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Uncommon Sense

By oieahc · October 19, 2016

My First Issue

WMQ 12 min read

I have been Editor for over two years, and I’ve yet to publish my first issue. I don’t like to rush into things.

April 2016’s issue has been out for over five months now, but that wasn’t my first issue. For those of you in the northern hemisphere, July 2016’s issue arrived in your mailbox just as the heady I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world days of summer gave way to the none-of-my-syllabi-are-done-and-so-that-reader’s-report-that-I-promised-Piker-is-going-to-have-wait portion of the summer break, but that wasn’t my first issue either.

My first issue will be published at the end of October, almost twenty-eight months after I took over as Editor. And then I’m not sure when my next issue will appear, although it certainly won’t be in January 2017. I already know that month’s issue won’t be mine.

Of course, I’ve worked closely with all of the authors published in the journal since I became Editor in July 2014. I’ve evaluated their initial submissions, rounded up their readers, written their decision letters (and repeated these steps for a second round of peer review for most essays), edited and copyedited their manuscripts, and reviewed their page proofs. But until October 2016’s issue appears, I won’t have done each of those things for each article in a particular issue.

For example, in the issue that appeared in July, Michael Breidenbach’s article was initially evaluated and sent out for review by Eric Slauter, who served as the Quarterly’s Visiting Editor between the end of Chris Grasso’s editorship and the start of my own. Eric did the same thing for Susanah Shaw Romney’s article in April’s issue, and he also wrote Romney’s first decision letter; I saw her essay through the second round of peer review and wrote her acceptance letter. And Eric recruited the initial readers for an essay that I have accepted—after it went through another round of peer review and revision—for publication in January 2017. If I remember correctly, the first essays that I accepted for publication were the pieces that made up our forum on “Climate” in January 2015’s issue, although Eric sent those out for review. And the first essays that I saw from initial submission to publication were two pieces that appeared in October 2015’s issue: Ted McCormick’s “Statistics in the Hands of An Angry God” and Jeff Ostler’s “‘To Extirpate the Indians.’”

All of the above suggests, of course, the many very real ways in which we build on—and rely upon—the work of our predecessors long after people assume that we’re operating on our own. That process will continue, I expect, as essays that Eric or Chris rejected with the option for revision and resubmission land once again on the Editor’s desk. For now, that’s my desk, but those essays will bear the real imprint of Chris and Eric’s hard work and expertise. Their influence will be reflected in the journal’s publications for years to come.

As it happens, my first issue will be recognizably in line with the vision of our field gestured at by #VastEarlyAmerica. That issue’s articles will discuss Incan graves, Irish Jacobites, East Indian tea, Revolutions (Glorious and American), and an American con man with a record of publication that many associate professors would envy. And, of course, you will also read about more traditional early American subjects—how Pilgrims made themselves at home in North America, the ways American colonists justified their revolt against George III, and the implications of failing to deliver supplies to early America’s most famous party. The issue will feature approaches that are interdisciplinary, multilingual, and transatlantic, and the essay’s authors have crafted narratives that are microscopic, telescopic, and comfortably in between.

It’s my first issue, and I’m proud of it. But it’s also entirely in keeping with what this journal has been publishing for much of the last fifteen years. That speaks to the continuing influence of Chris and Eric, of course, but it also speaks to the broader trends in the field. After all, whatever influence editors of the Quarterly have on the shape of the conversation in early America history (a bit) and the content of the journal (a good deal more than a bit), we’re hardly the only voices that the journal’s authors are hearing. Think, for example, of the relationship between authors and the vast range of people who influence their work: mentors and students, conference commentators and writing-group participants, peer reviewers and seminar teachers, departmental colleagues and graduate committee members, and on and on.

The ways in which those people shape our scholarship are real and profound—and long lasting. As we all know, it takes a great deal of time for most projects in early American history to come to fruition. They generally start as book or dissertation proposals and go through various iterations during the research and drafting processes. And all the while their authors benefit from critiques and suggestions provided by many people in many different contexts until finally, if everything goes as we hope, the essays became the sort of work that can be published in the Quarterly. How long does that take?  I suppose it varies from project to project, but I’d say three years is a minimum. And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that much of what I accept for publication has been percolating for a half-dozen years or more.

My own publication history certainly leans toward the “or more” portion of the spectrum. I wrote a dissertation prospectus in 1995 and began submitting reasonably mature article-length manuscripts from that project in 2002, with the book appearing in 2004. I started laying out my second book earlier that year but didn’t publish anything from that project until 2011; that book wasn’t published until 2013. My sense is that sort of publication schedule is hardly atypical.

But even if I truly am a laggard and most Quarterly essays have been three years in the making, it’s difficult to imagine that, in October 2013, one of the authors in October 2016’s issue thought, “Hmm, Piker. What is Piker likely to be looking for?” Anyone with that kind of prescience—able to determine that a then-associate professor at the University of Oklahoma whose first book the Quarterly still hadn’t reviewed would soon be editing the journal—is really wasting his/her time in academia.

So, to return to the “My First Issue” issue, even once ‘my’ issues of the journal start to appear, it seems safe to say that, for a number of years to come, the articles that you’ll read in the Quarterly stem from projects that were undertaken by scholars who did not have my editorial predilections in mind.

That will change. In fact, it’s probably changing right now, as would-be authors are influenced by the articles that they have read in the journal since I took over as Editor or as they mine those essays to figure out what sort of scholarship I’m most inclined to publish. Of course, the twin facts that I’ve yet to publish my first issue and that many people shaped the work that will appear in said issue suggest that those would-be authors should be careful not to ascribe too much significance to what their digging uncovers. What they’ll find if they look at the last twenty-eight months of the journal is less a Piker-tinted version of the Quarterly and more a journal that is shaped by a broad and inclusive community of scholars that encompasses authors, peer reviewers, editors, advisors of all sorts, and you, our loyal readers. And I’ll be shocked if the same thing isn’t true twenty-eight months from now.

Perhaps, then, the title of this post should end with a question mark?  My first issue?  It’s a long story, and it’s only partially mine.


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