Open letter on ISAS from the MLA Old English Forum Executive Committee

From the MLA Old English Forum Executive Committee:

We write to express our support for the changes currently being pursued by the membership of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists.

First: We wish to recognize the work of Dr. Mary Rambaran-Olm, who served as second vice-president of ISAS from 2017 to the present, whose resignation from the organization has spurred the field and its members to take stock of their own history of complicity in marginalizing people of color, women, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized groups.  We thank her for the work she has done for our field.

Second: We support unequivocally the current vote to change the name of the organization.  We cannot cling to a term that *our own scholarship* has demonstrated to be racist in its origin and its deployment: to do so is to signal to BIPoC that they are not welcome in our field, and that is unacceptable.

Third: We support unequivocally the amendment of the ISAS constitution to support demographic diversity in the society’s leadership.  We want the leadership of our field to reflect its membership as broadly as possible across all categories of identity, career stage, and employment status.   

Fourth: We support unequivocally the development of a sexual harassment policy for both the ISAS conference and our field.  Sexual harassment and abuse cannot be tolerated.

Finally: We wish to apologize for our own complicity and silences. We recognize our shared culpability in failing to make our field welcoming and safe for vulnerable colleagues. We have a responsibility to do better.

Samantha Zacher
Renée Trilling
Nicole Guenther Discenza
David Johnson
Mary Kate Hurley


Adventures of a Bibliographer: Getting Names Right

This post is drawn mostly from a set of tweets that I then expanded into a Facebook post. I am very interested in suggestions for improvement, so please comment if you have ideas!

I am the bibliographer for Old English Newsletter. In that role even more than in citations in my other publications, I run into questions about names. That author with three names: is it Last Last, First? Or Last, First Middle? Names that appear to be Spanish sometimes have even more names: which are part of the surname? Names from some parts of Asia: which is the surname? I’m not the only one to face some questions, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned to do so readers may not have to reinvent the wheel.

My first resort: If I have a book or an article by that person, I look for how they cite themselves: the first footnote won’t work in Chicago style because it has the full name in First Last order, but a second note will be only the last name, and an alphabetized bibliography or references section is gold. MLA cites by last name only, so a parenthetical citation is also excellent. For this and other reasons, please cite your own previous or forthcoming related work! Don’t think of it as shameless self-promotion: it’s appropriate self-promotion and very helpful to bibliographers and other readers.

If I don’t have an item in hand by the author, I try to get one; the web is wonderful these days. It won’t work, however, if I’m reading someone’s first publication, for publications in obscure places, or just publications that never list just the last name or Last, First.

I Google people. I love it when people have faculty profiles and list their publications with their names, because most people (including me) just list titles, so you can’t necessarily tell how they prefer their names.

I Google books and use Google Books and Amazon Look Inside! to see if I can see bibliography in their publications.

I sometimes use headers, but with caution, because the authors haven’t always seen and approved those. “Lastname p#” is a big help—if the publisher got it right.

And I email people, including people I don’t know, if I’m still in any doubt. No one has yet been angry that I asked them how to do their name correctly! Some are quite appreciative. I would be happy to get such an email.

My preference for Discenza, Nicole Guenther, is not obvious—especially if you know that my dissertation director and treasured mentor is O’Brien O’Keeffe, Katherine. (I settled on my practice before I knew her.)

One last caution: I cited my own name wrong in my original Twitter thread and Facebook post! I have a colleague who still remembers a teacher taking points off when he misspelled his last name. People misspell or omit words in their own titles on their CVs and websites. So I must exercise caution even when I have the author’s own citation; as a bibliographer, I want to hold that item in my hand, or see the full item on my screen.

Another issue with names: people change them. Some transition and change names, and they may not want their deadname used; others, however, may want readers to know that publications under both names are by the same person. Some people change their names upon getting married or divorced. Some people change their names for other reasons. When I know that people have substantively changed their names from what I see in the item I have in hand, I do ask them: can I use the name I see on the item and include “now publishing as”? As a bibliographer, I’m thrilled when people say yes. I want the bibliography to bring people looking for material on a topic together with that material and those scholars, and if I can make sure someone knows to find more recent publications under a different name, that’s great. But if someone says no, I will use their current name, because their choice is more important than my obsession with details.

