How big of a nerdy English/writing type of person does one need to be to appreciate the fact that the MLA has come out with a new edition of the style manual? And does it make me an even bigger
looser enthusiast that the first thing I want to look at in the newest issue of The Journal of Electronic Publishing is a review of this new style manual?
Regardless, it’s an interesting piece by Kevin S. Hawkins, who is an electronic publishing librarian over at the University of Michigan. The rest of the journal looks interesting this time around too. Based on what Hawkins is saying, it sounds like MLA has made some advances in dealing with electronic resources and in acknowledging the fact that almost all of the writing/editing done in academic/humanities-type journals involves computers.
And for me, this observation brought back unpleasant memories: “I’m glad to see that two holdovers from the days of the typewriter have finally been put to rest: underlining and double spacing after periods are out, and italicization and single spacing are in.” Twelve years ago, when I was trying to wrap up my dissertation in the summer before I began my first tenure-track job, I was in an epic (well, for me) battle with a thesis/dissertation reader in the Bowling Green State University graduate college.
In those days (I assume this is still true, though I don’t typically have to deal with such things at EMU because our graduate students do “projects” and not “theses” that adhere to such strict rules), this was the final stop for a dissertation, a hoop soon-to-be PhDs had to jump through even after a defense. The staff in this office was made up mostly of MA students on an assistantship, and their job was to proof-read for your run-of-the-mill errors and for adherence to a style manual– in my case, the MLA style manual. This reviewer did catch a number of errors I was able to tidy up, but this person (who was always anonymous to me) also tried to argue that I had to eliminate all contractions (I dare you to find that rule in the MLA style manual) and to change all italics into underlined text. I had a lot of italics in my diss, both for book titles but also for emphasis— probably a little too much emphasis– and I thought then (and think now) that underlining is ugly.
Well, long-story a bit shorter, I actually went back and forth via email with this person for a while, and I ultimately had to get a “supervisor” involved in order to remind this office that I had successfully defended my dissertation. I ended up presenting this person with a quote from that edition of the MLA style manual (the second?) which said italics were at least an acceptable substitute for underlining. I finished, went on with my life, and became the tenured professor you see before you today. I don’t know whatever happened to this reviewer, but I am guessing they are not happy with these new MLA changes.
Depending on what happens with English 328 next year, perhaps this could be a reading for that class….