MLA Style Guide, 8th Ed.: a lighthearted first impression


Figure 1: New and Improved.

Edited to add:  About #7 below: I even made a chart a few years back, when I was writing “Fiction: 1900 to the 1930s” for American Literary Scholarship, to indicate which periodicals were numbered by issue and which by volume:

Now that the requirement is back in the 8th edition, use it in good health.


I recently cracked open the new MLA Style Guide, 8th edition. What follows are a series of decidedly lighthearted and not at all scholarly reflections, so if you’re looking for something serious, ignore this post.

With the MLA Style Guide, 8th Edition, MLA Style is going back to its roots as a pamphlet, back when it was known as the MLA Style Sheet. I’m kidding, of course, but the 8th has slimmed down considerably.

But it apparently inspires strong passions, including Dallas Liddle’s “Why I hate the MLA Handbook” and Dallas Rossman Regaignon’s “Why I love the MLA Handbook.”Their reasons are basically the same: they hate/love its new flexibility.

The 8th edition has a philosophy of “containers,” which attempts to demystify the style for students and the rest of us. Herewith a few observations:


Figure 2. Where it all began, complete with spiffy Dewey Decimal number at the Open Library

1. Examples for in-text citation (which are very few) look just like the old MLA Handbook styles.

2. But if you look at the examples for documentation and Works Cited, your first thought may be, as mine was, “Cool! Commas, commas, commas for everything. This is like The Chicago Manual of Style 16! What an exciting meeting of the minds for the two competing styles to get together.”

3. URLs are back, but the detestable “Print.Print.Print” is gone.

4. There’s a whole list of “optional” elements, though, and the language used is user-friendly and sort of touching in its “you’re the Decider, so you decide” prose.

  • Book series title? You decide (p. 52).
  • Date of access for a web site? You decide (p. 53).
  • Place of publication (in the index under, for some reason, “cities of publication”)?  Since this “serves little purpose today” (51), yes, indeed–you decide.

5. What’s not optional: spell out “translated by, edited by” and so on in the Works Cited entry, same as in Chicago Manual of Style 16 14.78 and following, except that Chicago abbreviates them in notes. MLA does not.

6. And “pp.” is back, in the Works Cited.

7. But the most heinous and bedevilling of distinctions, as pointless as ever, is back: having to put in the issue number if a periodical is paginated by number and having to omit it if it is paginated by volume.

It’s right there on pp. 39-40.  If the journal is paginated by ISSUE, include the issue number. If it’s paginated by VOLUME, don’t.

How many hours have been wasted on trips to the library because you–okay, I–forgot to check this detail? Say you have an issue from January 1901. How do you know, except by looking at previous volumes, whether this is numbered by ISSUE or by VOLUME?

Answer: You don’t. You can’t. So if you didn’t write it down, back to the library you go to find out.  That’ll teach you–or, well, it taught me–to check this detail every single time.


Figure 3. The 7th edition and its sweet, agnostic system for volume.number.

The MLA mercifully axed this one in the 7th edition. In section 5.4.2, even their entries for paginated-by-year periodicals like Critical Inquiry use the issue number. Issue numbers for all!

I thought that the 7th edition had put a stake through the heart of this rule forever. But as if rising from the grave, the undead Volume.Number (only if paginated by issue, remember!) rule is back. In contrast,  Chicago 16 14.18 says that the number “may be omitted” but doesn’t prescribe it.

Summary: MLA has worked hard to simplify its rules, and ultimately we’ll all follow whatever they tell us anyway, as best we can. Our opinion is a moot point, or, as Joey said on Friends, “a moo point. You know, like a cow’s opinion: it doesn’t count.”

Anything that brings the two major style guides in English closer together is a step in the right direction.

Some serious sites that describe the differences:


Purdue OWL:

At Stanford, September 19: Jack London: Apostle of the American West

Jack London: Apostle of the American West

Centennial Celebration, Symposium, and Exhibition at Stanford

Monday, September 19, 2016

4:15 – 6:45 pm

Note: This event is currently at capacity. Registered attendees will be admitted up to capacity on a first-come, first-served basis. A recorded broadcast by C-SPAN will be made available to after the event for those who are unable to attend.


Jeanne C. Reesman, University of Texas at San Antonio, Professor of English

Sara (Sue) Hodson, Huntington Library, Curator of the Jack London Papers
·   Both Reesman and Hodson will be presenting on Jack London and his photojournalism.

Donna M. Campbell, Washington State University, Professor of English
·   Campbell will be presenting on Jack London’s literary influences on the American imagination and his relationship to other western fiction writers.

Peter Blodgett, Huntington Library, Chief Curator of Western Manuscripts
·   Blodgett will be presenting on the history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in California and the historical and cultural events that shaped Jack London’s literary themes and lifestyle.

Moderated by Professor Bruce Cain, Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director Bill Lane Center for the American West

With fellow panelists Jeanne Campbell Reesman (UTSA), Peter Blodgett (Huntington Library), and Sara S.Hodson (Huntington Library), I spoke last night at the inaugural event of The Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. A great audience turned out for the talks, which will be broadcast on C-SPAN in October. Our thanks go out to the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Marc Levin, Bruce E. Cain, and Preeti Hehmeyer for this wonderful experience.

Interview on Jack London from

A longtime and valuable site for Jack London studies, Dave Hartzell’s, is giving a “not found” message, so it may be down permanently.

You can find its archives at the Wayback Machine, and if you’re interested in any of the content, you may want to look at it while you still can:

I did an email interview with Dave Hartzell for the site in 2010, and, since I don’t have another copy of it, I’m reposting it here.

