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E Pluribus Multitudinum: The New World of Journal Publishing in American Studies

From: American Quarterly
Volume 57, Number 4, December 2005
pp. 1033-1078 | 10.1353/aq.2006.0006

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American Quarterly 57.4 (2005) 1033-1078

The New World of Journal Publishing in American Studies

Paul Giles

R. J. Ellis

As part of the "international initiative" at the 2004 meeting of the Ameri-can Studies Association in Atlanta, a roundtable took place at which nineteen editors of American studies journals from different countries introduced their publications and discussed the current state of the field. However, as with a similar workshop held at the First Congress of the International American Studies Association in Leiden one year earlier, the ultimate effect of the ASA session was to generate more bewilderment than enlightenment. The editors in Atlanta gave excellent presentations on behalf of their journals, but the audience was left wondering how and why American studies journal publishing could have proliferated in such a comparatively short space of time. In the 1950s there was just one journal dedicated specifically to American studies, American Quarterly (AQ), which had published its first issue in 1949. During the second half of the twentieth century the number grew steadily, often linked to the growth of national associations of American studies outside the United States; however, during the past ten years the volume of traffic has increased exponentially, despite the fact that library budgets in most universities worldwide are suffering severe fiscal retrenchment.

In an attempt to respond to such concerns, AQ invited us to write a critical essay examining the state of journal publishing in American studies throughout the world, and we set out to ask why the market for academic journals in this field has mutated and fragmented so much. We are well aware of our constitutional inadequacy for such a task and of how any attempt at a global perspective will find itself thwarted not only by limitations of linguistic competence but also by an unavoidable circumference of professional experience and investments; in a 1999 essay, Fernando Rosa Riberio aptly comments that "one of the more perverse effects of 'world' or 'global' history studies . . . is that, as we venture out to other shores . . . we often do so with the scholarly equivalent of a vanity bag as sole luggage." Nevertheless, we believe that the story of American studies journal publishing is an interesting and, at times, not entirely obvious one, so that it is worth trying to tease out the alternative, often conflicting approaches that are emerging, even if they currently exist only in embryonic forms. Many will, no doubt, contest our findings, and this narrative, like any other, is presented as interpretation rather than as documentary truth. We have, though, consulted widely and tried to identify certain recurring patterns in what seems at times to be a confusing, indeed chaotic, arena. To trace the trajectory of journal publishing in American studies is also implicitly to chart the evolution of the subject, from one grounded initially on certain assumptions about territorial enclosure toward a situation wherein the boundaries of the field have become much more amorphous.

It is important, then, to bear in mind the changing historical conditions within which different American studies journals have operated. The initial context for AQ was an academic environment in which U.S. literature and history were studied largely as isolated disciplines, having little contact either with each other or with a broader cultural infrastructure. In this sense, the most obvious early successes of the American studies movement lay in the capacity of scholars to reconfigure national narratives within previously occluded frameworks of gender and race. Margaret McFadden recalls going to the library in the late 1990s to prepare a response to Nina Baym's article "Melodramas of Beset Manhood," published in AQ in 1981; the sheer number of citations of Baym's essay was, records McFadden, "staggering," testifying to the way this article (and others like it) helped to enable a "wide range of scholarship in feminist literary criticism and in American studies more generally." As Lucy Maddox notes in her preface to a 1999 collection of AQ articles, the inclusion within an American studies rubric of an increasing range of materials served to "decenter the older, monolithic narratives of national history"; and, seen from a position outside the United States, the strength of AQ in the second...

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