2012-2013 Report: Future S-USIH Journal

Report on a Future S-USIH Journal Publication

Submitted March 18, 2013, by Paul Murphy, President

One of the primary questions before the Society is the desirability and possibility of publishing a journal in the field of U.S. intellectual history.  The Executive Committee tasked the Publications Committee with preparing a report in Summer 2012 but given changes in personnel and other factors, this proved impractical.  As an interim measure, I have prepared this report on the practical requirements for publication of a journal, whether in the form of a traditional journal or an open-access digital journal.  The aim is to facilitate the Society’s thinking about whether to initiate such a project.

Financial requirements of a journal:  Though print publication obviously incurs greater costs, the production of both online and print journals requires expenditures in the tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Following is a breakdown of the requirements for a print journal:

1. Production and distribution:  design, printing, online hosting, distribution,


2.  Marketing and sales:  a new title would require additional initial effort

3.  Editorial:  editor(s), costs entailed in soliciting and reviewing manuscripts and

reviews, commissioning fees, editors’ travel, administrative support.

(Cambridge University Press estimates this expense as $10,000 annually)

A university press would pay for the first and second items above (production / distribution and marketing / sales) and may kick in money towards the third expense (editorial).  The Society would be responsible for editorial functions (soliciting articles, processing submissions, peer-review, selection and editing, managing the editorial process).

The estimates from publishers suggest the annual cost of the above functions could range from $25,000-$50,000.  If a press agreed to publish the journal, it would usually require a five-year contract, suggesting a financial commitment of $125,00-$250,000 over five years.  Exclusive digital publication would decrease costs.

How would a university press pay for this investment?  Revenues to cover expenses could come from library sales (were the journal to have 200 institutional subscriptions at $200.00 per year, the revenue would be $40,000.00), sale to aggregators such as JSTOR and Project Muse, licensing content, advertising, and member subscriptions (in the form of a percentage of members’ dues).  The Society and the publisher would negotiate specifics.  One caveat on institutional library subscriptions:  Today, presses tend to sell journals to libraries now as “bundles”:  The appeal of a bundle is based in part on the established popularity of already existing journals; new journals, such as ours, would have less appeal and would be added at a discount, diminishing revenues.

The amount a publisher invested in the journal would be subject to initial negotiation after acceptance of the Society’s proposal.  Issues to consider:

— payment contracts:  royalty agreement in which publisher absorbs risk vs. share

agreement in which Society and publisher split any profit

— ownership of journal:  joint ownership in title with press or long-term contract

— a press may require the Society to commit to an annual investment in editorial


— shifts in publishing:  In Europe and in hard sciences, there are currently moves

to a model of author-subsidized scholarship as a response to calls for

open access.  Currently, presses cover expenses but limit access to the

journal to subscribers only.  In open-access fee models, the authors

subsidize part of the costs of publication (presumably with assistance from

their institutions) and the article is immediately available to the public (or

available after an embargo period, in some versions of this system).[1]

Editorial staff and structure:  Whether print or online, the Society would be responsible for editorial staff.  A likely configuration would be:

Editor (possible with an associate or assistant editor)

Book review editor

Managing editor or production manager (to coordinate with the press)

and/or an online editor or webmaster[2]

Editorial assistants/interns (ideally, graduate students at editor’s institution)

In addition, the journal would require an editorial board (presumably 10-15 leading scholars in the field, initially).

Editorial structure of comparable print journals:

Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era:  Editor, book review editor, editor for

online projects

Journal of the Early Republic:  Two editors, book review editor, managing editor, two

editorial interns

Diplomatic History:  Editor, two associate editors, two assistant editors

An open-access online journal:

Common-Place:  Editor, part-time assistants (an administrative editor, copy-editor,

web designer), and graduate assistant

It is difficult to conceive a faculty member, even at a Research 1 university with a 2/2 teaching load, assuming the responsibilities of editing a thrice-yearly or quarterly journal without assistance and release time.  Any university professor who served as editor would need his or her institution to subsidize the position partially through a course release and some financial assistance.  The current job listing for a new editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era reads, in part:  “The position requires support from the editor’s home institution, which generally includes course release time and some level of administrative assistance.”[3]  The editor of the online journal Common-Place (http://www.common-place.org/) receives a course release, a graduate assistant, and financial assistance for administrative expenses from her home institution.

Institutional affiliation:  The easiest and most viable path towards defraying the costs entailed in either online or print publication of a journal would be institutional affiliation.  Common-Place is supported and partially subsidized by the American Antiquarian Society (which spends tens of thousands of dollars on the journal annually).  In a sense, entering a contract with a non-profit academic press would be establishing an institutional affiliation, and the press would largely subsidize publication of the journal (with the expectation of defraying the costs and, perhaps, making a profit).

