MLA Core

What is MLA Core ?

The landing page for MLA Core gives this description: CORE is a full-text, interdisciplinary, non-profit social repository designed to increase the impact of work in the Humanities.

So what does that mean?

Core stands for Common Open Repository Exchange. Funded by the National Endowment for Humanities, MLA Core is a collaboration between the Modern Language Association and Center for Digital Research and Scholarship at Columbia University. Core, which is currently a beta release, is basically a repository of open source scholarship housed by the MLA Commons, or the scholarly network for MLA members.

Through this initiative members have access to:

  • Upload a variety of objects and formats
  • Insert metadata for objects
  • Add additional authors
  • Assert CC copyright
  • Get a DOI or insert publisher’s DOI if published
  • Associate object with MLA Group
  • Comment on and discuss others’ uploads

Visitors to the site (aka people who aren’t a member of MLA Commons) have access to:  

  • Browse deposited material
  • Perform full search & faceted browse of deposits
  • View author’s Commons profile
  • Download deposited material      
What is special about Core?

Here’s what they have to say:

Not just articles and monographs: Core includes course materials, white papers, conference papers, code, and digital projects

Community notifications: Send instant notifications about the work you’ve shared to members of your Humanities Commons groups.

Citation and attribution: All items uploaded to CORE get a DOI, or digital object identifier, that serves as a permalink, citation source, and assertion of authorship all in one.

Licensing: Select the Creative Commons license that best meets your needs.

Archiving for the future: Files deposited in CORE are stored in the Columbia University Libraries long-term digital preservation storage system.

Open-access, open-source, open to all: Anyone can read and download your work for free (no registration required)

The great thing about the concept of CORE is that you can also use it to upload peer-reviewed journal articles, dissertations and theses; works in progress; conference papers; syllabi; abstracts; data sets; presentations; translations; book reviews; maps; charts; etc.; and you remain the owner of any work deposited here. This allows for a database of diverse scholarship, which is all open source. Also the collaborative aspect, which allows users to comment on, upload, and give input also helps to bridge the gaps in scholarly communication.

So how does it work in practice?

I decided to give the database a try. To upload scholarship, you must become a member of MLA Commons, either by being an MLA member, or joining the open humanities commons network. Membership to the MLA costs money based on your salary (anywhere from $26-$359), or if your a graduate student ($26). If you create a free account through the humanities commons, you have access to CORE, but not as much as full MLA members. I created an account through the open network:

At first glance, the form to upload things seems pretty simple!

I decided to try and upload my research paper from my Civil War and Reconstruction class.

It took a total of 5 minutes to upload my paper–super easy! It looks like there is a review process as well.

Now that I’ve uploaded my paper, I can find it in my deposits:

Overall, the the process of uploading scholarship seems super easy. I wonder how visible this will be to other people? A database is only as good as its search function, so I am going to test that out next.

Searching for scholarship on MLA Core

When you click on “find open access materials” you are brought to this page:

It automatically sorts deposits starting the the newest ones at the top. As you can see, the top three most recent are already fairly different topic wise, which is a testament to all the different academic fields that are using the Core.

Keeping with the theme, I typed in “civil war” to the search bar. It came up with 459 results, all of which (besides mine) seemed only tangentially related to civil wars.

I couldn’t seems to find an option to do an advanced search, other than the side bar which allows to narrow results by date, item type, or subject. There was also no option to sort the results by most relevant, only by most recent and alphabetically. I tried to search again using boolean phrases, hoping to narrow my results. I typed in “civil war” AND “united states” into the search bar. It turned back no results, suggesting it may not have the capability to process boolean phrases (or no one else has uploaded papers about the American civil war, which I doubt).

So, it seems as though the search function for Core is a little lack luster. Nonetheless, there are some other cool features. You can join different groups based on your areas of interest.


Whenever you upload something to Core, groups you are a member of will get notified by getting an email (which is a setting you can turn off), and by appearing in the activity feed of the group. I joined the Digital Humanists group:

You can also search for Core member’s personal websites, as well as create your own, using wordpress:

Overall, MLA/Humanities Core works as sort of a social network for scholars of really any discipline. It offers an easy way to communicate with people in your field as well as people who aren’t–working to open the lines of scholarly communication. While it the Core depository’s search function doesn’t seem great, the platform is still in Beta form. The website even offers a roadmap of whats to come. So, despite this minor flaw, this type of transparency combined with the overall concept of an academic social network results in what could become a highly effective platform for scholarly communication.

3 Replies to “MLA Core”

  1. Great post! I definitely could fall down the rabbit hole looking through this site. I think that an open source scholarly site is very interesting and I was wondering if there was any sort of screening process or if anyone could post anything? You mentioned that there is an option for review, which reminded me of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s call for a change in scholarly reviewing. I feel that this site is a great way to get your work out in the open and allow for the conversations and collaboration Fitzpatrick sees for the future.

  2. Great post Amanda!

    Just explored the site for a bit and found some cool groups, one on Comics Scholarship was particularly interesting.

    The social media component is interesting to me, though for the groups I looked at it does not seem to be a frequently used aspect of the site. It was clear that people were at least downloading and hopefully reading others’ pieces, as you can see the number of downloads on a post, but I wonder how much discussion/collaboration is actually happening here. The Comics group I looked at only has 3 discussion threads posted in the past year. One of which was a brief (and unanswered) request for assistance in building a reading list for a project, the other two were event announcements. This pattern bore out in a larger Religious Studies group I looked into, as well as in handful of other groups regardless of membership numbers.

    I was reminded of the article we read way back at the start of the semester about the inclusion of a social media component in that open source transcription project, and how despite the designers hopes, people were surprisingly uninterested in forming actively conversational communities. I think this question may have been asked back then, but I was thinking of it today: are designers overestimating the utility of social media style forms in creating these resources? Or are academics just that introverted? But maybe this isn’t the right question, some people are obviously using the Discussion tool, just not for the purpose that the designers may have hoped.

    1. Sean, I think the questions at the end of your comment are really important to consider. Why aren’t people using the social media tools to form community and converse about scholarship? I do not believe it is that there is no interest, but rather there is something in the design that scares people away.

      I know I struggle to converse via commenting because it feels so delayed (which makes any back and forth hard) and therefore much less rich than an in-person discussion, and so I often choose to skip engaging rather than working around the difficulties. I wonder what ways we can find to work around this obstacle. I also wonder how we can convince academics that despite the hassle of digital communication, it is still a worthwhile endeavor. Clearly I have no good answers, but I think it is important not to discount digital conversation because it isn’t working at the moment.

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