I have been to MLA once before, twenty years ago.
Preparing for this year, I had heard lots of negative things. Or perhaps I heard one really negative story and universalized it.
I enjoyed MLA and I found the presentations thoughtful. Not all of them were well done. (Those grad students should have had advisors reigning them in. I’m not sure what to do about the others who read articles instead of presentations.) But all of them had good information.
I also found an exciting, relatively new area to possibly extend my scholarship into. That’s always a good thing.
As for the crowds and craziness…
There were between 17 and 35 sessions at each time period. It was divided into three venues. The arrangers left 30 minutes between each, so if you left on time, you had plenty of time to get to the other and grab a chair before the talk started.
The sessions I was in were attended by between 12 and 200 people. Only one had 200. That was the one about NEH money. (Yes, I will be posting about that later. Stay tuned.) Most of them though were between 12 and 40, with the average probably around 28 or 30.
And most of the time periods had at least 25 sessions. So 750 people were in rooms at any one time. There were 767 panels with at least 3 people, which is about 2300 people. However, some did do two panels. Counting only the first page of listings, there were 124 presenters, 23 of whom presented twice. If one-fifth is the average number of presenters who presented twice, that lowers the numbers of presenting attenders to 1840.
Many people came only to interview. Others interviewed and attended a panel or two. So there were not crowds and crowds of people.
There were, however, many different topics available. On the last day I was only able to attend my own presentation because I was dealing with pretty severe vertigo. I missed a panel on prayer, John Milton, and Victorian rituals. The range of possible topics was amazing.
Now, there were not forty sessions on Victorian rituals. Another problem was that related topics were scheduled at the same time. For instance, contemporary prayer and 19th C American religion were both at the same time. I think people who were interested in one might have been interested in the other. But they would not have been able to attend both.
I think I would recommend MLA to others. And, if you have fascinating, groundbreaking stuff, we want to hear about it. Really.