A Word from our Higher Powers: The MLA Seventh Edition

Art & Literature, Blogging, Education, Media, Technology — By on November 5, 2009 at 4:26 pm

There is hardly a student in the United States whose work remains wholly untouched by the influence of the Modern Language Association. Whether a fledgling upstart or a seasoned scholar, anyone doing academic work in the humanities has been guided through the massive collaborative effort of the MLA. Opinions about the MLA are as diverse as the organization itself, ranging from perceptions of it as a benevolent body to polemics seizing upon it as an intellectual monopoly.

It is impossible deny that the MLA’s contributions to modern academe are both palpable and far-reaching. Specifically, it is the MLA’s Handbook for Writers of Research Papers that serves as its primary mode of delivery. Recently, the MLA unveiled the seventh-edition of this resource, and contained in its preface is an epochal shift in the organization’s official stance on print media, one that carries implications for its future academic preeminence.

In this preface, David G. Nicholls, Director of Book Publications for the MLA, writes that “the MLA no longer recognizes a default medium and instead calls for listing the medium of publication in every entry in the list of works cited” (Nicholls xvii). This marks a landmark shift in the MLA’s position. With this official shift–accompanied by a web-based iteration of the handbook–the MLA is making strides toward ensuring both its relevance and practicability in an academic environment that is increasingly techno-centric.

The most immediate result of the MLA’s decision is that the status of non-print media has been bolstered. This move implicitly acknowledges the growing corpus of wisdom available in online and graphic resources. It is good news for information outlets like blogs or other digital publications, which have hitherto been regarded suspiciously. Given this official sanction, we may expect to see a flourishing of online academics, and thus a new richness to web-based information.

Optimism aside, however, there may also be more sinister implications to the MLA’s shift. Non-print media has become inexpressibly influential on a majority of students for whom the Handbook is designated. This policy-change may represent the MLA’s attempt to exert its already sizeable collaborative structure upon another major medium, thus expanding the borders of its academic empire.

It remains to be seen as to whether the MLA’s move is a vindication of new media or intellectual imperialism. What is clear, though, is that this shift in official stance regarding non-print media makes for an exciting opportunity for academics in the digital world, who have been given the chance to seize upon a bolstered respectability of medium. To what extent this prospect will pan out, time will tell. Meanwhile,



Nicholls, David. G. Preface. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers: Seventh Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2009. xvii. Print.