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  • To the Readers of Early American Literature
  • David S. Shields (bio)

With this volume I close my term as editor of Early American Literature. Like my predecessor, Philip Gura, I have served as interlocutor of the scholarly conversation of this field for a decade. From 1998 through 2008, it was my privilege to read the newest thoughts of a scholarly community at a time when a field underwent transformation. The pages of EAL registered the hemispheric turn in early American studies, the growth of a concern with ecology, the emergence of Native American Studies as a vital component of our disciplinary conversation, the maturation of book history, the establishment of a productive dialogue with the field of material culture studies, and a thoroughgoing engagement with performance studies and cultural history. In selecting pieces for publication, I did not favor any particular theoretical school or methodological approach, believing many paths lead to knowledge. I did, however, cherish scholarship entailing archival work because I remain convinced that much of the corpus of early American letters remains unexamined.

During my time as editor, the journal experienced a number of changes. The number of pages per issue has doubled. The cover and layout were redesigned. An electronic gateway for the editorial office appeared on the World Wide Web. Because of the initiatives of my predecessor, EAL went electronic when I took office, offering its digital edition through MUSE. The journal's operating surplus rose from 9,000 to over 80,000 dollars. Color reproduction of illustrations was introduced to the journal. I secured the services of a textual editor trained in early American studies, Dr. Daphne O'Brien, to insure a professional quality of accuracy and consistency of production. Dr. Shevaun Watson became managing editor, overseeing the handling of submissions. Finally, the reviews section was expanded and made an autonomous department of the magazine with its own editor, Dr. Sandra Gustafson of Notre Dame University. During this [End Page 1] period of textual expansion, EAL also became a regular sponsor of scholarly symposia and conferences.

Some things have not changed in the conduct of the journal. It retained its institutional affiliation with the Modern Language Association's Division of American Literature to 1800. It depended upon the expertise of an editorial board whose members are elected by the governing council of the division. It maintained a triquarterly schedule of publication. It invited work from academics of all ranks and from independent scholars. Not every development in the past decade has been salutary. The submission of electronic versions of articles has been deviled by the aggressive vetting of the University of South Carolina's antivirus programs. Too many submissions vanished into the university's electronic dumpster for spam. The rise of online subscriptions has meant the decline by one-third of the number of printed copies issued—although university press statistics indicate that this decline is far less than that experienced by most journals offering online editions. Yet these frustrations have been relatively minor compared to the satisfactions afforded by encountering new devotees of early American culture and conversing with the many intelligent and industrious persons who work in the field. I particularly benefited from the exchanges with the persons who worked on the editorial board.

One distinctive provision of the original charter of EAL is that each editor chooses his or her successor. A sense of responsibility to our scholarly community made me weigh the choice carefully. Since the position demands years of unremunerated labor, the editor must demonstrate an altruistic commitment to the welfare of our field. An editor must be catholic in curiosity and widely read in historiography and theory, as well as deeply learned in the corpus of early American writings. Since the primary task of an editor is to assist an author in presenting an argument in its most cogent and persuasive form, a mastery of rhetoric is requisite. Finally, a generosity of spirit assists one in working with colleagues of the editorial board in recognizing and welcoming new ways of conceiving our subject. It strikes me that Prof. Sandra Gustafson possesses all of these qualities. Witnessing her critical intelligence at work running the reviews section at EAL has convinced...


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pp. 1-3
Launched on MUSE
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