What should the MLA job list tell us about our discipline? Not really sure, but it’s a little fun to speculate. So if you do a search for Shakespeare, you’ll get 16 hits. That’s 16 jobs out of more than 450 current positions. Two of those positions are for non-Shakespeare Renaissance Lit, but let’s assume that Shakespeare is still pretty relevant there. In that context, there appear to be about two dozen Renaissance positions. If you do a search for "new media," on the other hand, you get 31 hits. But that’s a little misleading as the MlA database apparently can’t search for phrases, so it picks up "new" and "media." However there appear to be more "new media" jobs in the MLA list right now than there are Shakespeare jobs. Plus, you have to account that there is not yet a set way to define "new media." If you searh for "digital" a different set of jobs appear, another 30 hits, with some overlaps. Most are rhet/comp but not all.
So what’s my point?
Obviously the convention is that Shakespeare is at the center of English Studies. Historically this has been the case. What does it mean that there are more jobs out there for people with a strength in new media than for people in Shakespeare? I don’t know. You’d have to look at the jobs more closely than I want to right now. I think it means that institutions are looking to build new strengths in the area of new media or digital humanities either as a primary or secondary area in their new hires. And maybe it means that Shakesperean positions are being collapsed at some places with other historically-separate literary specialities, like non-Shakespearean Renaissance drama.
I wonder if it might not also signal that a major in English ought to include some understanding of new media and/or digital humanities.