University Libraries in Conversation: MLA Convention

Date: 02/01/2017

Time: 2:30 pm - 4:00 pm

Special Collections Seminar Room



The University Libraries invites faculty members who attended the 2017 MLA Convention to join us in a moderated discussion of the conference and our individual experiences. Participants are asked to give short, lightning-style talks of approximately 10 minutes, and to provide a brief title and description of their talk. 


Elyse Graham

Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities, Department of English


In Praise of Stop Words

In this paper, I discuss how the disruption of conventions of syntax for poetic effect challenges the methods we employ in the computational analysis of text corpuses, a thriving area of research in fields such as linguistics, data analysis, and digital humanities. Specifically, I focus on the problem of “stop words,” a part of language that is often treated as minor in conventional usage but has major effects in poetry.


A standard step in preparing a text corpus for analysis is the removalof so-called “stop words”: small function words such as “he,” “in,” and “a.” In most cases, removing stop words makes sense: if we did not remove them before analyzing most texts, then we would find that the most common word in most texts is “the,” and so would learn little. But the forms of knowledge that poems record often rely upon such modest tools of language. The poems of Emily Dickinson provide a quickly recognizable example: for example, in Dickinson’s poem “A Spider Sewed at Night,” the meaning of the poem dependsin part on the deliberate ambiguity of the word “he.” This manner ofconverting a stop word into a torque, which challenges our conventional responses to syntax, is an important part of Dickinson’s poetic effects.


Focusing on examples from the work of three poets who employ unconventional uses of stop words to different but significant effects—Dickinson; Wallace Stevens; and the Tudor poet Thomas Wyatt, who plays elaborate games with articles and prepositions—I show how the experiences and ways of knowing that literary texts record, inpart by manipulating conventions of syntax and semantics, may require new analytical strategies (as well as new ways of “cleaning” data) for computational analysis to handle them with nuance. As these examples show, our intellectual inheritance includes forms oftheoretical and phenomenological knowledge and experience, which are part of the written record that humanists study, on which some computational methods have, thus far, little purchase.


Elyse Graham is at work on her second book, a history of the English language in New York City, which is under contract with Oxford University Press. Her first book, The Republic of Games, is under contract with McGill-Queen’s university press.


Aurélie Vialette

Assistant Professor, Hispanic Languages & Literature


Women Readers, Women Entrepreneurs

“Women Readers, Women Entrepreneurs” investigates one philanthropic project, the creation of the Biblioteca Popular pera la Dona, the first library for women created in Europe, by Catalan philanthropist and entrepreneur Francesca Bonnemaison. The mission of the library was to offer literacy classes for women, and access to culture and information. Bonnemaison created a space dedicated to women’s educational and professional formation through all sorts of “domesticity” lessons for young women. Her archive of manuscript documents offers a glimpse at how the library was originally conceived, how Bonnemaison invested herself with the attributes of a female entrepreneur, as well as the kind of philanthropic mission towards women that shaped the activities within it.


How did Bonnemaison became one of the first Catalan female entrepreneur? The paper explores this question by analyzing Bonnemaison’s correspondence and the library’s administrative documents. I argue that the platform used by Bonnemaison for her feminist project, the library, was also a showcase of women’s possibilities to create and distribute wealth. The analysis of the many activities organized in the library by Bonnemaison allows me to prove that an initiative such as Bonnemaison’s created not only a visibility for women’s culture in the city, but also had a social objective: to obtain recognition for women entrepreneurs and for their works in the public sphere at a time during which being so was very difficult.


Aurélie Vialette is an Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2009. She specializes in Iberian studies, popular culture, working-class and social movements, gender studies and transatlantic studies. She has published her research in Spanish, English, Catalan and French in Hispanic Review, Hispanófila, Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Catalan Review, Siglo Diecinueve, among others. Her first book manuscript Intellectual Philanthropy: the Seduction of the Masses is forthcoming at Purdue University Press. Some of her Op-Ed have appeared in newspapers such as Babelia (El País) and La Jornada.


Celia Marshik

Professor, Chair, Department of English


MLA Varia


Daniela Flesler

Associate Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Hispanic Languages & Literature


Returns to Sepharad in the Work of Esther Bendahan

What does it mean to “return” to Sepharad in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? Since the 1990s, Spain has sought to reconnect with its Jewish history and memory in a variety of ways. The much-publicized 2015 law granting Spanish nationality to the descendants of Jews expelled in 1492 is the latest example of this widespread phenomenon. This talk explores the concept of “return” in the narrative of Esther Bendahan, a Spanish Sephardic writer born in Morocco. While Bendahan seems to espouse the Hispanist rhetoric that sees all Sephardim as Spaniards nostalgic for their lost homeland, she also explores this notion critically, interrogating notions of genealogy, identity and national belonging.


