Publication Date

February 1, 1996

To the Editor:

Sandria Freitag has done historians a great favor by alerting them to the problems the profession faces in ensuring a continuing supply of new knowledge through the publication of monographs. In her two interrelated articles in the October and November 1995 issues of Perspectives, she has identified clearly the challenges that scholarly publishers face in keeping the “endangered” monograph from becoming extinct. And, unlike all too many in the academy, she sees what dangers an overly aggressive posture on “fair use” can pose to the survival of the monograph. It is only the kind of sensible and balanced approach she advocates that can succeed in allowing the various parties involved—faculty (as both authors and teachers), librarians, and scholarly publishers—to reach a satisfactory solution to these challenges.

I need to clarify one point, however. Ms. Freitag refers to me in her October article as a publisher who "has called on scholarly societies to take over the publication of monographs." She may have seen an interview with me that appeared in the newsletter of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) (LASA Forum, summer 1989), where I said, “It may be time for LASA to consider setting up a system for publishing manuscripts of scholarly importance but limited market potential that can certify quality, through peer review, and then store these works on microfilm or computer disk, printing abstracts in the LASA Forum of accepted manuscripts and providing full text to anyone interested in ordering them,” Indeed, a prototype of such a system is now in development, under the guidance of the LASA Task Force on Scholarly Resources on which I serve, initially to be used for the online dissemination worldwide of papers delivered at LASA’s conventions.

I do not endorse such a system as the best of all possible alternatives, however. In a later article in that same newsletter (LASA Forum, winter 1993) entitled “Latin American Studies and the Crisis in Scholarly Communication,” I added this caveat:

My main worry is that if the Association becomes the sole or main conduit for scholarly publication, its monopoly position can impede the development and circulation of new ideas that challenge the received wisdom in the field. Presumably, any LASA peer review system would be dominated and controlled by senior scholars, who would represent the point of view of the scholarly Establishment. Of course, university press editorial boards also are usually composed of senior scholars. But these scholars don't come from just one field, and their interactions frequently produce a more open-minded environment than one might expect; moreover, the selection of readers is generally controlled by staff editors, who tend to be most interested in scholarship at the cutting edge (partly, but not only, because it sells best) and like to champion controversial work by junior scholars. The structure of university press decision making, then, allows more opportunity for younger scholars to get their work published than I imagine a LASA-controlled system would; and the very diversity and number of presses ensure a greater chance for acceptance than an all-or-nothing Association system would.

My own preferred solution would be to maintain the present system of diverse decision-making process and alternative outlets, expanding it by taking advantage of the new possibilities for distribution offered by electronic technology (such as the experimental project soon to be launched by the presses and libraries of the "Big Ten"), but seeking a different means of funding the system. To continue publishing monographs, university presses can no longer rely simply on income derived from sales through the traditional market mechanisms. What is needed is some shared funding scheme by which all universities that benefit from the system—not just those universities that have presses of their own—contribute to the costs of maintaining it. Such a pool of shared resources might also be the way to deal with the problem of scholarly publishing of journals in the sciences, which is what got us all into this mess in the first place. Were universities to cooperate in financially supporting the publication of these journals by university presses, the job could likely be done at far less overall cost than is now being incurred. It simply requires the will and determination by academic administrators to challenge a well-entrenched system.

Sanford G. Thatcher
Penn State Press

To the Editor:

I have just finished reading Michael Goldberg's "Adventures in Publishing: Writing Scholarly History for a General Audience" in the November 1995 issue of Perspectives. Mr. Goldberg makes some very salient points. He reminded me of my own experience while writing Ocean Bridge: The History of RAF Ferry Command for the University of Toronto Press. I wanted desperately to reach more than “just” an academic audience. Greatly impressed by what I had learned from my research, I wished to make the book a tribute to the hundreds of unknown airmen (many of them American civilians) who played an important unsung role in winning the war by delivering military aircraft to operational theaters around the world. This could only happen if lots of people read the book. Nobody would read it if it was dull.