I dread getting it wrong. I know that I will: I have seen publishers print their authors’ names with misspellings, added or dropped hyphenation, mistakes on which is the surname. . . . I’m going to repeat some of these errors and maybe make some of my own (especially typos).

A related note: I sometimes Google to get people’s pronouns right—but I’m still going to make mistakes there. I have written long paragraphs for Year’s Work in Old English in which I managed never to use a pronoun because I couldn’t find someone’s.

I’ll keep trying, and when I make mistakes, I’ll do what I can to fix them.

So if I make a mistake with your name or pronoun, please tell me! Don’t be embarrassed, and don’t worry about embarrassing or upsetting me; I will feel better once I get it right.

Do you have additional tips for getting names and pronouns right?

Call for Papers: “Alfredian Texts and Contexts” at the International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 7 through 10, 2020)

            Alfred the Great’s reign had significant and lasting impacts on politics, government, warfare, literature, visual arts, and law. His name and works attributed to him, rightly or wrongly, would be cited for centuries to authorize other laws, texts, policies, and more. “Alfredian Texts and Contexts” encourages interdisciplinary approaches and a broad definition of “Alfredian,” embracing the king, his circle, successors, and imitators. Papers in past versions of this session have treated Old English and Latin literary, legal, and historical texts; treaties and constructions of place; manuscript studies; and even Middle English texts. Proposals from a similarly wide range of approaches are welcome this year.

            Please send a one-page abstract and a Participant Information Form (available at to Nicole Guenther Discenza,, no later than Sunday, Sept. 15.

MLA Old English Calls for Papers

MLA members, please consider these calls for papers for the 2020 convention in Seattle, 9–12 January, and please share widely with those who may be interested. The deadline is coming up fast!

“Only Human” in Early Medieval Literature

Inspired by the 2020 Presidential Theme, “Being Human,” this session proposes to explore the limits and potentials of the human condition in the early medieval world. We seek papers that interrogate how medieval texts construct notions of the human and investigate the possibilities revealed by a deeper understanding of those constructions. For example, what notions of the human subtend medieval religious discourse, where human experience is cast in relation to the infinity of God and to the broad sweep of salvation history?  How do medieval texts delimit the boundary between nature and the human? Where does the human emerge in legal discourse, which defines the relation between individuals and society, as well as between various communities? Most importantly, what role can medieval formulations of the human condition play in understanding and underscoring the possibilities for the human in the modern world?

Please submit a 250-word proposal for a presentation of no more than 15 minutes to Samantha Zacher ( by 15 March 2019.

Contemporary Old English

Though we do not speak Old English any more, the literature has not died, nor does it only live in classrooms. It finds new homes in twenty-first century poetry and prose that appropriate, incorporate, and respond to Old English texts. A few recent examples include Carolyn Bergvall’s project Drift, Maria Dahvana Headley’s novel The Mere Wife, Miller W. Oberman’s renderings of a number of short poems, and Meghan Purvis’s transformation of Beowulf

For this panel, we seek papers that illuminate interactions between early medieval English and contemporary texts in language, form, genre, theme, or other aspects. What can Late Modern English works teach us about Old English texts? What can early English texts show us about contemporary art? How do the different periods, for instance, represent particular emotions, landscape, or gender and sexuality?

Please submit a 250-word proposal for a presentation of no more than 15 minutes to Samantha Zacher ( by 15 March 2019. 

Forms of Experience in Old English Literature

 Perhaps the most complex rendering of “experience” in Anglo-Saxon literature is sið, which (like the German Erfahrung) can also mean “a journey,” “a departure,” and in Old English, “fate” or even “death.” To what extent are human experiences depicted and understood as controlled or inadvertent, individual or collective? In what ways could “experience” be trained, shaped and modified, and thus become habitual (i.e. when and how might one become “experienced”)? How are literary forms and experiences correlated in Old English literature? How is the notion of “experience” inflected by issues of gender, race, and class?

This panel seeks papers on a range of theoretical and textual forms and modes of experience in Old English literature. We are particularly interested in contributions that explore the place of literature in the expression or shaping of individual or collective experience. Panelists might explore a range of empirical, phenomenological, emotional, literary, material, philosophical, and theological perspectives and approaches.

 Please submit a 250-word proposal for a presentation of no more than 15 minutes to Samantha Zacher ( by 15 March 2019. 

