The Lost Tribe

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Modern Language Association is famous for the provocative titles of sessions at its annual meeting. But the provocative title of one session Sunday night -- so surprising to several MLA members that they expressed disbelief when told about it -- contained no sexual wordplay or trendy literary buzzwords. The title: Does the English Department Have a Jewish Problem?

Rockin' in the Ph.D. World

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There are plenty in higher education who devote themselves to interpreting rock and roll as literature. Fewer devote themselves to the interpreting literature as rock and roll.

Where There's a Will...

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WASHINGTON -- Shakespeare famously affirmed that his words would live “[s]o long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,” but he never promised that they’d keep his acolytes employed. At the Shakespeare Association of America’s 37th Annual Conference last week, attendees related the familiar stories of budget cuts and fruitless job searches that now seem to emanate from every corner of academe (and elsewhere).

Tough Love for the Humanities

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WASHINGTON -- While he described himself as “stunned” to be chosen as this year’s Jefferson Lecturer, Leon Kass was hardly apologetic. The University of Chicago professor is best known for the years he spent as chair of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, and he was invited to give the lecture last fall by the then-chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bruce Cole, himself twice appointed by President Bush.

'A Better Pencil'

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In this electronic age, new writing technologies seem to proliferate and evolve with alarming speed -- but of course, people have been coming up with new ways to communicate their thoughts for as long as language has existed at all. Writing itself -- writes Dennis Baron -- was once the object of much suspicion; Plato wrote that it could attenuate human memory, since writing things down would obviate the need to memorize them.

Poetry for Community Colleges

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It would hardly be news, at this point, to say that 2009 has been a big year for community colleges.

Tweetup at the MLA

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PHILADELPHIA -- A tweetup -- that is, a gathering of Twitter users -- tends to be a casual affair, more likely to occur in a dive bar than at an open bar. So those attending a late-night tweetup at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association were in for a surprise.

Bleak News on the Front Lines

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PHILADELPHIA -- Already down hundreds of job openings, the Modern Language Association discovered, at its annual meeting here, that it was also down hundreds of graduate students.

Attendance dropped from the 8,000s to the 7,000s -- and much of the drop appeared to be among those entering the profession. With convention job interviews thin on the ground, many grad students and new Ph.D.'s found somewhere else to go in the week after Christmas.

Scariest Forum on the Internet?

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Just two weeks after its Feb. 2 launch, The Chicago Manual of Style Online’s new discussion forum already features numerous discussions with titles like “ ‘Predecessor to’ or ‘predecessor of’ “? and “Worst online punctuation abuse?” But the most popular thread thus far is titled “I’m afraid to post here.” Its first message: “Could there be a more intimidating place to post?”

A Medieval War -- Over Arizona

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As soon as Arizona enacted its law designed to crack down on unauthorized immigration to the state, academic groups started to announce they would stay away from the state. But many of those announcing that they would shun it until the law was repealed didn't in fact have any major events scheduled for Arizona. (Much of the law's enforcement has been blocked by a federal judge, but the legal and political fighting remain unsettled.)


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