Book Reviews on the Net

By Shepherd, Anne | History Review, September 1997 | Go to article overview
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Book Reviews on the Net


Shepherd, Anne, History Review


The new electronic journal Reviews in History was the idea of the director of the institute of Historical Research, Professor Patrick O'Brien. Born out of his frustration with current reviewing practices, it integrates the latest technology with scholarly and intelligent commentary on seminal books in history. He also perceived that electronic media with its lack of constraints in terms of space would enable the journal to offer an innovative aspect to the gene of reviewing - namely an automatic right of reply on the part of the author.

After eleven months had work on the part of the Editor and his Deputy, Anne Shephered, Reviews in History was launched in July 1996. The journal has attracted considerable national and international interest from academics, students and publishers. It was attacked with irony and rancour in The Times literary Supplement, but was welcomed by the Times, the Times Higher Education Supplement and by authors pleased to be given a right of reply to reviewes.

Once the site is accessed, a full list of Reviews and Responses can be seen, in addition to Review Articles and Forthcoming Titles. Reviews and responses by Olwen Hufton, Eric Hobsbawn, Roy Porter, Leonore Davidoff and Le Roy Ladurie are but a few of the famous names that can be found in Reviews in History. Our site is constructed to make alternating between reviews and the author's response an easy matter and we will also be offering Reappraisals in History, a new look at classic texts published ten yeas ago. This service will commence with a consideration by Professor Peter Thomas of Lewis Namier's the Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, first published in 1929.

Why an eletronic journal devoted to reviews?

The benefits of new information technology are increasingly acknowledged by ever widening sections of the history community, although many scholars still grapple with their email accounts and strive to master the Internet. Since there will always be a place for printed journals, why should an electronic journal dedicate itself to book reviews? After all, reviews of history books already appear in many broadsheets and journals.

Subscriptions to the traditional historical journals are, however, declining, but the main issue is that few historians have time to read them. Our students and librarians are further constrained by the costs involve in subscribing to journals. Reviews are usually printed a considerable time after the book's publication - two to three years is not exceptional. Furthermore, the space allocated to reviews is often regarded as inadequate and the capacity of journals has hardly kept pace with the flow of new monographs and texts in the humanities. Too many books are never reviewed at all. Opportunities for scholars to discuss publications in their respective fields should be expanded to the benefit of the whole community of historians.

History book reviews in the broadsheets are usually concurrent with the book's publication, but are too often consigned to a space reflective of a subject of minority interest. Additionally, they are not of the quality commensurate with the years of application and dedication on the part of the author. Reviews for the media are extremely short and conducted by a 'tenured coterie of articulate literati'. Their credentials to summarise, contextualise and appraise the varieties of scholarships they comment upon seem questionable to academics, who insist upon proven expertise as the only basis for writing serious reviews.

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