RHS News

ECH Publishing: A Book of One’s Own


For good reasons, a book of your own – now sometimes called a ‘monograph’, although this really only means a specialist work by a single author (and so technically could apply to a journal article) – is widely seen as the gold standard of historiography. Because history is an evidence-intensive subject, and also substantively extensive – that is, it aspires to both breadth and depth – there are many intellectual projects that can only be achieved at book length. This is why the professional qualification for academic historians – the Ph.D. – is achieved by writing a book-length dissertation, and it’s why hiring and promotion decisions are largely based on the publication of books.

Books are quite like Ph.D. dissertations – they tend to range from 80-120,000 words and often cover a similar stretch of ground. Why then don’t we just publish our Ph.D. dissertations (as is the case in some disciplines and in some countries)? There are a number of reasons for this. First, the tradition has been to consider the Ph.D. dissertation the first draft of a book. It gets examined and critiqued and the author can then go away and develop or transform it.

As we’ve said before, history is slow – the work matures over several iterations, with time to breathe and contemplate in between. It’s hard to teach someone how to write a book; it’s the kind of thing you learn by doing; and this takes time (so be sure to get friends, colleagues, mentors to read successive drafts of chapters, to help you make sure you’re on the right track). Second, the tendency in recent years has been to tightly control the time spent writing the Ph.D. and therefore to limit its scope. If it’s going to be published, it needs to regain the wider horizons that only extra time (and sometimes some extra words) can supply.

Many book versions of Ph.D.s involve extra chapters that take on entirely new extensions of the original conception, or more comparative or methodological reflections. Increasingly, postdoctoral fellowships are designed to give early-career researchers time to convert their dissertation into a book, rather than to launch a new project already. This may mean that there is a gap of 2-6 years (or more) between completion of the Ph.D. and publication of the monograph. It’s impossible to describe the ideal type book. Sometimes they range over centuries and continents. Sometimes they are tightly focused on a micro history, especially one which affords rich sources.

Some historical monographs are more like books in other disciplines – loosely-connected collections of case-studies, where the chapters read like stand-alone articles. Others are dominated by a cohesive thesis which plays itself out systematically through every page of the book. You’ll have your own tastes and ideas, probably honed further by writing the Ph.D.



ECH Publishing: Chapters in Books

Books and a Bookcase, 19th century, Keisai Eisen, Japanese, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, public domain,


Unlike the practice of many other disciplines, historians publish a lot in collections of essays – normally not all their own essays, but collections ‘from divers hands’ edited by one or two colleagues. These collections often arise from a conference on a focused topic. (Sometimes a conference can also materialise as a special issue of a journal.)

Sometimes they have been put together as a Festschrift for a senior or retiring academic by their students. Sometimes they just flow from the conviction of the editor that there is a topic that a lot of people are working on independently, and which would benefit from being brought together in one package. In many respects chapters in books function just like journal articles. You’ll get asked to submit your paper to the editor, who will decide whether it does indeed fit into the theme of the volume. You may have been supplied in advance with a proposal for the volume, which sets out a minimum common programme, to which your chapter should seek to conform.

Some degree of peer review will be applied. It may be that the editor has had the proposal for the volume peer-reviewed by the publisher (in which only an abstract of your chapter has been included); more rarely, the publisher will want to peer-review the whole volume, once all the manuscripts have been submitted. Once the editor and the publisher have accepted the final text, your chapter will be copy-edited and proofread much as a journal article is. When it’s published, you will probably receive one free copy of the book. But chapters in books have additional pluses – and minuses.

Put plainly, standards are not so high for edited collections, so it’s easier to get into them, especially as an early-career scholar. It can be gratifying to be solicited for publication, rather than having to undergo gruelling anonymous peer-review on a competitive basis for a journal. It seems like an easy way to build a publication record from scratch. But that’s why standards are not so high – the peer-review tends to be light and non-competitive, a pretty basic minimum standard only being applied. Collections of essays tend also not to get wide readerships.

They’re not (at present) much available online, and they will likely sell only 150-350 copies at very high prices to a select group of libraries. Of course, we all know chapters in books that have revolutionized our fields, and collections on specialist topics can be very innovative, even pioneering.

On average, though, they’re not. So by all means be flattered by a solicitation – take the opportunity to publish – but tread carefully, and don’t make a habit of publishing exclusively through these outlets.



ECH – Publishing in a Journal

‘Printing: a three-quarter view of a press’, Engraving by W. Lowry after J. Farey, 1819, Wellcome Trust Collection, public domain


Once a journal has accepted your work, you still have some time to polish it up (e.g. by adding references to the most recently published work, or by tinkering with your prose, or by addressing lesser criticisms in your readers’ reports). Most journals now process accepted manuscripts through a software system that will let you upload your final manuscript and will subsequently lead you through the publication process.

