Come on, Eileen! Publishing in journals outside of your chosen field

Today we have in a letter from the mailbag at Historiann HQ some interesting questions about finding appropriate publication outlets for interdisciplinary work.  We all say we support interdisciplinarity and admire it–and yet, scholars whose work is truly interdisciplinary have a damnably hard time finding jobs and appropriate outlets for their publication.  Here, a young scholar wonders about the politics of attempting to publish an article in one field when she’ll one day be looking for a job in another discipline

Hi Historiann,

I’m a long time reader and lurker.  I’m a history grad student with one toe in [a Closely Related Discipline, or CRD for short].  I did an intensive study of an unpublished collection [in CRD], which my committee is suggesting I publish separately from the dissertation because it’s heavy on details appreciated more by practitioners of CRD than history, and because getting an article out in grad school looks good. 

The problem is, while “interdisciplinarity” is all the rage, I don’t know where to publish.  I wanted to throw this out to someone outside my department and committee, because they’re starting to sound like an echo chamber.  CRD journals seem like a good fit, but I’m worried that history department hiring committees won’t know what to make of an article that’s not published in a history journal.  What kind of audience should a first article be aimed at?  Do interdisciplinary journals really live up to their goals?  Would it be better to go with a full on CRD journal and hope some historians read it, or try to pitch it to a history journal with interdisciplinary aspirations?  How does one measure the “prestige” of the journal and their readership?  (This is something my committee keeps telling me to keep in mind, but I have no idea what it means!)  How does interdisciplinary work look to hiring committees?  Will publishing in a CRD journal mark me as a bad fit for a history department hire, even if I have history conference CV lines? 

Thanks for your help,

Interdisciplinary Eileen

Dear Eileen,

First of all, congratulations on having written something that your committee believes should be published.  That is quite an achievement for a graduate student, and you should feel proud of your committee’s confidence in your work.  Secondly, I think you’re worrying yourself unnecessarily about hypothetical problems.  You say yourself that “CRD journals seem like a good fit,” so my advice would be to send it out to the CRD journal that you and your committee think would provide the best fit for your work.  (Different people will have different ideas about the “best journals”–ask around, but always keep in mind the question of fit.) 

I don’t think one article in a CRD journal will scotch your chances of employment in a history department–it would be your first article, and the important thing is that you’ll have an article on your CV, not whether it was published in a history journal or not.  After all, your application to history departments in the future will state that you were trained in a history department, that your dissertation in on the history of XYZ, your referees will probably be historians for the most part (with a few practitioners of CRD, of course), and your letter of application will discuss the ramifications of your research on the history of XYZ and your readiness and eagerness to teach A, B, C, and D history courses.

You’re probably overthinking the implications of what will probably be just the first article published in a long career as a historian.  I’ve never heard anyone on a hiring committee or the faculty at large flag an early publication because it wasn’t exactly in the field we were hiring in.  (For example:  an early Americanist colleague of mine published an article in grad school about twentieth-century history.  It was so good it’s been anthologized–and for us, it was just evidence of the then-candidate’s/now colleague’s ability to get something published.)  In fact, in a smallish department like mine, other training and skills are seen as value-added, not as evidence that someone is any less a historian. 

If anyone in a job interview asks you about this article in a way that appears to cast doubt on your commitment to history–something I think unlikely, but it could happen, I suppose–you can explain simply that because you took courses in CRD and wrote a very strong paper in the field, you were encouraged to publish it and it seemed more appropriate for a CRD journal instead of a history journal.  (In other words, you can blame it on your youth–a great luxury, so enjoy it while it lasts!)

You raise other interesting questions about interdisciplinary publications.  In my experience, having published in an interdisciplinary journal once, the editor’s and associate editors’ disciplines and interests are key.  Since e-mail has made the world flat, so to speak, my advice would be to go ahead and e-mail the editor  (or the associate editor whose discipline and interests match yours best) with a very brief (two- or three-sentence) description of your work to ask if the journal in question would be interested in reviewing an article like yours.  Most editors will be able to say pretty quickly if they’re at all interested (or not), and some might volunteer other helpful information, or even suggest other more appropriate outlets for your work.  (If any journal editors are reading this, please correct me if you don’t want a tidal wave of e-mails from prospective authors!  It just seems that a quick e-mail exchange like the one I describe can save some time and trouble on both ends.)

One last bit of advice:  follow the instructions for submitting your article carefully, thoroughly, and to-the-letter.  Do you want a happy editor or a pissed-off editor to review your work?  Journal editors are for the most part volunteers with demanding day jobs and busy lives–so my guess is that they’re happier to work with people who follow directions and offer completed submissions on the first attempt.  (Again–advice from actual journal editors would be most welcome here.) 

So, come on, Eileen–just get your essay out there and get ‘er done.  Readers:  over to you!  After, of course, your dose of 1980s nostalgia for the day:

How can anyone not smile after hearing that again?

