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 interested publishing articles that discuss timely and culturally relevant literature and archival materials.

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

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.

Note: As students regularly review PMLA for Belcher’s course, the below is a mix, over time, of various students’ analyses. Their initials appear at the end of their comments, to differentiate them.

2022 Review of PMLA

After learning of the PMLA’s prominence as the flagship journal in literary studies, I became curious about how the journal’s output changed since the beginning of the pandemic. The 2021 and 2022 issues focus a lot on the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the 2020 civil rights uprisings, and how to read the world and literature through the lens of current times.

When I think of traditional academic literary institutions, especially within the English discipline, I often presume that a certain level of, often performative, authorial objectivity is expected. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter multiple recent articles that included personal accounts of the writer’s experiences during the beginning of the pandemic(s) in 2020. Scholars like Kyla Wazana Tompkins and Imani Perry both published articles last year that, in part, interrogate the pandemic’s impact on their lives. Perry writes in “Hibernation without Rest,” “I love to read. But it became harder during the pandemic…Worry sent me deep into isolation and detached me from two of my most reliable anchors, narrative and argument” (297). Perry’s very relatable confessions were refreshing to be read in the flagship journal for literary studies. The honesty of the pandemic changing our relationships to text and language, opens up the discourse towards the importance of acknowledging how life circumstances impact the ways in which we approach literature. As Perry goes on to cite poems in prose and song forms, she also pushes traditional boundaries of where theory can originate as the piece is featured in the journal’s “Theories and Methodologies” section. Similarly, Tompkins begins “The Shush,” by admitting that she originally did not feel comfortable writing about her personal experience during a climate crisis because “That’s not what PMLA is for” (417). Tompkins’ candid discussion of her struggle to situate her writing within a large literary institution, especially during a time of turmoil, is inspiring in that she does not stray away from the subjectivity that she initially felt inclined to avoid. Witnessing the PMLA’s efforts to stray away from tradition, as a result of the very untraditional times we’re living in, makes me hopeful that the boundaries of what the journal would typically publish may continue to be called into question.

The introductions tend to be around one to three paragraphs long. Many of the argument’s in PMLA articles appear in the first three paragraphs of the text. It seems that the writers, who are often quite established in their fields, tend to make bold claims about literature, the English discipline, and discourse outside of academia as well. The articles I’ve encountered in PMLA tend to be theoretical; however, in more recent issues I’ve also noticed some article have a more personal, or perhaps even auto-theoretical, tone to them as well. The authors tend to be mostly full professors.

Useful for Submission

Word count: 9,000 words or less

Issues per year: Published five times per year, in January, March, May, September, and October. September’s issue has, historically, not contained articles. It gives practical information about the annual MLA Conference.

Current Issue: 137, Issue 3, 2022

Articles per year: 33-40

Citation Style: it’s own, MLA (Modern Language Association of America) style

Citations per article: 20 or less

Endnotes per article: 10 or less

Abstract length (if required): In the “Submitting Manuscripts to PMLA,” there is no request for an abstract. There are, however, abstracts included for all published articles at the end of each issue. These are, on average, less than 200 words. In the Special Issues section, they mentioned providing abstracts of 100 words or less.

Current Editor: Brent Hayes Edwards, Editor; Angela Gibson, Managing Editor of MLA Publications

Open Access? No. To gain access, one must either be a member of the MLA or have institutional access.

Online? Online and in print; all issues can be viewed at JSTOR or MLAJournals.org

Submission: By email (still, which is unusual)

Membership required to submit article?: Yes

JCR Impact Factor: ranges from .5 to 1

SJR (SCImago Journal Rank): .239

Disciplines: Various national literatures; Comparative Literature

Website: Advice for authors

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

2016-2019 Reviews of PMLA

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 2017)

  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).
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. (Re)Turn—summarize the argument (briefly! succinictly!) and make gestures towards other spaces to turn to. In other words, conclude.  (KB 2017)

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 2017)

Widely considered the premier journal in the study of language and literature, the PMLA is dedicated to publishing current research on both canonical and new texts. Although I noticed a few articles that focus on newly-released literature, an examination of the past year of this journal shows that PMLA places very heavy emphasis on the idea of “taking a second look” at old, canonical texts. This journal often spotlights academic work that purports to “revisit,” “reevaluate,” or “rethink” texts from the cannon.  They prize “new perspectives” on texts that most of us know of or have read. I wonder if this is their way or reaching a broad, global readership; that is, it seems that they might gain a wider readership if they publish articles on texts that are familiar to most academics. In short, it seems that PMLA favors articles that place texts within a larger context; a glance at the Tables of Contents and the abstracts reveals that these new perspectives are juxtaposed with older interpretations in order to highlight this “new perspective” on an old text. (JL and SK 2019)

Furthermore, in terms of key words/trends that I remarked while reading the Tables of Contents for 2018, I noticed that PMLA likes to feature articles that have what I call “sexy” academic words in their titles. For instance, words such as ‘play,’ ‘secrets,’ ‘media,’ ‘the Body,’ ‘biopolitics,’ ‘autofiction,’ ‘technology,’ ‘the machine,’ ‘the act of reading,’ etc. appear frequently. These are, in other words, key terms that currently hold a lot of weight in our society and, in PMLA, these words are often placed alongside canonical texts in an effort, it seems, to renew how we think of these texts and what implications they hold for us as readers today. If I had to summarize what PMLA does (not to be simplistic!), it appears that they seek to uphold Ezra Pound’s famous adage, “Make it New!” I say this because I noticed a lot of articles discuss works such as Beowulf, Hamlet, The Faerie Queen, Anna Karenina, but there is much effort spent in showing how we need to “revisit” these works and rediscover how they can be relevant to “our” time.  (JL and SK 2019)

It should also be noted that there are a few sections in each edition of PMLA.  Some editions feature a Special Topic, which will contain articles on the general topic (Such as Cultures of Reading – October 2018, for example). There are, furthermore, sections entitled Theories and Methodologies and Solicited Contributions (these articles relate to a specific theme or to a specific author); Criticism in Translation (this section features articles that have been translated into English); Little Known Documents (this section features articles about little-known or recently-discovered documents such as archives).  (JL and SK 2019)

Useful for Submission

Articles per year: On average between 46 and 106 articles per year are published in PMLA

2018 →19 for January, 17 for March,  23 for May, 13 for October (72 Total Articles for 2018)

2017→16 for January, 26 for March, 19 for May, 17 for October (78 Total Articles for 2017)

2016à 23 for January, 30 for March, 16 for May, 37 for October (106 Total Articles for 2016)

2015à 13 for January, 26 for March, 29 for May, 23 for October (91 Total Articles for 2015)

2014 → 6 issues for January, 8 issues for March, 20 issues for March, 22 Issues for October (46 Total Articles for 2014).

Bibliography (articles in the journal consulted for the 2018 review):

Kim, Annabel L. “Autofiction Infiltrated: Anne Garréta’s Pas un jour,PMLA, Volume 133, Number 3, May 2018, pp. 559–574.

Moshenska, Joe, “Spenser at Play,” PMLA, Volume 133, Number 1, January 2018, pp. 19–35.

Ong, Yi-Ping, “Anna Karenina Reads on the Train: Readerly Subjectivity and the Poetics of the Novel,” PMLA, Volume 133, Number 5, October 2018, pp. 1083–1098.

Pre-2015 Reviews of the Journal

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)

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