If you are a UK author, you are now also required to upload your paper – the version that was accepted by the journal – into your institution’s online repository within three months of acceptance. You can still change the paper before the submission of the final manuscript to the publisher, and you may if you wish upload the later versions, but you must upload the version that the journal first accepted (what’s called the ‘accepted author manuscript’) within three months. This will make it eligible for the REF – but it doesn’t mean that it will be freely available (‘open access’) immediately. Your repository ought to allow you to impose an ‘embargo period’, during which the paper remains inaccessible to others, of up to two years, depending on your journal’s policy. This embargo period allows your journal to recoup a moderate subscription charge from readers who will have early access to your work; after the embargo period, your paper will be freely available to be read through the repository (the version that people need to cite will still only be available through the journal).

Different open-access requirements apply if your research has been funded by a research council (e.g. AHRC, ESRC). For more information on the technical requirements for research-council funded research, see the RHS’s Information Sheet on Open Access for RCUK-Funded Historians. The same sheet has information about the different open-access licences that you may be offered; these licences determine which of your rights as author you are willing to give up in order to extend use of your work by others.

Each journal has its own procedures for dealing with the final version of your paper after you’ve uploaded it. Normally they will ‘copy-edit’ it – a professional copy-editor will suggest changes for clarity, consistency, and conformity with the journal’s house style – and you will have an opportunity to respond to these suggested changes. They will, separately, ask you to ‘proofread’ it after it has been formatted for publication – at this stage, you should limit the changes you make to corrections of typographical errors and other small errors. Most journals are still paginated and more extensive correction messes up pagination. It may take up to a year between acceptance and publication, although many journals now put the final copy-edited, formatted and proofed texts on their websites in advance of the formal publication date. Again, this may appear to be slow to you – but at each stage, your paper is getting better.



ECH Publishing: Journals

‘Printing: a three-quarter view of a press’, Engraving by W. Lowry after J. Farey, 1819, Wellcome Trust Collection, public domain


Journals provide a miraculously free and civic-spirited service that aims to improve your work – peer review. When you submit a paper to a journal, the editors ought to send it out to at least two peer reviewers (sometimes several – practices differ). They ought to have some specialist knowledge of your subject. If your subject is controversial, one ought to be ‘on your side’, another perhaps hostile or at least neutral.

Ideally, peer-review is ‘double-blind’ – the reviewer doesn’t know your identity, you don’t know theirs. In small specialisms, where everyone knows who their fellow-workers are, this anonymity is difficult to maintain, but it’s an ideal worth preserving, so try (as best you can) to anonymise your own manuscript – don’t refer to other work of yours, or if you do refer to it in the third-person.

You should get reports back within 2-3 months. (Does this seem slow to you? Remember, your referees are doing this as a public service, and they probably have more than full-time jobs, so they will fit such tasks in when time allows. Anyway, what’s the rush? History moves slowly.) They ought to provide feedback not only on whether the paper is publishable, but also on the specific arguments, evidence, style and presentation. With the reports, the editors will deliver a verdict. They might accept or reject your paper outright. More likely, they’ll ask you to ‘revise and resubmit’.

A good editor will steer you towards specific comments in the referees’ reports that you ought to take into account when revising. (If they don’t, and the reports are contradictory, ask for a steer.) Take as much or as little time to revise as you like – the ball is in your court. Sometimes editors will send your paper back without peer review. This will normally be because they think it unsuitable for the journal. Try another journal.

For more details on what and how to submit, and where, see submitting to a journal.


Ofqual Consultation on GCSE Reform

GCSE Reform Consultation, June 2013.

The first consultation on reforms to GCSEs in England: “Our aim is that the reformed GCSEs should be high quality qualifications that will reflect the new curriculum and command public confidence. In this consultation we are seeking views on their defining characteristics.”  Foreword to the consultation document.

Ofqual Consultation on GCSE Reform



Ofqual Report on International Comparisons

International Comparisons in Senior Secondary Assessment, May 2012

This report presents a high-level description of the background to and the key themes identified through our International Comparisons in Senior Secondary Assessment project. It complements an extensive full report and accompanying table supplement, which detail findings for each of the education systems and subject areas covered by the study. The aim of the project was to gain a detailed understanding and to judge the comparative demand of a range of subjects offered at senior secondary level in different parts of the world. This would enable us to reflect on how the system in England might develop. The project reviewed mathematics, chemistry, English and history that formed a part of the main qualification undertaken by students to gain entry to higher education in a range of education systems from Europe, North America, East Asia and Australasia, as well as some qualifications offered internationally. These were reviewed alongside one of the A levels offered in each subject in England.”  from the Executive Summary

Ofqual Report on International Comparisons in Senior Secondary Assessment


Ofsted report on History in English Schools

History for All –  History in English schools 2007/10. Published March 2011.

The report evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of history in primary and secondary schools.  It is based principally on evidence from inspections of history between April 2007 and March 2010 in 166 maintained schools in England. Part A focuses on the key inspection findings in the context of rising standards since the previous report in 2007. Part B discusses some of the key issues facing history teachers and describes the essential components of effective learning in history. Both parts of the report give examples of good practice. This report builds on Ofsted’s 2007 report, History in the balance.

Ofsted Report on History in English Schools