Written in 2014-15 by Professor Peter Mandler (RHS President, 2012-16)
Everyone wants to publish their work, and not only for ‘career progression’; what’s the point of doing your research if no-one reads it? By the same token, you want to publish your work in places and formats that will reach the widest audiences. But if this were all publishing was about, then you would just post your work online (on a site such as academia.edu or on your own webpage or site) and let people come to it.
In fact, publishing isn’t just about disseminating your work – it’s about improving it, and about ‘kitemarking’ it (getting marks of quality attached to it that will suggest to potential readers that it’s worth reading). It is these two additional criteria that cause many historians – especially those just starting out in their publishing career – to submit to journals. There are other ways of publishing article-length papers – notably as chapters in books.
Ultimately, most historians want to tackle a ‘long-form’ publication similar to their PhD thesis – that is, a book of one’s own. These are the main forms of publication, but they hardly exhaust the range of outlets – there are many other formats. If you’re a UK scholar, you’ll also be interested in thinking about how your publications are likely to be assessed for purposes of the REF.
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. READ MORE
Submitting to a journal
What makes a good journal article? First, it must stand on its own. It may be a version of a chapter of a PhD dissertation, but it has to be self-contained. Second, it ought to have a strong and distinctive argument. The standard way to demonstrate this is by reference to the historiography – but it’s not enough (or even, really, at all persuasive) to say that your subject has been ‘neglected’ by the historiography. READ MORE
Publishing in a journal
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. READ MORE
Nothing at all may happen. If you’re lucky, a few readers may write to you – expressing interest, asking questions about your sources and methods, perhaps disagreeing with you. Mostly, though, readers read and digest on their own. READ MORE
2. Chapters in books
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. READ MORE
3. 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. READ MORE
Publishing a Book (I)
Book publishing remains fairly traditional, not as affected by the digital revolution as journal publishing. As with journals, however, there are a range of book publishers that you can probably array in a quality sequence depending on your own experience of your own field. Generally, though, they break down into three types: i) university presses; ii) big commercial presses; iii) boutique commercial presses. READ MORE
Publishing a book (II)
If an editor has agreed to review a proposal on its own, you may get a response in a month or so, as a short proposal does not receive a lot of scrutiny from reviewers. If you have submitted a complete manuscript, six months is not unusual. It takes a long time for a peer reviewer to find the space to give a full book manuscript the attention it deserves. READ MORE
Unlike with journal articles, you are almost guaranteed to get some feedback, at least within the first year, in the form of book reviews. Your publisher will ask you for a list of journals that are relevant to your book – you’re entitled to give them a reasonably long list, though make sure that they really are relevant and do publish book reviews. READ MORE
4. Other formats
A very large majority of the work published by historians appears in one of these three formats – journal articles, chapters in books, books. These formats allow for the evidence intensive and subject-extensive treatment that history favours. But there are lots of other ways to publish, especially online, and these alternative formats tend to cater to other needs than the simple presentation of research. READ MORE
If you are a UK scholar, or seeking employment in the UK, you will need to pay some minimal attention to the REF (the Research Excellence Framework, the current name for the periodic assessment of academic research undertaken by the UK funding bodies). READ MORE
HEADER IMAGE: A printer’s workshop: on the left a printing press, on the right and centre workmen engaged in various tasks, the scene numbered for a key. Engraving after L.J. Goussier. Wellcome Trust, public domain