The Evolution of the MLA International Bibliography

Library Resources | Liza Young| August 07, 2017

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Learn more about Albert C. Baugh and his impact on the creation of the MLA International Bibliography™, which indexes linguistic and literary scholarship on English language and literature.

Albert C. Baugh (b. 1891­–d. 1981) was essential to the creation and development of the MLA International Bibliography. His relationship with the bibliography began five years before the Modern Language Association (MLA) took over the project. From 1911-1920, the bibliography was published by the American Year Book. Baugh, a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s English department, joined as a contributor in 1915. He, along with C. G. Child, was responsible for indexing “linguistic and literary scholarship on English Language and Literature” (Meserole 580). In 1919, Baugh attended an Anglo-American Conference on English Studies at Columbia University in New York. It was there that he heard English scholars vocalizing their frustrations regarding the “difficulty they had learning of the publications of American scholars, especially those published by American university presses, or appearing in university monograph series and in less familiar journals” (Meserole 580). This experience no doubt underscored his belief in the need for a comprehensive bibliography, yet the bibliography to which he had contributed for the last four years was nearing its final issue.

From the American Yearbook, The MLA International Bibliography™ is Born
Fortunately, the Modern Language Association resolved to rescue the MLA International Bibliography at the 1920 MLA Annual Convention. Baugh was brought on board in 1921 as the first senior contributor and editor of English language and literature to the newly titled American Bibliography, now the MLA International Bibliography (MLAIB). The MLA’s mission was to provide scholars with “a research tool to represent America’s contribution to an international cooperative effort, and not,” as Baugh would later explain, “’in any petty spirit of national complacency’” (Meserole 580).

Under Baugh’s guidance, the bibliography began modestly but grew exponentially. The American Bibliography for 1921 was published in the thirty-seventh volume of PMLA in 1922 with 600 indexed items. By 1927 the number of items, many of them annotated, had roughly doubled. 1927 was the year that the first “Master List,” composed of thirty-three titles, was implemented. It was also the year that the bibliography discarded its original survey-essay format for a new system much like the enumerative style of today’s MLAIB, although listings were not numbered until 1957.

An Evolving Body of Work
Baugh remained the senior contributor to the bibliography for twenty-nine years. He witnessed many changes to the publication, including the separation of the Romance category into French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian (1923), the creation of the American literature (1923) and general literature sections (1929), and the addition of the first female editor, Mary I. O’Sullivan (1932). Baugh retired from the bibliography in 1951, only to become MLA president in 1952. In addition to his work with the MLA, Baugh served as president of the Modern Humanities Research Association of Cambridge, England (1948-1950), the International Federation for Modern Languages and Literatures (1948-1950), and the Fellows of Medieval Academy at Harvard University (1963-1966) (“Albert C. Baugh Is Dead”) (Davis).

As for the bibliography, it is now an online database of more than 2.7 million records of international scholarship used around the world by teachers and academics.

When Baugh died in 1981 at the age ninety, he left behind his wife, Nita, a Middle English scholar, sons William and Daniel, and a number of highly respected publications (“Albert C. Baugh Is Dead”). His works include Chaucer’s Major Poetry (1963), A Literary History of England (1948), and A History of English (1935) which, now in its sixth edition, is still hailed as an essential resource. As for the bibliography, it is now an online database of more than 2.7 million records of international scholarship used around the world by teachers and academics. 

The MLA International Bibliography Today
Now, the MLA International Bibliography covers literature, language and linguistics, folklore, film, literary theory and criticism, dramatic arts, as well as the historical aspects of printing and publishing. Listings on rhetoric and composition and the history, theory and practice of teaching language and literature are also included.

Citations in the MLA International Bibliography represent scholarly materials published in more than 70 languages and originating in over 100 countries. The MLA’s multilingual subject specialists index more than 75,000 new documents each year; 40% are in languages other than English. The search interface is available in 30 languages.

An online course from the Modern Language Association is now available that takes 90-minutes or less to complete. The course teaches students the scope and purpose of the MLA International Bibliography, as well as how to use it effectively for college-level research. Find out more about, or sign up for the online class, or request a free trial of the MLA International Bibliography. 

Works Cited

“Albert C. Baugh Is Dead; Noted Medieval Scholar.” New York Times, Mar. 27, 1981,
             Date accessed: 22 Mar. 2017.

Davis, Lisa Fagin. Personal correspondence. 22 Mar. 2017.

Meserole, Harrison T. “The MLA Bibliographical System: Past, Present, and Future.” PMLA,
            vol. 85, no. 4, Directory, Sept. 1971, .
            Date accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

“American Bibliography for 1921.” PMLA, vol. 37, no. 1, Mar. 1922,
            Date accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

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Liza Young

Liza Young earned her MLIS from St. John’s University and her BA in Art History, Criticism and Conservatism from Bard. She is an Archivist at the Modern Language Association and she is establishing the MLA’s first archival catalog, employing standard description practices in emerging software. She is a member of the Society of American Archivists and volunteers as a Wikipedia editor. 

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