Please trace the origin of your interest in Jack London.

Donna Campbell

My interest in Jack London began as part of a more general interest in turn-of-the-century American culture. After reading naturalist authors such as Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and Stephen Crane, I read Martin Eden and The Sea-Wolf and was struck by the ways in which those novels, though prompted by very different experiences, reflected the themes of their works. From his letters and other writings it’s clear how much London, like the others, admired Spencer and Darwin, but there’s an intensity about the ways that London depicts class and gender issues that makes reading his work really compelling.

Later on, I read the California novels (Valley of the Moon, Burning Daylight, and The Little Lady of the Big House) and was struck by how hard he worked to create—and to educate his readers about—an agrarian alternative to what was already becoming a high-stress, industrialized way of life. The contrast between those idyllic California romances about living on the land and the reality of daily writing that London had to complete to keep his ranch going is striking. One of the things London does best is to think about what’s lost and what’s gained when people—as individuals and as societies—rush to be “modern.”

In higher education American literature studies, does London have a high “standing”?
Not exactly, although the situation is improving thanks to good scholarship from a multitude of perspectives, including work by Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Earle Labor, Earl Wilcox, Susan Nuernberg, Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin, Lee Clark Mitchell, Donald Pease, Jonathan Auerbach, the essayists in Reesman and Cassuto’s Rereading Jack London and in Reesman and Hodson’s Jack London: One Hundred Years a Writer, and the authors of recent essays about him in American Literature and other journals. For someone who lacks the high standing in the academy of a William Faulkner or a Toni Morrison, London inspires a surprising amount of critical prose. New approaches to his work and his politics, including interest in London’s journalism, his South Seas tales, and his socialist stories, should help his critical reputation.
In teaching London’s works, what do you emphasize and hope your students understand?
When teaching London to undergraduates, I talk about London as a bridge between the nineteenth and the twentieth century. We talk about naturalism, of course, but we also discuss style. London’s style sometimes veers into the sentimental rhetoric of the nineteenth century, but when reading his crisp and sometimes pitiless descriptions (in “To Build a Fire,” for example) and his handling of sentences, it’s hard to imagine a writer like Ernest Hemingway if London hadn’t come before. In reading passages closely with my students, I also try to point out the highly conscious ways in which he uses syntax, word choice, and point of view; this helps to dispel impression students have that all London did was to dash off experiences and ship them off to magazines. In graduate classes, we discuss London in light of work we’ve been reading the ways in which cultures construct race, class, and gender. We also discuss some of the “untapped areas” (below).
Aside from the “He was a writer of dog stories” canard what are some of the misunderstandings about London and his works?”
That’s the most common misapprehension about London; another is that he wrote only juvenile fiction. Although many writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century wrote for children as well as for adults, there’s been a division between “children’s literature” and “literature written for adults.” Recent attempts to break down that barrier might help a reconsideration of some of London’s work.

Also, as critics have said, London’s a better writer of short stories than of novels.

Jack London’s real-life world, from the turn of the century to the First World War, seems “dated” to young readers who know nothing of the Klondike or socialism. What is there in his work to appeal to a new generation of readers?
I’m guessing that young readers would be interested in the same features that young readers have always liked about London’s prose: vivid descriptions, fresh prose, exotic locations, and lots and lots of adventure (with a little violence for good measure). Can readers still read “To the Man on Trail” or “To Build a Fire” and shiver with the cold that he describes, even if they don’t know London’s views on race or socialism? I think they can.
Are there untapped areas of London scholarship? Please give some examples of research that needs to be done.
Jeanne Campbell Reesman and Sara S. Hodson would have much more to say about this than I do, but here are some possibilities. Some have already been the subject of articles and books, in fact:
  • Sustainable agriculture, agricultural experimentation, and so on in the California novels.
  • Discussions about masculinity, race, body culture, and food culture in the Progressive Era
  • London and celebrity culture
  • London and other writers, especially women writers
  • London and race
  • London’s speculative and science fiction writings
  • Travel, empire, tourism, and London’s South Seas writing
What are your own current areas of London research?
I’ve published on London and gender in Martin Eden, on London and landscape in The Valley of the Moon, and on London and Edith Wharton in The Little Lady of the Big House; in addition, I have work in progress for the Blackwell Companion to the Modern American Novel, for the proposed MLA book Approaches to Teaching Jack London, and for an essay on Rose Wilder Lane as London’s first biographer.
[Update: You can find a number of these completed projects online if you go to the WSU Research Repository link on the sidebar.]

Bitter Tastes is now available

My book Bitter Tastes: Literary Naturalism and Early Cinema in American Women’s Writing is now available from the University of Georgia Press.

You’ve already seen the list of women writers it covers, so here’s the Table of Contents.


Chapter 1

Grim Realism and the Culture of Feeling: Rebecca Harding Davis, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and Lillie Chace Wyman

Chapter 2

The Darwinists: Borderlands, Evolution, and Trauma

Chapter 3

Bohemian Time: Glasgow, Austin, and Cather

Chapter 4

Red Kimonos and White Slavery: The Fallen Woman in Film and print

Chapter 5

Where Are My Children? Race, Citizenship, and the Stolen Child

Chapter 6

“Manure Widows” and Middlebrow Fiction: Rural Naturalism in the 1920s

Chapter 7

Waste, Hoarding, and Secrets: Modernist Naturalism and the Servant’s Body


At the press site:

At Indiebound:

At Powell’s:

At Amazon: