58 years of Minnesota English Journal

When I began editing MEJ in 2017, I was discovering the journal for the first time. I had lived and taught in Minnesota for only five years, and apart from a shelf of back issues that I carried to the recycle bin as I moved into Linda Miller Cleary’s old office at UMD, I’d had virtually no experience with the journal. Those recycled back issues told me that MEJ had been around for decades, and the workshops I’d attended told me that MCTE was a vibrant professional home for people like me, but it wasn’t until Scott Hall showed me around the MEJ website that I started to understand what a resource I would be helping to maintain.

In my first year as editor, I watched as scholars from around the country submitted work for publication, teachers from all over Minnesota shared their best pedagogical moves and reflected on their most pressing questions, and poets submitted evocative works. I moderated comments on recent pieces, answered requests from well-known authors to see their MEJ publications reprinted in anthologies, and stared at site traffic statistics that told me that many thousands of unique visitors were exploring MEJ each year. It was, and is, humbling to behold.

I wanted to get to know the journal better, and I had years of material to start with. Since it moved fully online in 2014, MEJ has offered readers free access to every newly-published piece—lots of great work for a still-new editor to read. But for the issues published before 2014, MEJ has been harder to track down, its back issues scattered among university libraries and subscribers’ homes or offices. (Boy did I come to regret recycling that shelf of old MEJs!) There have been a few attempts to construct or maintain an online archive of back issues, but that work got lost in the shuffle as web hosting platforms changed and MCTE board members came and went. If I wanted to reach into the journal’s past, I’d have to turn to other institutions for access. And if MCTE wanted to rectify that and bring past MEJ content home to this website, we’d have to start from scratch.

With the 2022 issue of Minnesota English Journal, I am excited to share the fruits of that labor. The “Past Issues” link in this website’s main menu now takes visitors to a collection of some 99 issues of the journal, including 90 that were previously unavailable on this website. The collection spans 58 years, beginning with Volume 1, Issue 1, in 1965. Each back issue includes a table of contents listing titles and authors, along with links to full text of each piece. The search boxes on this website also allow readers to search for title words or author names.

Building this collection of back issues required many hours of labor from quite a few people. Each of the 90 new back issues had to be located, acquired, scanned, broken into separate searchable PDFs for each piece in the issue, and summarized in an online table of contents with links to each PDF. Tracking down back issues would not have been possible without the assistance of former MEJ editor Scott Hall, MEJ author Jesse Kavadlo, UMD librarian Ian Moore, and UMD Interlibrary Loan staff person Kay Westergren (who helped manage requests to four university libraries in Minnesota). The initial scanning project required the tireless assistance of UMD students Godfree Manley-Spain and Athena Lee. And the detail work of formatting separate PDFs and table of contents pages was not possible without the hard work of UMD student Madison Wittmers-Graves. It is all the more impressive that these colleagues contributed what they did amid the upheaval of a global pandemic.

A glimpse at the collection

Now that the archive is up and running, I’ve discovered that I am the 23rd person to serve as editor or co-editor of the journal since it first appeared in 1965. As decades have passed, editors have come and gone, and as the world has changed, I’m struck by how much continuity there is in our profession’s concerns. Tell me if any of these topics and concerns sound familiar to our contemporary ears:

In the late 1960s, MEJ authors were thinking about how to justify the study of literature to skeptical students, what to do about initiatives to censor controversial texts, and how the study of English differs between the high school and college level.

Writers in the 1970s shared insights about how to navigate death in the classroom, how young adult literature helps readers confront tough issues, how to really characterize “good” writing, and what makes for a truly good writing assignment.

In the 1980s, authors thought about motivating reluctant readers to read, using visual approaches to responding to literature, uncovering the real causes of struggling writers’ struggles, and resisting myths about the teaching of grammar.

The 1990s saw impassioned pieces about the role of learning standards, making “close reading” visible, designing thematic units, and understanding the experience of being a new teacher.

And in the 2000s, contributors were writing about literature circles, fresh ways to engage literary classics, teaching students to be literate and active citizens, looking for anti-racist ways to approach a text like To Kill a Mockingbird, brining literary theory into the classroom, concerns about standardized testing, writing workshop, multigenre writing, reading visual art, and dialogic teaching.

Among many, many other things.

The archive also makes me appreciate how much MEJ has been in tune with important new work in our profession. Browsing the many book reviews in the journal, I see contributors telling us about the work of Nancie Atwell, Peter Elbow, Tom Romano, Mike Rose, and Deborah Appleman. There are book lists that push our curricula to expand, discussions of important critical theories as they emerged, and works by major figures in literature and education.

It’s also hard not to notice how thoroughly the journal has engaged with literature directly, whether through many dozens of published poems or numerous insightful literary analysis essays. Some of this work is being done by teachers and scholars, and much of it is work by students—analytical and creative—at every level from elementary school to college. There are mentor texts, student exemplars, and accessible secondary sources throughout the archive.

The future of this archive

Is this a complete archive of MEJ? Variations in publication schedule volume/issue numbering over the decades have made it hard to confirm whether every past issue is accounted for. My best guess is that there are anywhere from zero to two issues still missing, and any missing issues were probably published in the years between 1999 and 2004. It is, of course, difficult to prove that something doesn’t exist. I look forward to amending the collection if any additional content comes to light.

There will be typos to correct, and maybe a few faulty links to fix. There might be editorial decisions to make about past content, such as the one I have made (in consultation with the current MCTE president) to redact any instance of the n-word that occurs in the archive. MEJ authors have tended to address the word advisedly, and in the context of rich discussions about language. But as a white editor of a journal whose authors have been predominantly white, I do not presume to know all the ways in which that particularly fraught word resonates in our diverse public, and this journal can discuss educational contexts in which the word appears while also visibly (if modestly) interrupting the circulation of the word.

Most of all, I’m excited to see how MEJ authors and editors engage in dialogue with the journal’s history from here. The new archive makes possible any number of returns to past pieces, collections of past pieces, and connections to/among past pieces. MEJ is a trove of insight and creativity, an expansive resource guide, and a generations-long chronicle of an evolving profession. I could only guess about these things when I began my MEJ journey. Now you and I get to find out together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s