a diverse group of faculty, staff, administrators, and students to discuss opportunities for undergraduate research in fields related to literature and language. In lieu of an abstract for a paper proposal, please provide a brief statement on your previous experiences in undergraduate research and your role (faculty, staff, administrator, and / or student). As part of your statement, consider reflect on how you could contribute to this roundtable by addressing some of the following questions: what opportunities for undergraduate research are available at your institution? What courses or experiences prepare undergraduates to pursue their project? What challenges do students, faculty, staff, and/or administrators face in supporting undergraduate research? How can we facilitate or encourage interdisciplinary research opportunities for undergraduate students? How can we better develop opportunities to engage students in meaningful research projects within a single course? How might we develop opportunities for students to collaborate on research?
Please send statements of 250-350 words by April 5, 2015 to Kelsey Squire (email@example.com)
In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference, this panel proposes to explore the relationship between the science of medicine and the art of representation. The power of language to create and control lived experiences within a social context is widely accepted. We know that the way in which we experience gender, sexuality, and other identity constructs are formed by the words we use. We also know that power dynamics are shaped and reinforced by domestic and public discourse. This panel seeks to explore these issues in the medical field. How does the language we use to represent medical realities shape or create the experience of various medical conditions? How can the diagnostic categories we use to describe illness or other disorders influence the ways in which we experience them?
Possible topics include past and/or current understandings of medical discourses, critical assessments of approaches to diagnosis and treatment, and literary or filmic representations of diagnoses, treatments, and responses.
Chairs: Sarah Eilefson, Loyola University Chicago and Devon Madon, Illinois Math and Science Academy
In the history of science, it has been well-documented that institutionalized science and professional scientific circles actively and systematically excluded people from their ranks based on gender, race, and class. However, what has been underrepresented is the scientific work and endeavors of the marginalized groups themselves. This session seeks to recover some of these excluded voices and stories by investigating the creative, alternative ways that these groups participated in scientific discourse.
Lending a presumed scientific legitimacy to the continued subordination of specific groups, nineteenth-century political economy and evolutionary thought provoked new debates about sexual and racial science and the ‘problem’ of the working classes. As a result of these active attempts to discredit women, people of color, and the uneducated working class, these groups did not take part in professional scientific societies nor did they have access to education in science and mathematics. Nevertheless, many went on to pursue alternative avenues to write and talk about science that lay outside the boundaries of institutionalized science. Excluded groups often used various literary genres to enter into discussions about science and nature. Moreover, they harnessed these literary forms to subvert, criticize, and comment on the prevailing scientific discourse of institutionalized science. Operating and writing within these boundaries and cultural tensions, they incorporated the interests of a male and European-centric scientific discourse; however, they also claimed ownership of these various literary forms as a site to explore, define, and reshape the self, ultimately creating a distinctive language not just about themselves but about science and nature as well.
This session explores the conference theme through literary histories of science written by women, people of color, and/or the working class that reflect an experience of science and nature that is unique to those groups or individuals. Papers might discuss topics and texts including but not limited to popularizations of science, nature writing, travel writing, female experiences of the sublime, poetry, scientific illustration, pub science, citizen science, fairy/folk tales, science fiction, and speculative fiction.
Please send abstracts to Leila A. McNeill via email by April 5th to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This session explores the relationship between recent sociological discussions on networks and U.S. literature by writers of color. In The Rise of the Network Society, Manuell Castells argues that the last quarter of the twentieth century has seen a social evolution based on developments in computer-mediated communication. While network is certainly not a new term and different kinds of networks have been important in many societies over time, Castells sees networks enabled by micro-electronics based digital communication as playing a central role in social organization and social relations in the network society. Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory is likewise motivated by the idea that socially meaningful action emerges from networks that reflect and constitute the material basis of social relations. If less from a sociological interest but with the same keen attention to the sources of social agency, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri also emphasize the developments in communication in their theory of Empire and the multitude. Based on these theoretical discussions that place digital communication and the flows of information at the center of social change, this session aims to examine the impact of this social change on literary and cultural production by U.S. writers of color. How do writers of color engage with new technologies and networks of communication? How do the developments of the network society manifest at the level of literary creativity and cultural production?
