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The Modern Language Association of America (referred to as the Modern Language Association or MLA) is the principal professional association in the United States for scholars of language and literature. The MLA aims to "strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature." The organization includes 30,000 members in 100 countries, primarily academic scholars, professors, and graduate students who study or teach language and literature, including English, other modern languages, and comparative literature. Although founded in the United States, with offices located in New York City, the MLA's membership, concerns, reputation, and influence are international in scope.
The MLA was founded in 1883, as a discussion and advocacy group for the study of literature and modern languages (that is, all but classical languages, such as ancient Latin and Greek). According to its profile featured by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), "The Modern Language Association is formed for educational, scientific, literary, and social objects and purposes, and more specifically for the promotion of the academic and scientific study of English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and other so-called modern languages and literatures."
The officers of the MLA are elected by its members. The president in 2011 was Russell A. Berman (Stanford University and Hoover Institution); the first vice president was Michael Bérubé (Pennsylvania State University), who assumed the MLA presidency in 2012; and the second vice president was Marianne Hirsch (Columbia University), who advanced to first vice president in 2012 and became MLA President in 2013. Margaret W. Ferguson was elected second vice president of the MLA in December 2011; she will serve as president from January 2014 through January 2015.
The MLA is governed by an Executive Council, elected periodically by its members, according to the MLA Constitution (official MLA website).
The MLA publishes several academic journals, including Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (abbreviated as PMLA), one of the most prestigious journals in literary studies, and Profession, which discusses the professional issues faced by teachers of language and literature. The association also publishes the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, a guide that is geared toward high school and undergraduate students and has sold more than 6,500,000 copies. The MLA Style Manual is geared toward graduate students, scholars, and professional writers, and the third edition of this guide was published in May 2008. The MLA produces the print and online database, MLA International Bibliography, the standard bibliography in language and literature.
The MLA's official website features the MLA Language Map, which presents overviews and detailed data from the United States 2000 Census about the locations and numbers of speakers of thirty languages and seven groups of less commonly spoken languages in the United States.
Since 1884 the MLA has held a national, four-day convention. Beginning in 2011, the convention dates moved to the first Thursday following 2 January. Approximately eight to twelve thousand members attend, depending on the location, which alternates among major cities in various regions of the United States. The MLA Annual Convention is the largest and most important of the year for scholars of languages and literature; major university and many smaller college literature and language departments interview candidates for teaching positions at the convention, although hiring occurs all year long.
In addition to its job-placement activities, the convention features about eight hundred sessions, including presentations of papers and panel discussions on diverse topics (special sessions, forums, poetry readings, film presentations, interdisciplinary studies involving art and music, governance meetings) and social events hosted by English and language departments and allied or affiliated organizations. There are also extensive book exhibits located in one of the main hotel or convention center exhibition areas.
In later years the association has highlighted issues such as race, gender, and class in its professional deliberations. Kimball and Kramer argue that this was part of a "rampant politicization of literary study that the MLA has aggressively supported" in American colleges and universities, including elevating popular culture to a position of parity with great works of literature as subjects for classroom study, and other "radical" postures.
There are several regional associations that are independent of the MLA. These organizations host smaller conventions at other times during the year. These associations are: