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.






Getting Special Characters on Your Computer: Old English, Diacritics, and IPA

Here are my quick tips for getting OE characters on your computer. I’m a Mac user, so the PC tips are ones I’ve only done quickly on other people’s machines. If you know better ways to get these characters on any kind of machine, please say so in comments!



To get special characters on a PC, go to to learn the codes. Hold down the Alt key while typing the numbers specified on the numeric keypad (or use Number Lock if you have no numeric keypad on your laptop; it may be a key, or you may need to press the Function and Scroll Lock keys together).

You can use this with Erin Sweany’s tip (thanks, Erin!): Use the AutoHotkey app to map the characters you want onto key combinations you choose.

If you only want a special character occasionally, TypeIt allows you to produce characters from several different character sets, including IPA and Icelandic, and simply copy them into your document. (Warning: if your font doesn’t contain that character, it may show up as a box.)

To get special characters on a Mac: look for the big “A” symbol near the day and time in the upper-right hand corner of your screen. Click on it, then on “Show Emoji and Symbols”.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.53.23 AM.png

You may have to click the gear in the upper-left hand corner of the box that appears to “Customize List.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.57.03 AM.png


For diacritics, add “Latin” to your menu; for International Phonetic Alphabet, add “Phonetic Alphabet.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.57.26 AM.pngScreen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.57.38 AM.png

When I’m using ABC Extended, I get thorn by typing hitting the option and t keys at the same time, eth from option+d, aesc from option apostrophe/single quotation mark, and the capitals of each by adding shift to the option+other key. Those are the only ones I use regularly.

In the Olde Dayes, we had to do things like import Icelandic fonts and all kinds of weird stuff. I for one am grateful to our Apple overlords for making so many characters easily available.

The Purposes of a Dissertation Prospectus

I’ve answered a number of questions about dissertation prospectuses over the years, but finally a student asked simply, “What is the purpose of the prospectus?” and I thought: I’ve never really answered that question. Here’s my attempt to answer.

I welcome feedback, and I’m curious to know whether it might be useful outside my own department. I located my own prospectus from the early 90s, when I was at Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute, and I find that the sections almost match the ones we ask in my current department (English at the University of South Florida). Please feel free to comment!


My draft document:

The dissertation prospectus serves multiple purposes: some for the doctoral candidate, some for the committee members, and some for both. In the USF English Department, we expect prospectuses to be roughly 15–40 pages and have set sections: see the PhD Handbook, “The Prospectus,”  (especially pages 36–7) for details about departmental expectations. This document seeks to give a little more insight into how the process of writing the prospectus prepares the candidate to write the dissertation itself and what directors and readers expect.

Continue reading “The Purposes of a Dissertation Prospectus”

NOT the Dark Ages

As the child of two historians, I grew up visiting museums—and my hometown of Detroit has some wonderful museums. We went to The Detroit Historical Museum regularly, where my favorite exhibit remains The Streets of Old Detroit. The Streets of Old Detroit takes you to three different periods in Detroit’s history: the 1840s, when it was growing as a trading hub; the 1870s, when Detroit produced and sold many different kinds of products; and the 1900s, a boom time. I still remember being a small child and looking into the windows of the recreated shops, noting the feeling of different kinds of streets under my feet as I moved from cobblestone to tar pavement to brick—and moving from dim to bright to brighter. Not only the streets but the lighting changed.

At some later point in my childhood, and I do not remember when, I realized with some embarrassment that my mental picture of the past had problems. Whenever I imagined life before the mid-1800s, even the days were rather like twilight. If I thought about the Revolutionary War, it was always dark. Lincoln’s cabin, in my mind, never saw full daylight. By the late nineteenth century, life had brightened a bit, but only in the mid-twentieth century could we see clearly. I’ve spoken with people who have admitted similar mistakes, the most commonly repeated one being small children thinking that life was lived in sepia tones due to old photographs. Of course, the even more distant past must have been even darker.

Continue reading “NOT the Dark Ages”