September 17, 2015
"Finished" articles and life after publication
8 min read
WMQ author Jeffers Lennox reflects on the life of his article “A Time and a Place” (July) post-publication.
I was thrilled to learn that “A Time and a Place” had been accepted for publication by the WMQ, and, like most things I write, I haven’t read it since it went to press. I probably never will. It’s odd, but perhaps the hardest part about scholarship is accepting that an article, or book, or book chapter, is “done.” In reality, these works aren’t so much done as they are out of your hands. There are things I’d like to add to the article, some sections that I might remove, lots that could be sharpened, and I know for a fact that there are works I didn’t read that might change my perspective. But, at root, the best part about putting ideas out there is the conversation that might result. Of course, that’s also the most worrying part. There’s an element of uncertainty that goes with the territory, but c’est la vie.
This article, in its finished (“finished”) state, resembles the first draft I submitted. That’s a good thing. Thanks to the anonymous reviewers, the editorial staff, and the copy editors, the article makes tighter arguments and touches on a broader range of ideas that can be tested in other regions of North America. It is a truism in academia that credit for the good parts of any work is shared among the author, editor, and reviewer, while criticism for shortcomings falls to the author alone. Without a doubt, this article is stronger for having gone through the WMQ ringer. Were I to go back and re-read the draft I submitted, and then compare it to the final version, I bet I’d be surprised by the way the arguments shifted but also satisfied that while the body is fitter and more toned, the bones are the same.
Without going into the details of the article (remember, I haven’t read it in a while), what I think struck me the most about the topic is how it serves to incorporate a region that, at least until recently, didn’t weigh all that heavily in American historiography. Early Americanists are now starting to turn towards Canadian experiences, but for a long time Canada wasn’t exactly a hot topic in scholarship about early America, the Revolution, or the Early Republic. Works by John Mack Faragher, Alan Taylor, Maya Jasanoff, and others are starting to bring Canada into the American story in very useful ways. Nova Scotia is an excellent lens through which to examine several topics that link the region to the American colonies and the United States. While the book project from which this article comes is focused on Indigenous homelands and European empires in the region we now know as Nova Scotia and northern Maine, my current project is taking a broader look at how Canada — by which I mean Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec/ Upper & Lower Canada — influenced the creation of the United States. The themes I explored in this article extend into the Revolutionary era and beyond.
Many of the ideas from “A Time and a Place” have also crept into my teaching. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of academia is getting to test out ideas in the classroom. In my seminars and lectures, Nova Scotia and Canada play a fairly big role in courses that traditionally covered the “early American” story (for example, students writing a final exam had better know the difference between Laura Secord and Abigail Adams). I had a small seminar two years ago that focused exclusively on the Acadian northeast, and we read about everything: witchcraft, fisheries, Black migrants and slavery, le grand dérangement, the Wabanaki confederacy, and how maps and cartography shaped imperial dreams and Indigenous realities. Many of the arguments that made their way into this article were first debated in the classroom: what’s the difference between a homeland and an empire? How do borders shape interactions between different groups? What kind of negotiations take place during periods of peace that are impossible in times of war? The challenge for students is to understand Nova Scotia and Canada as connected to the United States, while the challenge for me is to take these themes that I find interesting and use them to teach about history more broadly. As a result, the classroom becomes an excellent laboratory in which the early ideas for articles such as this can germinate.
While I’m proud of “A Time and a Place”, and extremely grateful for the suggestions and guidance provided by the reviewers and WMQ staff, I believe that what makes this kind of work exciting is the new ideas that are generated from the writing, revising, and editing. These ideas didn’t necessarily appear in this specific article, but they will shape future projects and likely would not have emerged had I not worked away on this piece. There’s a certain irony in the fact that by the time an article appears in print, you’re generally sick of the topic, might have forgotten the arguments, and are focused on something new. At least in my case, much of the satisfaction from a publication derives from the intellectual sparks that first appear in older works, but catch fire only in something new. So, although I won’t read “A Time and a Place” any time soon, I’ll draw from it as I plod through whatever comes next.