May
11th 2009
“Quality” and women’s history journals

Posted under: Gender, jobs, publication, wankers, women's history

bookofhoursreaderA correspondent on the H-WOMEN listserv wrote in last week:

I have a question that I’d like to pose to list members: which journals are considered “top tier” in the field of women’s and gender history?

There’s a larger context for this inquiry.  For junior faculty members who do women’s and gender history and are tenure track in a history or interdisciplinary department at an R-1 institution,  a record of publishing in prestigious peer reviewed journals is often a pre-condition of successful tenure.  Yet in promotion and tenure committees at various institutional levels, there may be differences of agreement about what constitutes a prestigious journal and what constitutes a mediocre one. I know of at least one case in which a college-level promotion and tenure committee refuted arguments that the journal Feminist Studies was a top-tier publication by comparing it unfavorably with Gender and Society, which I always had the impression was an important journal for social science scholarship on gender but published fewer articles written by historians.  The same committee identified Gender and History as a third-tier journal which was not of sufficient quality and reputation to be considered “acceptable publishing” for a faculty member at that institution.

I don’t want to get bogged down in individual cases, but to ask is there a consensus about what constitutes “top tier” publishing in women’s history?  What standards apply to determine the quality of a journal for this particular field?  I also want to raise the wider question of what strategies junior faculty members can use justify the quality of their work and publishing record in a field like women’s and gender history which may itself suffer from subtle (and not so subtle) intellectual de-legitimization, both among individual faculty and administrators and structurally, at the level of institutions, disciplines, and the academy generally.

One of the editors of Gender and History, Karen Adler, wrote a nice response to refute the claim that G&H is a “third-tier journal:” 

At the last count, 80 per cent of submissions were rejected. All published articles go through stringent anonymous peer review with at least two and generally far more specialists in the field reviewing them, often more than once. Our subscription rates and, perhaps more importantly, resubscription rates, remain high and rising, and we have subscribers on every continent. The European Science Foundation, which has reviewed a very large number of journals and rated them A, B, or C, has rated Gender & History at A level. This rating pertains to a journal’s pertinence across the field, but no journal whose content is considered poor was rated A, even if it had field-wide pertinence.

Something tells me that concerns here about “what constitutes a prestigious journal and what constitutes a mediocre one” revolve around the fact that “feminist,” “gender,” and/or “women” might appear in the names of the journals that publish women’s history.  I’ve always thought that the top two women’s and gender history journals in English are unquestionably the Journal of Women’s History, and Gender & History.  The Journal of the History of Sexuality publishes a lot of women’s and gender history too, but not as much (understandably) as JWH and G&H

Adler’s response was excellent, one that can be used by any of you who publish in women’s history or women’s studies journals:  ask the editor what the acceptance rates are.  (In fact, my college at Baa Ram U. has started requiring these statistics in tenure and promotion files–I remember having to track down this information for the Chair of my department six years ago when I went up for tenure.)  When considering an article submission to an interdisciplinary journal like Signs or Feminist Studies, it always pays to see which discipline the editor and associate editors come from, and what they’ve been publishing recently.  I’m impressed that G&H has only a 20% acceptance rate–and more than a little intimidated now!  If a tenure and promotion committee–whether in a department, or at the college or university level, won’t accept that a journal that may include the words “gender,” “women,” or “feminist” in the title is a selective, high-quality journal even when presented with something less than a 30% acceptance rate, then that’s a prejudice that’s not about “quality” at all.

If someone is hired to teach women’s history or in women’s studies, then any and all committees that weigh in on her tenure and promotion should expect that she will very likely publish in women’s history or women’s studies journals.  I am sick and tired of departments and colleges hiring people to teach and publish in a given field and then punishing them for doing so.  If you don’t like women’s history, the time to have that argument is before your department or college authorizes a search in women’s history.  Trying to keep it out of your world on the back end when someone is up for tenure is just sore-loserism.  Grow up!

Have any of you experienced or witnessed this kind of hassle?  Do any of you have advice about how do answer concerns about “quality” that come up when publishing feminist scholarship?  By the way, in the course of doing a little research for this post, I found this handy-dandy list of women’s studies journals.  Here are the women’s history journals and magazines (including a few periodically situated interdisciplinary journals):

10 Comments »

10 Responses to ““Quality” and women’s history journals”

  1. Shane in Utah on 11 May 2009 at 10:12 am #

    The MLA makes available online its Directory of Periodicals, which reports how many submissions each literature and language journal receives per year, and how many articles each one publishes. I guess there’s no equivalent database for history journals?

  2. Susan on 11 May 2009 at 11:03 am #

    Partly I get so annoyed by this approach to publication, which substitutes external measures for the serious evaluation of scholarship. But you’ve done a great job here of doing the scut work. And yes, if you’re hired in women’s history, you will publish in women’s history journals. Duh!

    It’s too bad the AHA doesn’t do the same thing with journals that the MLA does.