As I analyzed my own early drafts, I realized that I (like many historians, I suspect) had a tendency to give away my punch line early in my narration of an incident. Like a journalist's lead paragraph, my first mention of some development tended to say what the end result was. In rewriting I tried to resist this habit, leaving the punchline till the end. I think I may have enticed more readers into continuing to turn the pages.

Mr. Goldberg failed to mention that we have to resist the natural temptation to use the passive voice, employing action verbs wherever possible. And short sentences are crucial. Strunk's Elements of Style setsthe tone.

Thank you for such an interesting article. Given the importance of our almost missionary role in these ahistorical times, I urge historians to heed Goldberg's advice so we can reach a much wider representation of the general population.

Carl A. Christie
Directorate of History
National Defence Headquarters (Ottawa, Canada)

To the Editor:

Thank you for "On a Wing and a Prayer: Teaching about World Religions" by Ward McAfee in the December 1995 issue of Perspectives. McAfee’s focus upon a central theme of each religion is especially helpful when instructing students who are intellectually considering world religions for the first time. I agree that “each faith tradition [should be handled] with an attitude of respect.” My way of doing this is to imagine that I have a highly trained scholar of the tradition that I am discussing in my classroom while I am making my presentations. And I ask students in the faith tradition if my presentation of their beliefs has been adequate. Ifnot, I make corrections.

I agree that for many of our students "religion is the very stuff of life and should be studied as such." When presenting a religious world view, I try to put myself in the position of an educated believer, which is a way of agreeing with McAfee that one should "avoid a sterile neutrality."

His focus upon "the denial of selfishness" that is found "in all of the world's major faith traditions" that "even atheists … appreciate" is extremely important. When we teach about the world religions in public institutions we need to remember that many of our students do not identify with any of the ancient "world religions" yet are principled people, that religion is only one foundation for morality.

I am less enthusiastic about McAfee's concentrated focus upon mystical expressions and his statement that he "throws away the weapon-logic." Mystical expressions are found within world religions, but are these what educated adherents focus upon? McAfee does not abandon logic in his article. How can he as a professional historian? Is this only a propagandistic ploy to disarm fundamentalist students? Also, he fails to discuss what he does when particularistic historical assumptions—such as presumed virgin births and people rising from the dead—conflict with the historical record as seen by historians outside of a faith tradition.

Finally, I generally agree that hiding one's own religious views denies students the opportunity to do the kind of historical source evaluation that is central to the field. At the same time, this procedure works best when one holds mainline religious views (as McAfee does) and teaches at a postsecondary level. The strategy functions less well in other situations. For instance, if one is teaching in a public high school and holds to a faith—or nonfaith—less common than the United Methodist Church, other strategies may have to be used. That is, if one wants job security.

I came to Riverside-Brookfield High School in 1961 and taught there through 1993. Asa world history teacher, I didn't understand how I could be effective without a major focus on religion, since it is a key element in the historical record. At the same time, I am not surprised that the topic often is treated superficially. Few things—except nationalism, perhaps—can trigger emotional in-group empathy and out-group enmity as quickly and deeply as religion.

Perspectives basically is not written for high school teachers. Nonetheless, I thought that you might be interested in my views based upon a career of more than 30 years in high school history instruction.

Brant Abrahamson
Brookfield, Ill.

Editor's Response:

The Association is in factquite interested inMr. Abrahamson's views. High school history teachers are an important constituencyof the AHA, and Perspectives attempts to regularly publish articles of interest to secondary school teachers. The October issue of the newsletter, for instance, featured a Teaching Innovations forum that included several articles by secondary school history teachers.

To the Editor:

In his informative and stimulating article, “The Present and Future of Historic, Journals," in the October 1995 issue of Perspectives, David Ransel cites the Historik Tidskrift (1840) as one of the grandparents of modern historical journals. For European journals that may well be true, but it may be worth noting that in the New World it was preceded by the Revista trimensal de historia e geographia ou jornal do Instituto Historico Geographico Brasileiro (today entitled the Revista do Instituto Historico e Geogrtifico), whose first volume was published in 1839.

Dauril Alden
University of Washington

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