CFP for ICMS Kalamazoo 2019: “Alfredian Texts and Contexts”

This session still has space remaining!

CFP for ICMS, Kalamazoo, MI, May 2019: “Alfredian Texts and Contexts”

Will_of_Alfred_the_Great_(New_Minster_Liber_Vitae)_-_BL_Stowe_MS_944,_f_30vWhether he personally wrote and translated texts, acted as patron for those doing so, or simply inspired others, Alfred the Great had a major impact on England from the late ninth century onwards. Alfredian Texts and Contexts welcomes papers that fit the broadest senses of the terms in the title. Past papers have addressed topics as varied as Old Saxon connections, source study, military history, manuscript studies, literary studies, linguistics, geography and place studies, and the afterlives of texts and myths connected with Alfred. Be part of the evolving conversation on Wessex court culture and its impacts!

Please send a one-page abstract and a Participant Information Form (available at to Nicole Guenther Discenza:


(Image: The Will of Alfred the Great, BL Stowe MS 944, f 30v)

Call for Papers for Kalamazoo Congress 2019: Stronger Together

We still have space in our round table; please send a proposal soon!

Stronger Together: Strategies for Collaboration in Old English Studies

Sponsored by the Old English Forum, Modern Language Association

Collaborative work has always had a home in Old English studies: think Colgrave and Mynors, Greenfield and Calder, Mitchell and Robinson, Lees and Overing. These names are shorthand for the foundational work that the partnerships contributed to our field, but their model, so far, has been the exception rather than the rule for work on Old English and early medieval England. As the trend in humanities scholarship turns more and more toward collaboration, scholars in all fields seek ways to enrich their intellectual lives by joining forces with others whose interests and methodologies overlap and complement one another. Collaborative ventures can take many forms: team teaching, co-authoring an article or a volume, developing a research group, or organizing conferences. They can bring together scholars from different institutions and across period or disciplinary boundaries. And, importantly, they can provide opportunities for funding that are not available to scholars working alone. Most crucially, they can build and strengthen collegial networks that have the capacity to broaden participation in our field, as well as enabling us to extend our work to new and more diverse audiences.

We propose a round table to discuss methods and strategies for launching and maintaining collaborative work in early medieval English. Building on a successful discussion at the 53rd Congress on networks and mentoring in Old English studies, we aim to broaden that conversation and to present a variety of models for working collaboratively both inside our field and with colleagues in other areas of study. Panelists will address a range of questions, such as: what is it like to write collaboratively? How can individual scholars forge connections that allow for collaboration? How might collaboration offer new possibilities for ways to engage with our objects of study?

Please send a brief proposal (250 words) for a 5-7 minute presentation to: Renée R. Trilling,, by September 15, 2018.


MLA 2019 Chicago: Old English Forum Calls for Papers

MLA 2019 Panels sponsored by the Old English Forum

Note that we have four separate calls for papers: three from the Old English Forum, and one jointly from the Celtic and Old English forums!


Medievalists as Public Intellectuals: A Roundtable 

for the MLA Convention, Chicago, 3–6 January 2019

The Guardian’s recent call for public historians failed recognize how many scholars working on early medieval language, literature, history, and art have already taken the stage as public intellectuals. Such scholars share their research and teaching with academics outside their area and the public through Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, news articles and opinion pieces, and non-academic books. This roundtable asks participants to reflect on what it means to be a public intellectual and a medievalist. How must pedagogies devised for the classroom be modified for audiences who do not think of themselves as students? How can scholars blend their own sometimes specialized research with outreach to a broad audience? What are the perils and the payoffs of engaging with those outside academia— for both public intellectuals and their audiences?

The session seeks not how-to guides about becoming public medievalists but reflections on this mode of engagement: its limits, benefits, and possible futures.

Please submit a 250-word proposal for a presentation of no more than 5-7 minutes to Renée Trilling ( by March 16, 2018.