Relationship with Modern Intellectual History(MIH)MIH is published three times a year by Cambridge University Press and “publishes scholarship on intellectual and cultural history from 1650 onwards, with primary attention to Europe and the United States but also to trans-national developments that encompass the non-West.”  Its origins lay with the old Intellectual History Newsletter, which had been self-published by various volunteer editors from 1979 through at least 2004.[4]  One of the current editors, Charles Capper, is a member and strong supporter of the Society and is committed to publishing a lot of scholarship in the field of U.S. intellectual history.  The Society could pursue some sort of formal affiliation with MIH, although it is not clear, given the journal’s scope, that an affiliation with our Society would be desirable to them.

Print journals:  University presses offer much support, including the provision of expensive design, copy-editing, and marketing expertise.  Subscriptions from major research university libraries would be much easier to establish.  The current environment for academic journals in the humanities is, of course, not encouraging (like so much else relating to the humanities in academia).  Of the 24 journals Cambridge University Press has established in the last ten years, only 2 have been in history.  MIT Press accepts less than 5% of new journal proposals.  Given, too, the economics of publishing, the declining budgets of university libraries, and the uncertainties entailed in the migration from print to digital, this is a difficult time to start new print journals.

Open-access journals:  Though lacking the costs associated with publishing a print journal, there are still many costs associated with establishing a high-quality online journal, including gaining access to a server and the expertise required to design and maintain the site.  There are opportunities available with online publication unavailable with print, including flexibility but also the ability to incorporate sound, video, a more extensive use of images, and interactivity.  Common-Place has initiated a feature called “Just Teach One,” which features short scholarly editions of primary texts designed for use in classrooms.  Dozens of faculty across the country sign up to teach the text in their courses and commit to one blog posting discussing their experience teaching the texts.  Such features, particularly those that can leverage the utility of a journal in undergraduate education, may provide pathways for institutional support from non-research-oriented universities.  If considering an open-access digital journal, the question would be, what possibilities does the digital format offer that a traditional print journal does not?

Selling the journal:  The Society would have to make a convincing case that there is a need for a new journal in U.S. intellectual history.  The following queries are, in particular, tailored to any proposal for a future journal:

1.  Is there a need for a journal?  The Society would have to prove that the journal is academically necessary.  One path would be to prove that the journal would publish ground-breaking work (current trends are towards transnational and global history).  We would need to show that existing scholarship in the field is not currently finding a home.  We would need to show why our journal is distinct from Modern Intellectual History and other journals in the field, such as the Journal of the History of Ideas and the Intellectual History Review.  We would need to be able to answer the question, why do we feel the need to add yet one more journal to the field of intellectual history?  It might also be a matter of identifying a “niche” we could fill.

2.  Will scholars want to publish in a new journal?  We would need to show why the articles we publish would be more effective appearing together in our journal.  We must suggest that a body of work currently not being published or being published in very disparate venues would take on a new character and importance if published together in our prospective journal (or, that trends in the discipline will coalesce around our platform).  Daniel Pearce of Cambridge University Press suggested making a mock table of contents for our ideal first two issues, showing the types of scholarship we believe can be made available and that will be appealing.

3.  Do the leaders in the field support the new journal?  We would need to show a strong membership base in our Society and also prove that leaders in the subfield of U.S. intellectual history were strong backers of the journal.  We would need to document engagement in the proposed journal from a distinct scholarly community and assemble a top-notch editorial board even at the proposal stage.

4.  Is the journal financially viable?  We will need to make a case that over five years the journal can support itself.  Ideally we could plausibly guarantee a membership by year 3 of publication of perhaps 550-600 members in the Society (if members’ dues are to be an important source of revenue).

Suggestions:  Some ideas to consider if we are interested in pursuing a new journal:

1.  Apply for a grant to hold a workshop or planning meeting of interested parties – Society members, senior figures in the field, some with experience in publishing academic journals – to discuss the possibility for a journal.

2.  Identify a member of the Society interested in serving as editor and able to articulate a convincing vision for the journal.

3.  Create an editorial board or board of advisors for S-USIH, which could serve as an editorial board for a future journal.

4.  Consider using the current S-USIH website to experiment in expanded types of publication, including some kind of intellectual history newsletter that would contain peer-reviewed scholarship and perhaps incorporate podcasts and current book reviews in an organically expanding online presence that would lay the groundwork for a journal.  Charles Capper identified the need for such a newsletter, which would be “a venue for more informal conversations and disputes than can appear in the MIH but also more structured and perhaps demanding ones than usually appears in a blog.”

Acknowledgements:  My thanks to the following people who graciously took time to provide information on print and online publishing:  Catherine Kelly, editor of Common-Place, Nick Lindsay of MIT Press, and Daniel Pearce of Cambridge University Press.  L.D. Burnett acquired information on the costs of academic publishing with the assistance of Michele Rosen of Translation Review.  Charles Capper provided perspective and advice.

[1] See “We Paid for the Research, Let’s See It,” New York Times, Feb. 25, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/opinion/we-paid-for-the-scientific-research-so-lets-see-it.html?_r=0

[2] Journal management software is available, including free programs, which might eliminate the necessity of a managing editor.  See http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Free_and_open-source_journal_management_software

[3] See http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-Amstdy&month=1301&week=e&msg=YLKmIsRbEhloscv77HNSpQ

[4] See http://www.bu.edu/mih/backissues.html