Publication Date

January 1, 1996

The publication of the October 1995 issue of the American Historical Review marked the completion of David Ransel’s remarkably successful 10-year term as editor. In a period of considerable intellectual ferment within the profession, when other general historical journals yielded intellectual ground to more topically discrete publications and struggled to maintain their readerships, the Review became under David’s leadership the most influential scholarly journal of history in the world.* The Review's intellectual vitality has strengthened the profession as well as the Association itself, which is greatly in his debt.

A Russianist by training, David came to the AHR in1985 after serving as editor of the Slavic Review. While it was clear at the time of his appointment that he was bringing to the journal a far-reaching and inquisitive mind, his tenure as editor soon became marked by an unusual sensitivity both to the Review's broad and diverse audience and to the welter of intellectual currents within the profession. His editorship has been marked by a conscious effort to make the Review reflect the most imaginative scholarship in all areas of historical inquiry, especially in areas where submissions have been m ager or on topics that he felt scholars might not at first recognize as pertaining to their primary concerns.

His focus has also been a global one. He has addressed topical areas of study, like slavery and race, in ways that are not geographically restricted and that pull together analytical questions germane to a wide range of historical inquiry. Under his editorship, the Review became a center for debate and contention in the most positive of ways, by interrogating the established methods and conceptual domains of historical study and by suggesting—often through forums and debates—new and imaginative lines of inquiry. It is fair to say that no other historical journal has done so much in the past 10 years to effectively and constructively scrutinize the scholarly dimensions of the historian’s craft. And judging by the steady increase in readers, the understandable and productive controversy this effort has sometimes generated has only strengthened a sense of common intellectual purpose among members of the Association and helped to cultivate a more inclusive professional identity.

en he began his tenure as editor, David hoped to bring women's history into the mainstream of historical discussion, to re~ focus attention on intellectual history, and to sustain attention on new conceptual paradigms in ways that would facilitate comparative and even cross-disciplinary analysis. These goals have all been achieved in admirable fashion. In addition, he hoped to increase the number of articles and reviews in historically underrepresented fields, especially Africa and Asia. Here, too, substantial progress has been made, although these areas continue to receive significantly fewer submissions and books for review than the AHR would like. In 1994-95, only 38 books in African history were submitted for review, about the same number as for Canadian history. On all of Asian history, 138 were submitted. This is compared to 74 books received on Latin America, 92 on Italy, 99 on France, 104 on Germany, 226 on Great Britain, and 1,241 on the United States. At the same time, however, the Review published 41 book reviews in African history compared to 162 in British history and 599 in U.S. history. Ninety-two books on Asian history were also reviewed. These efforts, of course, were not David’s alone. One of his strengths as editor was to develop a close working relationship with a rotating editorial board, whose members have included the most original and inclusive scholars in all historical fields, and to work efficiently and well with a dedicated staff of thirteen (four of whom work for the Review full time).

Like other institutions of its sort, the American Historical Review is a somewhat fragile enterprise. Its reputation and centrality to the profession are directly the result of its editor’s ability to take appropriate risks with new scholarship while continuing to represent the very best of ongoing fields and currents. For 10 years, David Ransel has communicated effectively across the profession, with the awareness that constructive criticism enhances even the best of submissions, and that constructive contention advances historical understanding in all of its forms. His tenure was marked by independent, responsible judgment, exercised with an irreproachably fair hand. The Association expresses its heartfelt thanks for a difficult job superbly done.


*As measured by the Citation Report of the Social Science Citation Index, which has almost 19,000 subscribers.

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