2022 MLA Convention: “Transmission in Nineteenth-Century French Studies”

Travel Report: Margot Szarke, Lecturer in French

At the recent 2022 MLA convention (Washington, D.C.), I presented my research on
early vaccine literature at a panel called “Transmission in Nineteenth-Century French
Studies.” Although the presentations focused on separate texts, time frames, and
social/medical issues, a common thread throughout was an attention to the ways in
which literary form shapes understandings of the world and has the potential to alter
human attitudes.
In addition, I attended informative panels on a range of subjects: from teaching Victorian
literature and navigating academic publishing, to re-envisioning nineteenth-century
French studies and resituating memory studies in a viral, contemporary context. Some
of the talks that inspired me the most included: Tina Young Choi’s presentation on
nineteenth-century board games in which she illustrated how children’s games offer
insight into how people imagined play, geography, and national identities; Aimée
Boutin’s talk on train travel in French novels and the ways in which depictions of railway
transportation fundamentally expose gender (im)mobilities; and Vanessa Brutsche’s
careful engagement with contemporary readings of Albert Camus’ La Peste in relation
to our current social and medical crises.
In most sessions, speakers explicitly engaged with questions of DEI and interrogated
how academia can better serve its student body and faculty members. This was most
evident in panels addressing language pedagogy. While I could not attend the in-person
panel, “How to teach for Diversity in the French Classroom”, I was able, as a virtual
MLA participant, to get access to its useful PPT slides and handouts. At the panel titled
“Remaking Worlds: French Disability Studies,” speakers encouraged us to be more
conscious of how people with disabilities are often marginalized and rendered nearly
invisible in most social and literary contexts. Speakers suggested how to change that
lack of visibility by strategically integrating texts and resources into the curriculum that
make people with disabilities more noticeable, present, heard, and valued.