Edit August 4, 2016: Our session has been selected to be included in the 2017 MLA Convention Presidential Theme, “Boundary Conditions.”

Edit May 19, 2016: Accepted!

By Sarah H. Salter and Jim Casey    (For the MLA Convention in Philadelphia on January 5-8, 2017)

This roundtable promotes conversations about editorship, authorship, and collaboration across historical periodicals and the boundaries of race and ethnicity. Highlighting the complexity and interconnection inherent to periodical forms, this panel addresses at once a disciplinary absence and an historical one: through attention to understudied editorships and multi-ethnic imagined communities, we will provide a space for scholars to collaborate across the perimeters that often separate our critical endeavors. The session’s goal is to foster discussion between those working in parallel but disparate fields who appreciate the centrality of editorship and collaboration in our literary histories.

The roundtable’s emphasis on multiethnic perspectives responds to important recent work on immigrant, Latin@, and African American print cultures that intersect in their attention to periodicals. Thus, we regard a structural lack—the dearth of scholarly conversations that move beyond the details of particular case studies or specific communities—while recognizing the ongoing work of uncovering these important “incomplete histories.” Using theories of archival attention, such as Eric Gardner’s “unexpected places,” Rodrigo Lazo’s “migrant archives,” and Kirsten Silva-Gruesz’s “ambassadorship,” participants will compare notes, challenges, and methodological experiments.

Scholars have begun to illustrate the literary-historical value of looking beyond the bound book. The MLA has been instrumental in supporting this work through panels on topics like “Media Ecology,” (2016), “Newspapers as Poetic Medium” (2014), or “Antebellum Print Culture and the Digital Archive” (2014). As yet, little cross-area comparative study exists in these burgeoning fields; recent forums such as the MELUS special issue on “African American Print Cultures” (2015), the American Periodicals issue on “Black Periodical Studies” (2015), or The Journal of Modern Studies issue on “Magazines and/as Media: Periodical Studies and The Question of Disciplinarity” (2015) have only begun to develop robust theoretical engagement across periods and areas. The current landscape includes studies of single publications (Gardner 2015, Noonan 2010, Okker 1995), single editorial practices (McGill 2007, Garvey 2012, Cordell 2015) or broader approaches to particular racial or ethnic groups (Harris and Garvey 2004, Foster 2005, Cohen and Stein 2012, Coronado 2013); another rich vein emphasizes historical period, including Victorian (Brake and Codell 2005, Finkelstein 2002, Wiener 1985) or Modernist periodicals studies (Latham and Scholes 2006, Ardis and Collier 2008, Scholes and Wulfman 2010), among others. The need for this roundtable is clear: so many impressive studies, so few that unsettle disciplinary, area, or period boundary conditions. Moreover, attention to editorship and collaboration fills a conceptual lacuna in recent approaches, which emphasize dense social histories or individual authors in complex circulation networks.

It is precisely because of the range and quality of previous studies that we can raise the prospect of assembling a theoretical apparatus for the study of editorship and collaborative endeavors. In this roundtable, we hope to lay the foundations for a model that reaches beyond single people, publications, practices, or communities to consider the editorial tectonics of our literary histories. Historical editorship studies invites us to consider complex multiethnic and multimodal interactions as governed by patterns of a larger profession and craft. Panelists will suggest how a range of interdisciplinary approaches, such as Bruno Latour’s actor-network-theory, call attention to historical editors and editorial practices as networked brokers of culture and texts within changing periodical forms that are “trials, experiments, and simulations” (Reassembling 149). As such, rather than asking definitional questions (what is an editor?) we ask relational questions: How do editors facilitate social and textual relationships? How does imaginative work like translation or illustration contribute to the communities addressed in historical periodicals? Thus, we begin developing critical vocabularies beyond the singular studies that comprise the majority of editorship literature.

This topic is ideally suited for a roundtable format emphasizing a wide variety of editorial moments. By juxtaposing these talks, the session will move from brief examples to larger methodological and theoretical concerns so as to cultivate a thicker critical vocabulary. Each person will speak for 6-7 minutes from pre-circulated remarks to allow maximum time for discussion about possible avenues for theorizing editorship. We have also invited a short response from Professor Jean Lee Cole, periodicals scholar and co-editor of the journal American Periodicals. “Editorship, Periodicals, Race and Ethnicity” will have broad appeal within the MLA community by speaking to ongoing scholarly conversations in print and periodical studies, media studies, African American studies, translation studies, as well as 19th- and 20th-century hemispheric American literatures. While African American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, and pulp newspapers are compelling in their own rights, the MLA roundtable offers a chance to speak across audiences and an opportunity to spark a new arena of study brimming over with research opportunities and theoretical implications.