MLA International Symposium: "Has Recovery Run Out of Steam?"

deadline for submissions: 
August 31, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Modern Language Association
contact email: 


Panel Description

In the introduction to a 2015 special issue of Social Text on “The Question of Recovery: Slavery, Freedom, and the Archive,” guest editors Laura Helton, Justin Leroy, Max Mishler, Samantha Seeley, and Shauna Sweeney posit that scholars of Atlantic slavery and freedom “cannot resolve the tension between recovering archival traces of black life as a means of contesting legacies of racism and exclusion, on the one hand, and reading the archive as a site of irrevocable silence that reproduces the racial hierarchies intrinsic to its construction, on the other” (2). The implication here—and fleshed out in the other essays assembled in this particular volume—is that scholarly work on the African diaspora in the Atlantic world must move beyond the previously-dominant paradigm of “recovery,” while also recognizing both its “radical” and “reductive” (8) legacies. This panel broadly considers the question of “recovery” by turning its attention to African diasporic literary history—foregrounding its political imperatives, pedagogical implications, and practical considerations.

As Britt Rusert has recently noted, Black literary studies has witnessed a “return to the archive” (995) joining new methodologies in the study of book history and print culture with longstanding practices in black feminist scholarship. No longer tied to earlier periods when “recovery and reprint” (1004) efforts worked both to institutionalize and then later legitimate African American literary studies writ large, this resurgence in archival work prompts several important questions: How might we reconcile this archival (re)turn with calls to move away from the paradigm of recovery? How does “recovery work” alter our understandings of canon and canonization? How do we teach recovered works? What might we recover beyond simply texts and authors—ways of being, writing, or living? How has the increasing digitization of archival sources, along with the advent of DH methodologies, impacted recovery efforts and their presentation to broader scholarly and public audiences? What is left to be recovered? Or has recovery run out of steam?

Scholars working on African diasporic literature and culture in any national or linguistic tradition are welcome to participate. Please submit 300-word abstracts along with a short CV to Nicholas Rinehart ( by August 31, 2018. For more information about the 2019 MLA International Symposium and its theme, “Remembering Voices Lost,” please visit the symposium website here.