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Editorial: IJSL at the MLA

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Given its intellectual pre-eminence, Philadelphia could not be other than the major transatlantic recipient of the exciting configuration of ideas that constituted the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in Europe. In so far as Scotland in the eighteenth century participated in, and in no minor way contributed to, that European Enlightenment, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that Philadelphia was influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment. I am convinced it was.[1]

Andrew Hook asserts this transatlantic linkage with conviction, persistence, and a degree of scholarly caution. The same qualities are called for in describing IJSL’s maiden attempt to break America — or at least dent Philadelphia. And so to the 2006 convention of the Modern Language Association, and a city-centre teeming with academic job-seekers, publishers, and vast crowds of bow-tied professors. Shake fifty men of genius by the hand? You could meet three-score enlightened Americans in the Dunkin' Donuts coffee queue most mornings.

Philadelphia, December 2006

IJSL’s charm offensive is only the most recent effort to strengthen North American interest in Scottish literary studies, amid a wider project of ‘internationalisation’. Since its inception in 2003, the International Committee of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, out of which this journal emerges, has been much concerned with forging academic links with individuals and institutions in North America. It is therefore fitting that the International Journal of Scottish Literature was officially launched at the MLA in Philadelphia. Both co-editors delivered papers at a special session on ‘Internationalizing Scottish Literature’, at which they were joined by advisory board members Professor Stephen Bernstein (University of Flint, Michigan) and Professor John Corbett (University of Glasgow), who also chaired the event

The MLA Discussion Group on Scottish literature was established in 1999, the result of a petition led by Professors Ian Duncan, Cairns Craig and Charles Snodgrass. Their aim was to provide a forum for Scottish literature that would challenge what they felt was ‘a parochial and obsolete model of “English literature”’ that had for too long been taken for granted and which failed to take into account Scottish literary, cultural and historical specificities. In each year since, the discussion group has organised a variety of panels on Scottish literature, covering a range of topics, including Enlightenment thought, anthropology, diversity of language, postcolonialism and postmodernity. In the last few years Professors Ian Duncan and Caroline McCracken-Flesher have also been working on Scottish titles for the MLA ‘Approaches to Teaching World Literature’ series, texts widely used in North American universities and sure to strengthen academics' interest in teaching Scottish literature at college level. The ASLS itself is by now an established fixture at MLA conventions, acting as a source of information and contacts, and as a showcase for Scottish literature, publishing and scholarship. The recent founding of the Scottish Writing Exhibition, and sponsored Scottish writing events at the MLA, are ambitious recent initiatives already generating interest. At the 2006 MLA the Poet Laureate of Glasgow, Liz Lochhead, was joined by highly-acclaimed children’s novelist Teresa Breslin at a special event in Philadelphia; in 2007 Louise Welsh will join Gaelic writer Iain Finlay MacLeod at the convention in Chicago.

The Scottish presence at the MLA has been steadily growing in recent years, with a notable six panels in 2006 and the same number planned for 2007. Reflecting this strength of interest and commitment, the Scottish Discussion Group petitioned the MLA to elevate its status to that of a Division earlier this year, thereby ensuring greater prominence for the discipline in the future. Despite receiving over two hundred signatures, however, the MLA were reluctant to instigate this change of status at this time, partly due to internal restructuring of the organisationf, but also because too few MLA members currently choose ‘Scottish Literature’ as one of their main research interests in their annual membership renewal. While interest in Scottish literature is growing among North American scholars, its formal recognition is less certain; like the influence of Scottish ideas on colonial Philadelphia, its reality is more a matter of strong convictions than demonstrable facts.

All the articles in this edition of IJSL were delivered as conference papers at the 2006 MLA Convention in Philadelphia. They represent a cross-section of the very impressive and exciting work being done in North America in the field of Scottish literary studies, but it should be noted that this issue of IJSL is essentially a select conference proceedings, and not comprised of full-length journal articles of the usual kind. The papers given by Nancy Gish, Antony Hasler, Caroline McCracken-Flesher and Matthew F. Wickman comprised a panel entitled ‘Press Ganged? Revisiting Robert Louis Stevenson’.  These papers are complemented by an article by John Corbett, who chaired the session, discussing the implications of the recent campaign by the Edinburgh City of Literature Project (ECOL) to distribute 25,000 copies of Kidnapped to the general public throughout Scotland in February 2007. This issue also includes an outstanding paper delivered by Janet Sorenson at a panel entitled ‘Orality, Literacy, Print: Technologies of the Spoken and Written Word in Scotland’.

It is a pleasure to report that a much larger number of MLA papers were offered on Scottish literary subjects than this number of IJSL could possibly accommodate — including, it seems fitting, one by Professor Hook, the pioneer of Scottish-American studies.



[1] Andrew Hook, From Goosecreek to Gandercleugh: Studies in Scottish-American Literary and Cultural History (East Linton, East Lothian: Tuckwell Press, 1999), pp. 26-27.