Possible topics include:
Ethnic networks and democracy
Inequality in the age of information
U.S. imperialism and technologies of domination and governance
Transnational networks, circuits, and routes
Distribution and circulation of literary and cultural texts
Reading practices in the network society
In 1963’s The Machine in the Garden Leo Marx introduces the concept of technological pastoral, a space constructed to join modern industry to the ideals of rural harmony. While Marx’s own historical reference point may have been the suburban “middle landscape,” his notion of technological pastoral can lead into a more general understanding of how science has been mobilized in the pursuit of pastoral ideals. Examples of such mobilizations may range from ecosystem management and experiments with closed ecological systems (like biospheres) to theoretical applications such as terraforming. Virtual utopias may provide even another axis of analysis, as might some branches of bionics and bioengineering.
How might the literary pastoral serve as an heuristic for understanding these and other scientific developments from the late twentieth century through to the present day? How have poets, fiction writers, theorists, and filmmakers used and modified the pastoral mode to represent, explore, and critique such developments? (We might recall that agricultural sciences, at the least, have occupied a crucial space in the literary pastoral since Virgil’s Georgics.)
For this panel, papers addressing such questions via a focus on any form of imaginative writing, theory, or film will be considered. Please send an abstract of 200-300 words by April 5th to Dr. Peter Monacell, Columbia College of Missouri, at email@example.com.
Categories: American Literature, Contemporary Literature, Genre Studies
The increasing awareness of the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States has fortunately been accompanied by increasing academic interest in prisons and related issues. The United States incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other nation in history and the most authoritative witnesses to this humanitarian crisis are prisoners themselves. Thus, for the third year this special session seeks papers that examine the production, teaching, study, and performance of literature within carceral institutions. The call is “open” but we plan to dedicate one of our panels to theater programs in prisons. Please send submissions, along with 250 word abstracts, to William Andrews by April 5th, 2015 at firstname.lastname@example.org
For this special session, I seek papers that engage the vibrant critical debate over “reading”; I am especially interested in papers that consider the extent to which new modalities imagine themselves as an art, a science, or both. What’s at stake in the calls for new reading practices, from surface reading to distant reading, from zoomable reading to dialectical reading, and so on? To which specific conditions do new reading practices respond? To which rhetorical, theoretical (interpretive), and/or scientific traditions do these practices turn or, alternately, shun? To what extent do these debates over reading reveal divergences and/or convergences between traditional literary criticism and science and technology? To what extent do these debates recapitulate past tensions in the history of the profession? Proposals that address these questions, and more, from any critical perspective are welcome. Please send one-page CV and 250-350 word abstract to Andrew Kopec (email@example.com) by April 5, 2015.
Proposals invited for this MMLA roundtable session, which seeks innovative approaches to teaching literature surveys from a variety of perspectives. Proposals may explore practical, institutional, or theoretic/disciplinary matters. Practical concerns might include textual choices, examples of teaching strategies, including relevant assignments, syllabi, etc. Institutional matters might include possible ways of introducing innovation in the curriculum through surveys and/or assessment matters, as well as surveys from a range of institutions. Finally, some possibilities for disciplinary/theoretical concerns are questions of survey courses in degree programs, issues of canonicity, and delineations between “British,” “American,” and “World” literature surveys, just to name a few. Papers with some sense of balance between theoretical discussion and innovative possibilities will be especially welcome. Handouts and samples are encouraged.
All 300-word abstracts should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 5th, 2015.
As current educational and political movements tend toward seeing the practical, if not economic and jobs-serving values of the humanities, does the teaching of and research about Shakespeare shift accordingly? Does a position of resistance still count toward serving the larger purposes of the humanities? Does the current employment context, including that in teaching at different levels, affect the direction of Shakespeare studies? Theoretical, practical, and personal interventions are welcome.
Inquiries, or abstracts of about 200-250 words, with very brief bio, by April 5, to Donald Hedrick (email@example.com).