The aim of my presentation is to introduce some confusion into a topic that has been discussed with too much clarity in some recent position papers. The specific topic is the relative value of essays and books in tenure decisions; the broader horizon is the relative value of books and essays in the scholarly work that we do.

Lindsay Waters, executive editor for the humanities at Harvard University Press, broached the topic with an op-ed piece in PMLA in 2000, quickly followed by two in the Chronicle of Higher Education, warning of what he termed “monographic tyranny” and excess pressures to publish too many inferior books. He advocated returning to the essay as the standard for tenure evaluation (Waters 2000a, 2000b, 2001). In 1999 (perhaps with the foreknowledge of Waters’s call to disarm), the Modern Language Association established...

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