Today we have in a letter from the mailbag at Historiann HQ some interesting questions about finding appropriate publication outlets for interdisciplinary work. We all say we support interdisciplinarity and admire it–and yet, scholars whose work is truly interdisciplinary have a damnably hard time finding jobs and appropriate outlets for their publication. Here, a young scholar wonders about the politics of attempting to publish an article in one field when she’ll one day be looking for a job in another discipline
I’m a long time reader and lurker. I’m a history grad student with one toe in [a Closely Related Discipline, or CRD for short]. I did an intensive study of an unpublished collection [in CRD], which my committee is suggesting I publish separately from the dissertation because it’s heavy on details appreciated more by practitioners of CRD than history, and because getting an article out in grad school looks good.
The problem is, while “interdisciplinarity” is all the rage, I don’t know where to publish. I wanted to throw this out to someone outside my department and committee, because they’re starting to sound like an echo chamber. CRD journals seem like a good fit, but I’m worried that history department hiring committees won’t know what to make of an article that’s not published in a history journal. What kind of audience should a first article be aimed at? Do interdisciplinary journals really live up to their goals? Would it be better to go with a full on CRD journal and hope some historians read it, or try to pitch it to a history journal with interdisciplinary aspirations? How does one measure the “prestige” of the journal and their readership? (This is something my committee keeps telling me to keep in mind, but I have no idea what it means!) How does interdisciplinary work look to hiring committees? Will publishing in a CRD journal mark me as a bad fit for a history department hire, even if I have history conference CV lines?
Thanks for your help,
First of all, congratulations on having written something that your committee believes should be published. That is quite an achievement for a graduate student, and you should feel proud of your committee’s confidence in your work. Secondly, I think you’re worrying yourself unnecessarily about hypothetical problems. You say yourself that “CRD journals seem like a good fit,” so my advice would be to send it out to the CRD journal that you and your committee think would provide the best fit for your work. (Different people will have different ideas about the “best journals”–ask around, but always keep in mind the question of fit.)
I don’t think one article in a CRD journal will scotch your chances of employment in a history department–it would be your first article, and the important thing is that you’ll have an article on your CV, not whether it was published in a history journal or not. After all, your application to history departments in the future will state that you were trained in a history department, that your dissertation in on the history of XYZ, your referees will probably be historians for the most part (with a few practitioners of CRD, of course), and your letter of application will discuss the ramifications of your research on the history of XYZ and your readiness and eagerness to teach A, B, C, and D history courses.
You’re probably overthinking the implications of what will probably be just the first article published in a long career as a historian. I’ve never heard anyone on a hiring committee or the faculty at large flag an early publication because it wasn’t exactly in the field we were hiring in. (For example: an early Americanist colleague of mine published an article in grad school about twentieth-century history. It was so good it’s been anthologized–and for us, it was just evidence of the then-candidate’s/now colleague’s ability to get something published.) In fact, in a smallish department like mine, other training and skills are seen as value-added, not as evidence that someone is any less a historian.
If anyone in a job interview asks you about this article in a way that appears to cast doubt on your commitment to history–something I think unlikely, but it could happen, I suppose–you can explain simply that because you took courses in CRD and wrote a very strong paper in the field, you were encouraged to publish it and it seemed more appropriate for a CRD journal instead of a history journal. (In other words, you can blame it on your youth–a great luxury, so enjoy it while it lasts!)
You raise other interesting questions about interdisciplinary publications. In my experience, having published in an interdisciplinary journal once, the editor’s and associate editors’ disciplines and interests are key. Since e-mail has made the world flat, so to speak, my advice would be to go ahead and e-mail the editor (or the associate editor whose discipline and interests match yours best) with a very brief (two- or three-sentence) description of your work to ask if the journal in question would be interested in reviewing an article like yours. Most editors will be able to say pretty quickly if they’re at all interested (or not), and some might volunteer other helpful information, or even suggest other more appropriate outlets for your work. (If any journal editors are reading this, please correct me if you don’t want a tidal wave of e-mails from prospective authors! It just seems that a quick e-mail exchange like the one I describe can save some time and trouble on both ends.)
One last bit of advice: follow the instructions for submitting your article carefully, thoroughly, and to-the-letter. Do you want a happy editor or a pissed-off editor to review your work? Journal editors are for the most part volunteers with demanding day jobs and busy lives–so my guess is that they’re happier to work with people who follow directions and offer completed submissions on the first attempt. (Again–advice from actual journal editors would be most welcome here.)
So, come on, Eileen–just get your essay out there and get ‘er done. Readers: over to you! After, of course, your dose of 1980s nostalgia for the day:
How can anyone not smile after hearing that again?