Academic journal article Civil War History

To Sum Up

Academic journal article Civil War History

To Sum Up

Article excerpt

"How would you like to edit Civil War History?"

"I don't know anything about editing."

"That doesn't matter."

That exchange was the beginning of my thirty-five years as the editor of a scholarly journal and a fortuitous entry into the academic arena, the last a term that over the years took on added meaning. I was also the beneficiary of what we Golden Agers call the Golden Age of academic employment. Jobs were plentiful in 1965 for historians with even modest experience and credentials. After that conversation with my graduate adviser, Robert W. Johannsen, I went to the University Library to do a bit of research. I was acquainted with the journal, but it didn't register on the Clio meter as did some others. It was housed in the Department of Publications at the University of Iowa, where the founding editor, Clyde Walton, had been a librarian. Subsequent editors were James I. Robertson Jr. and Robert R. Dykstra.

In due course I learned that Bud Robertson was a Bell Wiley student who had become executive director of the Civil War Centennial Commission and Bob Dykstra was an Iowa Ph.D. who was leaving for the University of New Mexico.

After a phone conversation with John Simmons, director of the Department of Publications, we agreed to discuss the position at the meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Kansas City. In a remarkable leap of faith, John offered me the position, and I accepted. During the summer I spent three weeks in Iowa City being tutored by Bob Dykstra and coming to grips with what I'd agreed to. My learning curve was interrupted that fall by back surgery, but John Simmons, gentleman that he was, made things easier by bringing items of work to me, along with guidance and reassurances, all of which I needed. The major hurdle, in my mind, was acquiring the knack of copyediting, of marking up manuscript for the production staff. I had fewer misgivings about textual editing, as I had learned to value, and even recognize, excellent narrative style. For this, I have never ceased to thank my graduate teachers at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Illinois and the example of the many historians whose work became part of my intellectual store. I also received much appreciated assistance from the publications staff when it came to matters of usage, and through some interesting exchanges with authors learned valuable lessons about style. I never mastered the semi-colon, but the literary quality of the articles and reviews became and remained a source of pride. In the process (and later at the Kent State University Press), I learned that some historians, great and small, owe a great deal to their editors.

My first year as editor was especially instructive, and the experience reinforced ideas already held. Not least was an appreciation of journal articles as preparation for examinations and as an avenue to grasping (or noticing) major issues in historical studies. Indeed, I encouraged graduate students at Kent State (I joined the history faculty there in 1968) to read through the major journals in preparation for their examinations. Among other things, it helped them to understand and appreciate the careers of the professoriate.

I gave emphasis to the place of book reviews and assigned greater space to reviews of the more significant books. Readers usually turn first to the book reviews, which often contain nuggets of analysis, insight, and information. For example, read Russell Weigley's review of Stephen Sears's books on McClellan in the December 1989 issue of Civil War History. The same rationale applies to the review essay, a scholarly form that most journals feature, some more than others. No doubt I was influenced by the emphasis on historiography during my graduate student days. My first experience as editor was with Writing Southern History: Essays in Southern History in Honor of Fletcher M. Green (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. …

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