Yet another edited collection

So what does it say about EMEMH that the subfield publishes extremely few journal articles (and there are extremely few journals in which to publish them), while we publish numerous chapters in edited collections? The edited collections tend to develop from conference proceedings, so clearly we have a fair number of specialized conferences, but why so few journal articles? Is this indicative of the small number of publishing EMEMHians? That there are few EMEMHians at research institutions with the time to publish a lot? That EMEMH is even more cliquish than other subfields? That there isn’t a major historical debate to engage in? That we tend to focus on our country-specific historiographies instead of banding together as EMEMHians? Something else?

Part of it may have to do with the small size of the discipline. Awhile back I tried to estimate the number of academics publishing EMEMH over the past decade – for the US, Britain, France and the Netherlands I only counted less than 100. Sometime (probably next year) I’ll try to analyze EMEMH articles and book chapters over the past decade.

The prompt for this reflection? Yet another edited collection now available:

Schneid, Frederick C., ed. The Projection and Limitations of Imperial Powers, 1618-1850. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

Since the Brill website doesn’t have the Table of Contents for some reason, here are the chapters that are of interest to EMEMH:

Peter H. Wilson, “Meaningless Conflict? The Character of the Thirty Years War”

Jeremy Black, “War and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV: The Global Context”

John Lynn, “The Other Side of Victory: Honorable Surrender during the Wars of Louis XIV”

Ciro Paoletti, “Italy, Piedmont and French Anti-Habsburg Strategy, 1690-1748”

Dennis Showalter, “Reform and Stability: Prussia’s Military Dialectic from Hubertusberg to Waterloo”

Janet Hartley, “Russia as a Great Military Power, 1762-1825”

I’m noticing a pattern here…

[There are a couple other chapters that deal with the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period.]



8 responses to “Yet another edited collection”

  1. John Grenier says :

    Not to be rude or disrespectful, but is this not more of the same old stuff by the same old crew? And then to have to drop a ridiculous amount of change, as is the case for all books from this publisher, well, that’s goofy. I think the publisher is interested in only selling to libraries and a reader base of 250 people, so publishing with them offers no chance of getting your ideas out to a broad audience. It does offer another cv entry, but at this point, really, who cares? A collection of essays that essentially (I suspect) says the same thing as any number of other collections, well, that doesn’t get me too excited. Where’s the room for the young historians with fresh ideas? I respect the work and amazing contibuions “the old heads” have made over the years, but I’m not going to rush out and read these. I can see the reviews now, and I’m sure no one will say it’s like a bunch of clones talking to each other. It gets boring real fast. Perhaps I’m being unfair and prejudging…

    • jostwald says :

      A brave response! I must admit that I too am getting a little tired of the same voices saying (in large part) the same things, although a few contributors do seem to be on new tangents. Generally speaking, however, the predictability is getting a bit old: give me nothing more than a period-place combination, and I can tell you with 90% accuracy who wrote that chapter. Sometime I should chart out the reality of publishing in EMEMH.

      I”m glad you noticed that my question was intended to direct our thoughts towards this very issue (though I lacked your bravery to do it as directly as you have). Umpteen collected volumes with the same group of 12-15 contributors is particularly problematic since there really doesn’t seem to be a way for new people to ‘break in’ given the limited market for the subject matter. This is especially challenging since so many of these works are published in edited collections (there are practically no journals that are read by EMEMHians in common), and the contributors to these edited collections are completely self-selected, i.e. selected by the book editor, which means people they know and like. I’ve only recently seen this from the inside (but observed it from the outside for some time), and while editors certainly have the right to select whomever they want, I don’t think this incestuous scholarship necessarily improves quality. Notably, this is one of the reasons why open-source publishing is becoming more attractive to many: the publishing industry’s claim that it alone can serve as gatekeeper to ‘worthy’ scholarship (by, e.g. hiring academic series editors) seems to be belied by the same stable of contributors regardless of the press (unless of course it’s true that only the published are quality scholars, or that big names are the only people who can sell books).

      What frustrates me the most is that in many respects we EMEMHians seem to be spinning our wheels. I’ll post about the Military Revolution debate in the future, but everybody generally does their own thing (and does it again, and again…), making most chapters in a book barely relevant to each other. Book editors work hard to combine together the various strands in the introduction/conclusion, with lesser or greater success, but that’s no substitute for commissioning essays with a specific focus, even if that requires going outside the 9-man rotation. It’s also possible that this endogamy helps explain why debates don’t develop and perpetuate themselves – because for period-place X editors always get the same person to write on it (they must be the best choice, since they’ve written on it before), and of course these contributors are not going to contradict their earlier work. Or, alternately, they’ve covered topic A within period-place X to their satisfaction and move on to another topic within that period-place, which leads to the same result of stunted debate over the original topic A. Why not invite 3+ specialists of different generations/lineages in period-place X and have them discuss? (This tends to happen in journals, which EMEMH lacks. It would be the perfect thing for a blog.) Or perhaps if the net was spread wider and fresh blood brought in, there could be more editorial control over dictating in more detail what each chapter *should* cover? Or maybe there should just be a rule that you can’t publish the same essential argument in more than one place? (I’ll admit I’ve partially violated that rule once already.) I certainly think you’d get a lot more debate (spurring more book sales?) if more than one or two voices represented an entire century+country.

      As a shameless plug, I’d like to think this blog offers one venue in which new ideas can get mentioned, but it will never have the reputation of a publication. If anybody wants to contribute a guest post or has a specific idea that we could implement, let me know.

      For those powers-that-be who might be reading: are new voices being drowned in the din of well-established scholars? What criteria are used to select contributors? If there is a problem, what can we do about it?

  2. Erik Lund says :

    I just dropped $38 on Wayne F. Lee’s Empires and Indigenes: Intercultural Alliances, Imperial Expansion, and Warfare in the Early Modern World on the H-Net fed pretext that ‘everything you thought you new about American Indians is wrong. Because of war and stuff.’

    What do I get? I’m not going to whine, especially since I haven’t read it yet, but I can’t help noticing that a 26 page article by Virginia Aksan takes up more than 10% of the text. It’s on the Ottomans, of course. Because Aksan is an awesome Ottoman scholar. But, you know, where’s the monograph? And interesting as she always is, I did not pay for Turks. (There’s also an article on the Russians, but that’s a comparison that I think has legs.)

    Knowing the enormous integrity of the process, I’m sure that (almost) none of these edited collections are being treated as authored monographs for the purpose of tenure review and promotion, though.

  3. Erik Lund says :

    Oops. I retract everything I said about Professor Aksan. Except the part about her being a great scholar. That’s still true.

  4. Gavin Robinson says :

    Sometimes the less rigorous peer review of edited collections makes it possible to write a more imaginative essay because you don’t have to build the strongest possible argument to get past the reviewers and editor. Maybe lack of time forces people to submit something safe and easy instead of something challenging. It is possible to get rejected from a collection, but probably much rarer than with the top journals.

    • jostwald says :

      An interesting thought on the imaginative essay. Unfortunately or not, I can’t recall having read too many imaginative EMEMH essays – any examples you’re thinking of? The closest thing to my mind would be some real broad vague survey, which I’m not too keen on. I tend to think of this blog as the place to do that kind of imagination and thinking out loud. Michael Roberts’ original Military Revolution lecture?

      We need a better typology of types of articles/chapters/essays: plodding traditional campaign narrative, blow-by-blow battle account, highly-speculative flight of fancy…

      Certainly edited collections are easier to publish in, but then I’ve seen a few peer-reviewed EMEMH dogs in my day as well.

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