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  • Passing the Baton
  • Peter N. Stearns

With this issue, I have stepped down as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Social History. The basic reason is a desire to assure an orderly transition—no particular personal perturbations are involved, but history does teach us the importance of preparation. I am delighted that the new editor, Matt Karush, has stepped in actively; the Journal’s future is in good hands.

With help from a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I launched the JSH literally fifty years ago, though two years passed before it actually saw light of day. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to assist with its development over the ensuing half century.

All sorts of people have contributed impressively to the Journal since its inception. I won’t try to name individuals, but my thanks go out particularly to members of the editorial board, now and in the past, who have provided vital guidance. I am also grateful to the (happily, surprisingly few over time) key staff members who were at least as essential in keeping the enterprise afloat. Thanks also to my children, all of whom helped a lot when we were in a mom-and-pop phase in packaging and shipping—recalling, I hope, the more positive features of child labor. The efforts of Oxford University Press, in recent years, also warrant particular mention. My thanks also go to the many authors and readers who have sustained the Journal over its lifespan. Judging by the current volume of high-quality contributions we have been receiving recently, in various facets of the field, this aspect of the Journal is as healthy as it has ever been.

When we launched the JSH, the primary motivation was to add significantly to the few outlets for what was at that point, in the United States, a dramatically novel approach to the past. (Hence among other things, in the first couple of decades, the recurrent need to define the field, which people long insisted on calling the “new” social history.)

This mission generated a couple of other goals, where I also feel a sense of considerable pride. We helped foster a number of lively subfields, from African American and women’s history as social history concerns, to more recent work on topics like childhood or the senses. We have long taken pleasure in identifying work by younger scholars—we’ve been the first publication site for a number of social and cultural historians, and again this focus continues. For the past two decades, we have also worked hard, with some success, on more active internationalization for a field that was initially disproportionately Western, seeking social history contributions from and about all the major world regions. [End Page 1]

I’ve written before about the missionary sense social historians had in the early decades. This, I admit, has faded a bit with maturation. But the excitement and a special sense of purpose can and should continue. In a world where social inequalities form a growing challenge and in which too much of the reading public remains unaware of history’s capacity to explore significant new topics, social history constitutes more than just another sub-specialty. It provides vital connections between past patterns and present needs. I know the Journal will continue to serve these goals.

Matt Karush, who takes over as editor now, focuses his own work on key aspects of Argentinian social and cultural history, with research ranging from politics to popular music. He will bring a commitment to the field and an energy aimed at maintaining social history as a vital force in the exploration of human behavior and basic patterns of society. I hope he has as much fun with the Journal as I have had. [End Page 2]



Additional Information

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pp. 1-2
Launched on MUSE
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