On MS Manners

Giles Constable, September 2007

Editor’s Note: Perspectives welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be sent to Perspectives (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters’ contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.

To the Editor:

I am writing to draw attention to what seems to me a growing tendency on the part of departments of history and university presses to treat members of our profession, especially younger ones, with a lack of courtesy and consideration. Being retired, I am not myself looking for a position, but I am in touch with scholars who are, and am surprised by the number of times they receive no acknowledgment of an application for a position and no notice when they have been eliminated from consideration and the position has been filled. I know that departments may receive hundreds of applications for a particular position, but that seems to me no excuse for not at least acknowledging each of them and letting the applicants know the outcome. The same is true of university presses, and here I speak from personal experience. Some time ago I was encouraged by the director and the history editor of a well-known university press to prepare a volume of collected articles on the crusades. While I was working on it, I kept in touch with the press. When I submitted the typescript its receipt was not acknowledged. When after six months I wrote to ask what was happening I was told that the work did not fit their present list and that they had failed to let me know that they had decided not to publish it. Furthermore they had lost the typescript. Similarly when I wrote to another press, inquiring whether they would be interested in a short book on another topic, I received no reply. When I visited the press in question I was told (through the receptionist) that there was no one responsible with whom I could speak and that it usually took three months to reply to inquiries. Fortunately my career does not now depend on publication but that of many young scholars does. It is not too much to ask a press or department to acknowledge inquiries reasonably promptly if only by a form letter. We all know that universities and presses exercise great power over the careers of young scholars, and they should endeavor to exercise it with civility.

—Giles Constable
Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton