Monday, August 29, 2011

So long, farewell

I often listen to Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which begins:

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time

These lines remind me of what I enjoy most about editing Law and History Review, and also why I decided to apply for the position in 2004. Although I have always been committed to my own research, after my first book went into production I was not entirely sure what to do next. I was working on a couple of articles, but did not at the time have a good idea for my next book-length project. I had run smack into a fork stuck in the road.

Journal editing, I learned from experienced colleagues, builds contingency into your everyday academic life. You never know when the next submission will arrive, who the author will be, or the topic. Opening my inbox, as I soon discovered, introduced me to people and subjects that were unfamiliar. I continuously reached the limits of my own knowledge of the field. It was (and is) a humbling experience, but also why so many of us became scholars in the first place. As it turned out, manuscripts grabbed me by the wrist and directed me where to go.

Every manuscript is a new test. I’ve already blogged about conducting the “in-house” review, but the next challenge is finding qualified reviewers for those manuscripts that I “send out” for peer review. LHR uses four reviewers per manuscript, which allows me to invite scholars with different perspectives to evaluate every submission. In some instances, I invite one reviewer to serve specifically as a generalist who can push an author to broaden his or her article to reach a larger audience. Occasionally, one or more of the reviewers who I would most like to evaluate a manuscript are unavailable for a variety of reasons. This can throw off the review process. But once you make the commitment to send a manuscript out, you don’t ask why. I also learned not to read reports as soon as they arrived. Instead, I wait until I have all the reports. The first report, which may be overly enthusiastic or negative, can color how you read subsequent ones.

As I have learned, editing a journal is like working on a book. As long as you are excited by the project, you need to continue. Once the enthusiasm is truly gone, you’ve reached another turning point. It is time to be done.

Fortunately, I still love to read new submissions. But soon enough, it will be time for someone else to have the time of their life with Law and History Review.

I truly appreciate the opportunity to have served as a guest blogger for my favorite blog, and look forward to seeing everyone at ASLH in November. Thanks for reading!