Daniela Flesler is Associate Professor of Spanish at Stony Brook University. She is the author of The Return of the Moor: Spanish Responses to Contemporary Moroccan Immigration and co-editor, with Tabea Linhard and Adrián Pérez Melgosa, ofRevisiting Jewish Spain in the Modern Era. She is currently co-writing with Adrián Pérez Melgosa a book about recent cultural and political initiatives that seek to re-connect Spain with its Jewish history and memory, entitled The Memory Work of Sepharad: New Inheritances for Twenty-First Century Spain, for which she received an ACLS Fellowship in 2014-2015 and a NEH Fellowship for 2017-18.


E.K. Tan

Associate Professor, Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature


Multilingual and Multicultural (Dis)Articulation of Chineseness: Media Crossing in Namewee’s Sinopop

In 2007, Sinophone Malaysian artiste Namewee (Wee Meng Chee) gained notoriety after publishing a rap-rendition of the Malaysian national anthem “Negaraku” (“My Country” on youtube. The song, “Negarakuku,” (“My Negaraku”) rapped mainly in localized Mandarin (with a mixture of languages such as Malay and English, Hokkien, and Cantonese), ridicules Muslims and Islam while raising issues relating to racial inequalities in Malaysia, particularly those of the Sinophone Malaysian community. The playful nature of the song as reflection on the Malaysian society was read by the Malaysian government as an insult to the nation as a whole. To make amend for his actions, Namewee, who was then a college student in Taiwan, issued an official apology to the Malaysian government but the apology was rejected. In an effort to repair the broken relationship with his home country, Namewee directed Nasi Lemak 2.0 (2011), a Sinophone musical to celebrate the ethnic diversity in Malaysia by adopting a conciliatorily multicultural politics of assimilation. Two years later, Wee released his first rap album, Asia Most Wanted, in Taiwan, as a continuation to his exploration of the identity and its politics as a Chinese diaspora. This paper examines Namewee’s popular cinema and music, and youtube blog as conjunctures in which concepts such as “Asianness,” “Chineseness,” “Malaysianness” are challenged and destabilized by a multilingual and multicultural genre I call Sinopop. I see Namewee’s work as an expression that articulates the cultural diversity of Sinophone communities abroad such as that of Sinophone Malaysia.


E.K. Tan is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies in The Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University. He is the author of Rethinking Chineseness: Translational Sinophone Identities in the Nanyang Literary World (Cambria Press, 2013). His works on modern Chinese and Sinophone literature, cinema, and culture and Singapore literature and culture have been published in Interventions, Sun Yat-Sen Journal of Humanities, Journal of Modern Chinese Literature, Journal of Chinese Cinemas and others. He is currently working on a project titled Queer Homecoming in Sinophone Cultures: Translocal Remapping of Kinship.


Peter Manning

Professor of English


Transatlantic Grammars: William Cobbett and Lindley Murray



Timothy K. August

Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature


Feeling Minnesotan: Spoken Word, Conversations, and the “Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition”

In this paper I analyze the discursive battle that spurred a group of Asian American writers, scholars, activists, and allies, from Minnesota to form the “Don’t Buy Miss Saigon Coalition.” Brought together to protest the continued staging of the play Miss Saigon, the coalition sought to stop “a big budget ode to colonialism that romanticizes war and human trafficking,” and raised concerns about the show’s stereotypical representations of people of Asian descent. The group grew increasingly frustrated with a series of “conversations,” brokered by major theatres like Saint Paul’s “The Ordway,” held to discuss these representational issues. In this paper I pick up on David Mura’s argument that repeatedly staging “conversations” is an administrative technique deployed to effectively silence those in the Asian American community who, over a number of years, have consistently expressed that the production of Miss Saigon is harmful. Noting how a number of prominent members of this coalition, like Mura, Bao Phi, Saymoukda Vongsay, and Ed Bok Lee are authors and artists, this paper will explore how differing forms of Asian American performance counters and critiques both the representational and administrative force brought on by productions of Miss Saigon. In particular, I propose that the thriving Asian American spoken word scene in Minnesota has helped to create a cadre of artist/activist that go beyond “writing back” to a the gatekeepers of a racial order, and instead physically perform how Asian American subjects can speak, protest, and feel.


Timothy K. August is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University. His research interests include: critical refugee studies, diasporic Vietnamese literature, postcolonial criticism, theories of food and eating, world literature, and Asian American studies.



His publications have appeared in MELUS: Multiethnic Literature of the US, American Quarterly, Television & New Media, Mizna: Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies, JAAS: Journal of Asian American Studies, and the Global Asian American Popular Cultures anthology. He is currently completing a book manuscript, The Refugee Aesthetic: Relocating Southeast Asian America, which addresses why a number of Southeast Asian American authors have recently embraced the refugee identity as a transformative position.


Bookings are closed for this event.

Dana Haugh

Dana Haugh

Web Services Librarian at Stony Brook University Libraries
Dana is the Web Services Librarian and the liaison to the English Department and the Program in Writing & Rhetoric.
Dana Haugh
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