MLA, citations, and a little Hari Kunzru

Some of you may know (and even care!) that in the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook, URLs are no longer part of citations for digital resources. I will quote Mark Sample on this one: “How could one not see that these new guidelines were remarkably misguided?”

Personally, I’ve been ignoring the new rule. Ok, I suppose “ignoring” isn’t true. When my students this fall cited digital resources and dutifully included the URL, I let it go. It’s difficult enough to get students to cite at all, for whatever reason (poor training, I believe), so I certainly wasn’t going to go negative on them for using the 6th edition instead of the 7th edition of the handbook. In other words, I didn’t choose that particular hill to die on, such as it were.

In his blog post on the subject, “The Modern Language Association Wishes Away Digital Différance”, Sample clearly articulates the issues at stake (as usual):

In a strange move for a group of people who devote their lives to studying the unique properties of printed words and images, the Modern Language Association apparently believes that all texts are the same. That it doesn’t matter what digital archive or website a specific document came from. All that is necessary is to declare “Web” in the citation, and everyone will know exactly which version of which document you’re talking about, not to mention any relevant paratextual material surrounding the document, such as banner ads, comments, pingbacks, and so on.

The comments on his post are all good, including the MLA’s reasoning behind the change, offered by Rosemary Feal (executive director of the MLA). In short, it’s ok to add URLs if we want; the guidelines are meant to be flexible.

So that’s a little bit of context for the brief mention of Hari Kunzru‘s work in a panel at MLA ’09.

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