The Modern Language Association’s report on doctoral study in language and literature, released last month, does well to avoid framing the question of the humanities Ph.D. in terms of a “crisis in the humanities.” Instead, it focuses our attention where it belongs—on the underlying institutional structures that inhibit the evolution of the humanities Ph.D.
The report acknowledges that there is a “crisis in academic publishing in literary studies” and that “the crisis that has beset university presses in the last decade makes the scholarly monograph an endangered species.” But the rhetorical decision not to speak of a crisis in the humanities itself opens a space less fraught with existential anxiety in which we might have a serious and sober conversation about the opportunities new forms of scholarship offer us in the humanities.
For example, what might be possible if we did not presume that the proper presentation, or genre, for every extended humanities research project was a traditional printed book? While the report wisely reaffirms that “an extended research project is and should remain the defining feature of doctoral education,” it also invites us to consider other genres, including but not limited to multimodal forms of digital scholarly communication, be it through video, images, audio, or interactive texts. That proposition would require students and their doctoral committees to think in nuanced and innovative ways about the connection between the ideas the research project investigates and the form through which they are most effectively communicated. <Read more.>