Same as it ever was: Fulfilling the Unfulfilled Promise of Digital Humanities

MLA 2019: Chicago, January 3-6

We are still steering along the wide arc of the digital turn, a turn so sweepingly vast that it seems like two, three, or more turns. For early medieval studies in English intellectual and literary culture, an initial and pioneering set of projects blazed the trail: the Dictionary of Old English and its searchable Corpus, Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, the Electronic Beowulf, PASE and eSawyer. These research tools have made productive and useful knowledge available, and allowed wider, deeper and accelerated reading in early English texts. Most of these projects are over a decade old, yet they remain the standard. Few new DH projects in Anglo-Saxon studies do anything more than make data available (not that this is a bad thing!) and searchable (also, not bad!) or make manuscript images available (still, very much not bad!). However, the promises of DH to transform the field, to produce new models of reading or understanding the past, to open up new facets or fields of research have, in many respects, gone unfulfilled. What might DH offer to the study of early medieval literature? Where might it take us that we have only just begun to see? Where does this highway go to? We invite paper proposals for explorations of creative applications of digital technologies that do have more transformative potential, considering things like the differences between information and knowledge or data and meaning and raising questions about new models of thinking or new terms of academic inquiry.

Please send a 250-word proposal to Renée Trilling ( by March 16, 2018.


Paradox and Contradiction

MLA 2019: Chicago, January 3-6 

The paradox played an important part in logical inquiry and philosophy from antiquity forward, and became essential to medieval theology and literature. In the narrowest sense, paradoxes tend to signify moments of deadlock, contradiction, or polyvalence in logic and expression. They sometimes take the form of propositions that are simultaneously true and false, but they may also include utterances that are complicated by contextual ambiguities (e.g. the “Liar’s paradox”). The Middle Ages produced or reified its own share of epistemic paradoxes (also referred to as insolubilia) at the heart of the problem of knowledge — of the divine, of objects in the world, and of subjectivities. For this panel we invite meditations and reflections on varieties of paradoxes and contradiction in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture. Proposals may be based in paradox-driven genres, such as riddles or wisdom literature, or treat temporal or spatial paradoxes more generally. They may also speak to culturally contradictory values or codes more broadly: the collision of secular heroism and pacifist Christianity; tensions between materiality and spirituality; the contradictory values of embodiment and transcendence. We are especially interested in instances of paradox and contradictions that represent dialectical modes of thinking, or that resist closure and may even be entirely unsolvable.

Please send a 250-word proposal to Renée Trilling ( by March 16, 2018.



“Transformative Encounters: Models for Teaching a Multilingual Middle Ages”

Panel co-sponsored by the Celtic and Old English CLCS forums

Presider: Melissa Ridley Elmes, Lindenwood University

We warmly invite proposals for presentations from teacher-scholars working in any time-period for a dynamic panel on practical approaches to teaching medieval Celtic, Norse and English texts in the British literature survey. Our goal is to expand options for instructors beyond the small clusters of non-English-language texts sometimes offered in anthologies. The 3-4 participants selected for this panel will each speak (ca. 10-12 minutes) on one specific text they teach, offering a focused discussion of how they situate the text in the context of the overall survey; how they handle problems of language barrier, translation/edition availability, and student lack of familiarity with the text; and any particular insights they can offer about the specific text chosen in terms of its literary and cultural significance, themes it might be used to explore, etc. Though all strong proposals will be considered, preference will be afforded to those whose proposals relate to the broad theme of texts about literature and language: they might reflect on some aspect of the art of writing (in manuscripts, on monuments, etc.), storytelling or narrative construction (oral and written) and audience consumption, the talismanic power of a book, poem, the restorative or transformative effect of a verbal utterance, etc.

After the panelists are selected and the session is approved by MLA, our speakers’ texts (and potentially lesson plans, syllabi, or other materials panelists would like to circulate) will be made available to MLA members through the Celtic and Old English forums on the MLA Commons for pre-circulation purposes, so that audience members who wish to can read and familiarize themselves with the session texts ahead of time, to facilitate a robust Q&A and richer discussion of how the chosen texts can be profitably incorporated into a survey course either together or individually.

As with the 2018 roundtable on “a Better Brit Lit Survey”, it is our hope that speakers and audience participants will include both those with some background in English, Celtic and Norse literatures, languages, and/or culture, as well as teacher-scholars who have little or no formal training in these areas but who are invested in a multicultural North Atlantic and have (or want to) include Celtic and Norse materials in a Brit Lit course, including K-12 educators. The goal is that all those who attend this panel leave with materials, and practical teaching support for those materials, that they can immediately put to use in their own classes.

Please submit a proposal of 250 words for a presentation of 10-12 minutes to Amy Mulligan and Renée Trilling (; by March 22, 2018.