American Historical Review 2008
by Robert A. Schneider
I am happy to report that the American Historical Review continues to thrive on all fronts. Because of the digital availability of our content, readership continues to grow. This is, of course, true for all journals. Anecdotal evidence, for example, indicates that syllabi for students—graduate and undergraduate alike—are increasingly filled with articles in digital format. And, as the leading organ for scholarship in history, the AHR benefits from this trend more than others. This in turn places an added burden on us to continue to publish the best, the most original, the most deeply researched, and widely appealing historical scholarship produced today. It is a burden we happily accept.
We have just completed the second year of our contract with the University of Chicago Press. We have largely been satisfied with the relationship and pleased that the Press is making efforts to expand our institutional subscriptions and increase our readership. These efforts have not yet yielded significant increases in our distribution, but we are reasonably confident that they will in the near future.
The year’s five issues contained one presidential address, 13 articles, 3 forums, 2 review essays, 28 featured reviews, and an AHR Conversation. The topics covered ranged far and wide, both thematically and geographically: we are indeed a journal whose remit is global. Most of the articles were comparative in scope. For example, one compared race relations in 18th-century New York and Madras; another looked at “Imperial Revolutions” in the Western Hemisphere in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; a third examined how French views of treason and collaboration during World War II affected Chinese attitudes towards the same problem somewhat later on. The Forum, “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Revisited,” was truly global in scope, including an article that took an environmental view of the crisis and another that looked at Asia in the same period. Another Forum took a retrospective look at the impact of Joan Scott’s pioneering essay in the 1986 AHR, “Gender: A Useful Category for Historical Analysis,” bringing together historians from different chronological and geographical perspectives. Environmental history began and ended the year. In February 2008 we published a piece on maritime ecology and the Atlantic world; and December’s issue concluded with an AHR Conversation on “Environmental Historians and Environmental Crisis.” The participants were Richard C. Hoffman (York University, Toronto), Nancy Langston (University of Wisconsin at Madison), James C. McCann (Boston University), Peter C. Perdue (Yale University), and Lise Sedrez (California State University at Long Beach). This was the fourth of this publishing experiment which attempts to take advantage of the communication advantages of online discussions. The topic for this year’s Conversation will be “Historians and New findings in Biology and Brain Science.”
The Book Review section often comprises half an issue. We realize it is usually the place in the journal that readers turn to first. In the course of a year, we publish over 1,000 reviews. We receive, however, nearly 3,000 books annually. Thus, one of the most time-consuming and often difficult tasks performed by the seven Editorial Assistants under the direction of the Book Review Editor Moureen Coulter is the vetting and culling of books for review. Some categories of books are easily dealt with: textbooks, books written for a general, non-scholarly readership, most biographies, most volumes of collected essays, books of documents, reprints, translations that have already been reviewed in the original language, and second editions. But many of the books that we ultimately choose not to review do not fall readily or obviously into one of these categories. Here we exercise our judgment as best we can in the interest of preserving the essentially scholarly nature of this journal; this is to say that we are committed to reviewing scholarship, primarily in monographic form, in order to keep our readers and members of the profession at large informed of the newest work in history. We can only review about 1,000 books a year; what this means is that books that may seem worthy of review by some on scholarly grounds will simply not be reviewed. We are happy to revisit our judgments on particular books. But the simple fact is that some authors will be disappointed by our inability to review their books.
The AHR is a collective enterprise, relying on the editors and the staff who work in Bloomington; the staff of the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C.; the 12 members of the Board of Editors; the Council and Research Division of the AHA; the several “consultants” from the Indiana University Department of History who help the editorial assistants in the book review process; the many, many historians and other scholars who serve as reviewers of manuscripts and books; the University of Chicago Press; and the College of Arts and Sciences of Indiana University. Beyond these people and institutions, who have a direct role in the running, monitoring, and support of the journal, we also rely upon the members of the profession. Without a robust and innovative community of historians we wouldn’t have articles to publish or books to review. That is why, in a very real sense, the AHR can only reflect the state of the discipline; we try to publish the very best and interesting and fresh scholarship in history, but we can only be as good as the best in the profession.
Robert A. Schneider (Indiana University) is the editor of the American Historical Review.