Reviews of Peer-Reviewed Journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences

We give you the scuttlebutt on academic journals—aiding you in selecting the right journal for publication—in reviews that are sometimes snarky, sometimes lengthy, always helpful. Written by Princeton University graduate students and Wendy Laura Belcher.

PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association)

For those looking to make broad connections (not close reading) between culture and literature, often with a global focus. (KS)

For those with an argument with big implications (not a close reading); if your texts were not published in the past fifty years, write on someone canonical. (HR)

If you are a scholar of race, the journal often has special issues addressing literature by American racial minority groups and non-American authors and has displayed a recent increase in articles addressing African postcolonial literature; however, aside from these special issues and African postcolonial literature, the journal tends to feature articles on Western (primarily male) literature and Western literary theory. (EK)

For those with articles that are about field debates, new perspectives on old texts, and new perspectives on new texts. This is the journal for you if your article is a preview of your book project and your book is set to make a significant theoretical contribution to a field. (FR)

There are two things to be considered if attempting to publish with PMLA: 1) as the premier journal for literary and language studies in the world, PMLA is concerned with showcasing the breadth and power of (ostensibly literary and linguistic) apparatuses. On a narcissistic scale, this means that not only are its manuscript submissions criteria extremely rigorous, but that the number of main content published in each issue is a little-exceeded five. For the individual seeking to publish with PMLA, it means that articles generally follow a standard form:  (KB 2o17)

  1. State a large claim with some global significance—accomplished by placing two texts, two languages, two methodologies, two criticisms, two periodizations, and so on and so forth in as many combinations as one would like, in apposition with or opposition to each other. This is heavily weighed towards the 19th and 20th centuries (because the 21st century doesn’t exist and the globe/world winks in and out of existence in pre-the 19th century).
  1. Ask a frankly astounding number of rhetorical questions—what makes this so useful as a format? Is there a particular reason that they always come one after the other?
  1. Explication of movement through the article—this means laying out the intellectual moves made throughout the piece. Which methodologies are used? Critical/theoretical framework? Texts? For every claim made, a map must be provided. Sometimes these maps are illegible.
  1. Economical engagement with the text at hand—this might take the form of a close reading or surface reading, but whichever the method of engagement, it is an engagement that is precise and extremely contained.
  1. (Re)Turn—summarize the argument (briefly! succinictly!) and make gestures towards other spaces to turn to. In other words, conclude.  (KB 2o17)

Now, point the: 2) PMLA does not end with the “main” content. Just as fascinating (though not any less rigorous) are the sections on theories and methodologies, which centers on various themes and, perhaps more than the main content, which can feel as if one were entering into a chamber where everyone insists on yelling and implicitly relating to one another, theories and methodologies provides a space of sustained conversation. For example, 126.1 and its focus on children’s literature, or 131.2 on “Why Philosophy?”. Furthermore, the conversations section is a curious and wonderful treasure—not only does it include the ponderings and musings of scholars on a particular text, it also includes the author’s response. How often is such community built into publication without it being a passive-aggressive back and forth on blogs, social media, various journals, etc? (KB 2o17)


 The flagship journal in the study of modern languages and literatures, PMLA, has a strong tendency toward the straightforward in terms of its articles’ arguments. For the most part, each article heavily frontloads its claims, thus establishing overall claims with an eye towards the economical (in terms of both space and readerly time commitment). Several of the articles begin with a succinct series of provocative and often rhetorical questions, a brief summarization of main claims, or a quasi-syllogistic paraphrase of the argument’s structure. What follows the nearly immediate establishment of an argument is typically a quick engagement with major critical texts in the article’s field of inquiry or disciplinary formation. After this, the texts central to an article’s focus are engaged with in what we generally call “close reading.” That said, there has been a distinct theoretical move away from the disciplinary preference for “deep” or “close reading;” this move is generally referred to as “surface reading” in light of how most scholars describe this practice. Scholars usually declare which heuristic they will use at or near the beginning of their article (and, indeed, a large number of the articles have at least some stake—whether political, aesthetic, pedagogical, or philosophical—in articulating which of the two camps they tend towards, even if they do not name either “deep” or “surface” to be their tendency). (FR spring 2015)

I read many of the tables of contents for the 2014 issues, and read about 15 articles from 2014 with a varying degree of attention. (I also read 127.2 [March 2012] as a comparison. 127.2 was interesting to me because its “Theories and Methodologies” section contained two different sustained conversations, one on questions of periodization and its problems, and one on the possibilities and practices of engaging ethnic archives.) In particular, I focused on extended conversations within several of the issues. Sometimes this was determined by a “special topic,” at other times it was determined by a trend within a special topic, and other times it was perhaps a shared concern. I paid most attention to the “Theories and Methodologies” sections. In part this is because the articles in this section are often engaged in sustained conversations and speak to each other quite specifically, rather than connecting only through an abiding philosophical concern. Although these articles are often short reflections, they give the section a character quite different from the rest of the articles in an issue. For this reason, I also enjoyed the Forum section, which allowed engaged (if brief) “post and riposte” discussions in relation to a previously published article. (FR spring 2015)

I also found that examining a special topic issue allowed one to discern two or three distinct trends—sometimes competing, often complementary—in how scholars are engaging an idea. In the Tragedy issue, for example, the two trends of inquiry could be categorized as “Nation” or “Time.” Each article fell chiefly into one of these categories, and four addressed both quite explicitly. These two problematics—the state and history— nicely address PMLA’s political concerns, which can often be neatly described by the term “historical materialism.” Thus, although surface reading cautions us against an over-reliance on historicization and a dependence on material readings of ideology, even the “surface readers” in PMLA tend to approach texts with questions of political and aesthetic value. (FR spring 2015)

Useful for Submission

Word Count: 2,500-9,000

Issues per year: 5

Current volume number: 131

Articles per year: 45-70

Citation style: Modern Language Association (MLA)

Abstract length (if required): ≤200 words

Upcoming special issues (if available): TBD

Relevant Editors: Wai Chee Dimock (2016-current) || Simon Gikandi (2011-2016)


Disciplines: Various national literatures; Comparative Literature


For detailed information about individuals’ experiences with submitting articles to PMLA, including comments on length of backlog and turnaround time, editorial promptness, peer reviewer helpfulness, see the excellent Humanities Journal Wiki



This entry was posted on June 15, 2015 in Humanities Journals, Literary Studies Journals, Top Journal in Discipline.