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  • From the Editors’ Chairs
  • Susan S. Williams, Steven Fink, and Jared Gardner

When we accepted the opportunity to edit American Periodicals in 2003, we were excited at the prospect of moving the publication of the journal to the Ohio State University Press and working as a team of co-editors in its new editorial home. We had all come to periodical studies through our individual work in book history, the history of authorship, and early American serials, but we had not previously worked together as a scholarly collective. The Press provided us an opportunity to transition the journal to a bi-annual publication schedule; to publish greater numbers of images, including those in a new “From the Archives” feature; and to provide digital accessibility through JSTOR. Our department provided support in the form of a graduate associate, and we welcomed the opportunity this appointment would provide for our graduate students to learn more about editorial work and to work with us in a conference room “collaboratory”—the humanities’ equivalent of the lab experience that our scientific colleagues could provide.

We were aware—and were cautioned—that our editorial work would be “over and above,” or in addition to, the expectations for scholarly productivity, teaching, and service within our Research 1 institution. We were all associate professors with strong interests in governance and pedagogy as well as commitments to solo-authored books and articles. We understood that our editorial work would be seen as important professional service, but not as scholarship in its own right, and we began our work with a strong sense of solidarity with the editors of the periodicals whose work is the focus of the journal. We had studied and written about the simultaneously invisible, strategic, and often gendered work of editors, and we acknowledged the reflexive parallels between our collective and anonymous archival features (the first of which focused on editorial prefaces in various periodicals between 1825 and 1850) and that of the many editors who had created those archives. “A journal about journals,” [End Page 11] our bemused families would say, as we brought home manuscripts to review or proof to copy-edit.

What we did not fully recognize then, and do more so now, is the value of that collaboration for our individual professional development. Our experience gave us a new understanding of the benefits of scholarly collaboration and delegation. Since completing our seven year run as editors in 2010, all of us have moved at our university from a focus on departmental duties and responsibilities to a focus on collaborative ones, as administrators and leaders focused on faculty, curriculum, and interdisciplinary programs (popular studies and comic studies). In seeking to build consensus and connection across a large university, we have drawn on the experiences in collective decision making, dividing responsibilities, and behind-the-scenes writing, mentoring, and management that we learned on the job as editors.

More fundamentally, we also recognize now the way in which our editorial work simultaneously promoted and challenged the “star system” in literary studies, which had arguably reached its apex a decade or so before we began editing the journal. That system worked to establish the importance of the humanities, and English in particular, in the twentieth-century academy in several ways. First, it privileged quasi-scientific literary discourse that created a distinction between the professionals trained in English graduate programs, on the one hand, and the public intellectuals and literary “amateurs”—often collectors and archivists—who had previously helped champion the value of literature in American culture. Second, it created an academic culture that gave a higher “market value” to well-published, highly productive, individual researchers than to teachers and departmental and professional citizens. And, third, it helped establish certain fields and sub-fields as more “marketable” than others, based on the star power of those at the forefront of these fields and their publication outlets.

At the point when the Research Society for American Periodicals and American Periodicals were established, in 1991, periodical studies was not a field at the forefront of this star system. Instead, it was a cross-cutting field that brought together bibliographers, collectors, archivists, theorists, and literary, book, and print historians. The...


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