Former professor leads MLA conference
The Modern Language Association’s annual convention in Chicago last weekend drew over 7,000 people, including over 20 Dartmouth professors. The conference’s theme, “Vulnerable Times,” was selected by association president and former College French and comparative literature professor Marianne Hirsch.

The conference allows language and literature scholars from around the world to meet and present their academic work to each other, Hirsch said. Candidates vying for open faculty positions also attend interviews during the conference. Dartmouth’s German, French, English and Italian departments all interviewed candidates for positions that will open next year. Dartmouth’s English department sought to hire an American literature professor, receiving 570 applications from around the world for one position, English professor Donald Pease said. At the convention, the hiring committee spent around 25 hours interviewing 15 people, three of whom will return to Dartmouth for a final round of interviews. About a quarter of the conference’s 800 sessions were tied to the “Vulnerable Times” theme, which addresses the precarious nature of life, the planet and the humanities currently and throughout history. The theme is also meant to promote social change, Hirsch said in an association statement. “I thought this would pull together various strands of both scholarly and professional work that our members are concerned about,” Hirsch said. “With the growth of English as a global language, how can we support the study of all languages?” The theme includes the vulnerable position of the humanities at a time of reduced funding and opportunities, Hirsch said. There have been fewer tenure-track jobs available, and positions are not being replaced when professors retire. Hirsch said in the statement that her interest in the topic arises from her work on feminism and people whose lives have been overlooked in the historical record. Hirsch chaired Dartmouth’s women’s studies program from 1985 to 1987 and has returned to the College various times to lecture on related topics. The theme also encompasses the fragility of various populations on the planet, earth itself, language, life and other species, Hirsch said. “I did not want to dwell on vulnerability,” she said. “I wanted to acknowledge the vulnerabilities and think about them in new ways together in order to develop solutions for the future.” In her presidential address Friday night, Hirsch spoke about the images and stories used to describe violent incidents, and the difficulties facing the humanities. She also presided over a forum on how vulnerability can motivate social change and activism, specifically in areas such as poverty, climate change, governance and reparations. Pease said he found Hirsch to be a strong and effective leader. “She is a first rate professor, terrific teacher, more than capable leader of MLA and first rate president,” Pease said. “It is difficult to chair an association with so many members, and she does it quite well.” Hirsch joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1978 and taught in the French, Italian and comparative literature departments for 26 years. She is now a Columbia University comparative literature and English professor and was appointed the association’s president for the 2013-2014 academic year. The MLA was founded in 1883 to provide a forum for its members to share scholarly findings with colleagues in order to strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature. The organization has since grown to 30,000 members in 100 countries.
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