Why this conference?
We’re trying something new. The English Association, University English (the body for HE Departments of English) and the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), with support from the Institute of English Studies, are organising a huge conference for the whole of the discipline of English in Manchester/Salford 2020.
Together, we believe that the study of English literature, language, culture and creative writing is an important and dynamic enterprise. We want to celebrate the discipline’s intellectual strength, diversity and creativity and explore its futures in the nations of the UK and across the world. We intend to have well over three hundred people attending over three days, representing all sectors, career stages, and interest groups within the profession. There’ll be around 100 sessions: original research in academic panels; literary salons; ‘how-to’ masterclasses; sessions on pedagogy; political briefings; and plenary lectures from leading figures. We will have a publishers’ hall and agents’ rooms, as well as a cultural fringe which will take the conference into the heart of Newcastle. While David Lodge – and many others – have satirised the USA’s annual Modern Language Association convention, the MLA is a huge, exciting intellectual and institutional crossroads. Unlike the MLA, our conference won’t host job interviews (although it will have sessions on job seeking and applications: we’re committed to helping and supporting early career academics). But more significantly, like the MLA, it will bring together the huge scholarly, cultural and social energy of the discipline.
English in the UK has never really had these sorts of huge disciplinary conferences, although they are common in other subjects, and in fields within English. This is in part because the ‘family’ of English subjects – literature, language and creative writing – is the biggest subject in the Arts and Humanities in Higher and in Secondary education: the most staff, the most students. But this size, while a sign of health in many ways, means it’s hard for us to come together, and we tend to stick within our divisions. But these, too, are subdivided: literary study separated by chronological divisions: the study of language divided by different methodological and theoretical approaches. Of course, we’ve always been a fissiparous, fractious, discipline characterised by dissensus. We ‘silo’ into our own subfields. (Ironically, we often tell our students to let their courses cross-fertilise each other and not to simply see each option they choose as a ‘silo’). All this means that we rarely give ourselves the opportunity to talk to each other to share ideas, research, strategies, or to come together to – as the young people used to say – ‘represent’. We hope that this will be just such a chance, and that the many scholarly associations – such a crucial part of the English ecosystem – will play a major role in the conference.
More, there are matters of wider interest over English that concern us all. Understanding and acting on events in the political and cultural world that affect us all is important. By acting together, the discipline managed to change the Government’s mind over the disastrous proposed changes to GCSE English Literature and GSCE English Language in 2014. More changes are coming: open access, big data, increased internationalisation, ‘TEF’, changes to the funding councils, and we need to understand and do what we can to shape the changing landscape into which we’re moving.
A conference is a bit like a festival: exciting, stimulating, fun, challenging, strengthening links and friendships. And we want this to be like a huge festival, a Glastonbury of the mind. But, well, without the rain and mud.
- The conference is in the planning stage: we’d very much like to hear from you about what sort of subjects and issue you think should be discussed. We’d also love to hear about different sorts of academic sessions and engagements that you’d like to see. And we’d also like to hear any ideas you have about making the conference widely known. You can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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