Program Committee

I’ve spent the last two days in a meeting of the MLA Program Committee, thinking about, among other issues, the future shape of the convention — the new kinds of sessions we want to encourage; the new kinds of issues we want to take on. We’ve got some exciting plans in formation, but I’m curious about your convention experiences: what are the best sessions you’ve attended that didn’t use the standard paper-reading format?


  1. Hands down, the ACLA, where each panel meets at the same time every day and the panelists (10 or so total?) attend all of the meetings. A conversation develops, rapport grows, connections are made. And then the rest of the time slots you go sit in on other people’s talks.

    1. That sounds like an interesting structure. How many attendees are there at ACLA? How many sessions of this sort per day, and how many concurrent sessions?

  2. I’ve been a big fan of the electronic roundtable / show-and-tells at recent MLAs. But I think my very favorites have been break-out sessions at THATCamps (go figure), where we sit down and hammer out a solution to a question with a few people. That’s how we ended up running THATCamp Jr.

  3. I also should have mentioned the Digital Humanities Conference this year at Stanford. I’ve never been to a conference before where the talks were timed so precisely so that it became easy to panel hop when necessary but still get questions in to the author(s) of the papers.

  4. You know about the Flow model, which works well if the panel is well moderated and the provocations are well coordinated. But it really depends on having the right mix of people & topics – otherwise it’s a shambling mess.

  5. It’s become more and more difficult for me to sit through papers being read for 20 minutes. The digital poster sessions or even paper poster sessions have been incredible because of the potential for conversation. I’ve also enjoyed the roundtables where the participants (more than the usual 3) say something for 5 mins then there’s more talking.

    Of course, it’s really difficult to do either of these formats for traditional literary scholarship (at least it was for me). Complicated ideas take some time to develop. Not sure how we could improve that other than encouraging regular poster sessions with printed posters on a wall or something.

  6. I love it when people at CCCC really go out of the box,like a session a few years ago that had everyone in the room blogging at the same time, posting, and discussing what appeared on the screen. Or the one that actually involved clues left around the hotel leading to a session on space and geopolitics. I don’t go to many conferences, I admit. But I rarely see a paper being read anymore. Personally, I use Prezi and speak extemporaneously, and then let people refer to parts of the Prezi they want to discuss further.

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