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 11 May 2009 at 11:52 am #

    This fall as I was constructing my tenure file, I found myself wondering about the utility of acceptance rates as a measure of quality. In the absence of any formal ranking of journals in history, I e-mailed the editors of the journals I had published in and asked them what their acceptance rates were. The numbers looked impressive, but then I recalled that one journal (15%) accepted me as a revise and resubmit (that is, two submissions), and the other (7%) gave me *three* R & R verdicts before finally accepting my article. So if the second one has an acceptance rate of 7%, but I submitted the same article four times total, then how do the numbers work out as a measure of the quality of my work?

    And is there a better way? In my opinion, the best measure is to note the acceptance rates, but to have external reviewers on your file narratively assess the quality of the publications for the benefit of the nonspecialists who will be reviewing your file.

  4. Historiann on 11 May 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    Shane and Susan–the kind of journal information you report that the MLA provides would be a great service. (And not too difficult for the AHA to collect and publish on their website–most journal editors will be happy to comply if it might bring their journals some quality submissions.)

    Notorious, I think you’re right that the opinions of external reviewers are more important (and that most departments and college committees will weigh them more heavily than the perceived quality of one journal). My suspicion in the case reported on H-Net is that the person making a stink over “quality” was motivated by bias against feminist scholarship, in which case, since the outside reviewers are more than likely other feminist scholars, it’s a way of impeaching a candidate’s work without engaging the evaluations by people who are in a position to comment knowledgeably about her contributions to her field. (They’re all “biased” as feminists who probably publish in women’s history journals themselves–what the hell would they know about “quality??”)

  5. Bavardess on 11 May 2009 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks for following up on this. I saw the question on the listserv and was hoping a few more people would weigh in with their responses/advice. I read the original email as a case of one person’s ingrained prejudice against women’s history, which is going to be difficult to shift regardless of the amount of statistical evidence presented.

  6. Historiann on 11 May 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    I’ll also check H-WOMEN to see if anyone else writes in. I have the same suspicions that you have!

  7. Digger on 11 May 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    Another list of feminist periodicals, which includes some history and anthropology journals. As well as a list/contact info of the various publications, this online publication also reproduces the current TOCs. Helpful to see if the journal might be a place to consider publishing.

    FEMINIST PERIODICALS: A CURRENT LISTING OF CONTENTS
    http://womenst.library.wisc.edu/publications/feminist-periodicals.html

    I noticed, going through the various lists of periodicals, that archaeology is left out of the mix. (Yes, I know this is a history blog, but I’m an historical archaeologist!) There are certainly publications of feminist work in the main historical archaeology journals, but no specialized journal publications that I’m aware of focusing specifically on feminist/gendered/queered archaeology in general, never mind historical archaeology in particular. Do folks think this is beneficial (i.e. “forced” to publish in the main, cross-discipline journal, which = quality but has issues of publication lag, vs. having more focused journals available that may = questions of quality)?

  8. Historiann on 11 May 2009 at 4:46 pm #

    Digger–thanks for the link. Ruth Karras addressed your question a few months ago when she answered questions about publishing in Gender & History. She wrote:

    [I]f we publish all our work on women and gender in G & H, Journal of Women’s History, etc., then there won’t be any work on women in the American Historical Review, William and Mary Quarterly, French Historical Studies, etc., and it’s important to be visible there too. It can also be important to publish in journals that one’s departmental colleagues may recognize.

    I agree–but (speaking from my experience within my discipline) I think it’s important to note that the reason there are journals like JWH and G&H is that the non-women’s history journals were hardly clamoring to publish the dernier cri in feminist scholarship when it started to appear in the 1960s and 1970s. I would argue that women’s historians still have trouble getting published in many non-women’s history journals. There still are a lot of reviewers out there who will automatically react with hostility and skepticism to women’s and gender history, especially women’s history that is more theoretically informed (i.e. not just Nice Segregated Ladies’ history but stuff that uses gender & queer theory, etc.)

    I would also add that if you publish an article in a women’s or feminist journal, that’s a good way of expanding your colleagues’ knowledge of archaeology journals! They’ll recognize that journal when they see it again on a younger colleague’s CV, and remember fondly the excellent article you published there.

    So in the end, it’s unlikely that most of us can strategize that precisely about where our work gets published. Just getting it published is the main thing–and sometimes, valuable months and years are lost beating your head against a closed door at one journal when another might welcome your work and usher it through publication in a courteous and timely fashion.

  9. Digger on 11 May 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    Historiann,

    Thanks for the response. I read the posts with Ruth Karras when they were first put up, and actually referred my students to them as a demystification of the whole academic/peer review publishing thing.

    I should also correct myself from my previous post. The American Anthropological Association, which encompasses archaeology as part of the 4-field anthropology model, has two sub-groups dealing with feminism and queer theory: The Society for Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists at http://www.uvm.edu/~dlrh/solga/ and The Association for Feminist Anthropology at http://www.aaanet.org/sections/afa/ Both groups publish newsletters, and encourage discussion and publication in the AAA journal. Generally, however, these are skewed in the direction of not-archaeology.

  10. Jane Recommends [Links] « Hey Jane! on 11 May 2009 at 8:44 pm #

    [...] am | In Publishing, Technology, Writing | No Comments Historiann has an interesting post about reputation and measures of quality in women’s history journals– mentions Gender & [...]

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