0 thoughts on “Come on, Eileen! Publishing in journals outside of your chosen field

  1. Not really anything left to say or add to this very comprehensive post. With the proviso that search committees are almost by definition potentially unstable compounds, it’s hard to imagine a CRD publication doing any damage unless it fairly screamed “I really wish I had gone into another field,” and it’s doubtful that it would do so. This chink can be dressed up with a few footnotes that point back to the mother study, I think. [Wasn’t there a junior 20th century America person who hired into your grad program, Historiann, with a nice article on 18th century Anglo-Indian relations, who has since been turning out mega-prize winning books in hir actual field of hiring? I’m pretty sure there was. That wasn’t a disciplinary question, but pubs is pubs].

    The only other thing I’d add is that the advice to not only publish, but to publish interdisciplinarily, and to “keep in mind” the “prestige” of the journal speaks volumes to the telescoping of expectations in the last generation. Once that would have been the friendly chat to a colleague coming up toward 3rd year review. The problem is, all these damn baby boomers who DID survive the great employment landslide thirty years ago and get jobs in SOME cases actually DID do (and had to do) such feats. Now it becomes, rhetorically at least, what we try to call normal science. I’m not really sure, even after this last bad market year, that it’s a fair or accurate perception.

    Great music selection, too, although a violin-playin’ band ain’t what I’d call rock-and-roll!


  2. Sugrue wrote about 18th C Ango-Indian relations? Who knew?

    As for the violins: Dexy’s Midnight Runners were the family-friendly version of the Pogues (believe it or not, with the drug reference in their name.) If you want a harder-edged band at the intersection of Irish traditional folk music and punk, then the Pogues is your band.


  3. Yup, first listed pub, a few months into the job, so it must have helped, or at least it certainly didn’t hurt (And I would think going off-chron would be more potentially complicating than going CRD within chron):

    “The Peopling and Depeopling of Early Pennsylvania: Indians and Colonists, 1680-1720,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 116 (January 1992), 3-31. Bailyn got to everybody at some point, it seems.

    I liked the Dexy, was just funnin’ with the ’80s refs.


  4. It’s Dexys without an apostrophe!

    From my experience of applying for research assistant type jobs in the UK I’d say publishing out of your period/discipline is an advantage. I’ve been turned down for jobs on the grounds that although I’ve got all the technical skills they’re looking for I won’t understand the 18th or 19th centuries because I’m a 17th century specialist. If I’d published stuff that isn’t at all related to my PhD it would probably make me more employable in the types of job that I’m going for. But this has no bearing on teaching jobs in the US, of course.


  5. I think Eileen should go ahead and shop the publication around in CRD journals… BUT!! I also would add that she should ask some of her most involved committee members to address the issue in her letters. A line repeating exactly what she told us here — that the committee member(s) thought discussing the level of detail Eileen brought forth from the archive was more suitable for specialists in that exact field — would be helpful.

    I bring this up because I have direct experience applying for jobs outside my own degree field of History. Of course, my experience is only anecdotal and one can always find other counterexampes, but FWIW, I ended up hitting up against a similar kind of obstacle. I applied for several jobs in a CRD that *explicitly* prides itself on it’s interdisciplinary character and scholarly conversations. And I got two campus interviews for positions in that CRD. Yet, in both cases, though the faculties were intrigued enough to interview me, they also had a hard time geting beyond the fact that I had a History degree, rather than a CRD degree. I was puzzled: they liked my work very much and agreed that it spoke to their discipline; I was very active in their annual conference and national organization (indeed, more active than in the AHA!); and they kept on insisting on their own interdisciplinary openness… yet at the same time, they fixated on the degree issue.

    Now, I understand that my situation is not exactly parallel to Eileen’s, and in fact a bigger stretch. Yet, it was quite a wake-up call for me to realize that even those who are most open to interdisciplinary ideals often fall back into rather narrow disciplinary thinking when it comes to choosing a colleague. I think Eileen likely would benefit from having the line on her cv, but that she also should be careful to inform the committee that this was an opportunity related to a particular chunk of research, and not where she sees herself placing most of her career energies in future. Make sure committees know that this is an “added extra value!” and not the main interest.


  6. Interdisciplinarity is an interesting problem, particularly since the way it is viewed often shifts among fields and sub-fields. I’m not an Americanist, and in my subfield, interdisciplinarity has a vibrant history (and future) – it is almost de rigeur. (Several of the main journals in my area are interdisciplinary, in that they do not cater exclusively or even primarily to historians.) Generally, I tend to imagine those hostile to interdisciplinarity as being the oldest and crustiest of the Ye Olde Guard.

    Are there some fields where hostility or skepticism towards interdisciplinarity are more entrenched? What’s it like from the American side?


  7. There is also the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, although I imagine that’s a hard one to get into, and it might not be a great fit, depending on what the CRD is and how close to the ground the article is.


  8. Otherwise, I second the advice Historiann offers. I don’t think it’s a problem at all to publish in another field unless it becomes a recurring pattern that really does suggest “not really a historian.” But for a first article as a kind of one-off, I’d certainly read it as a positive sign of productivity and intellectual breadth.


  9. Historiann answered the general questions well, but I was actually wondering about what the CRD is. Coming to this question as a person in English, not history, I suppose my first thought is to ask whether the people recommending publishing this outside of history are all historians. It may be the case that they see the work as of publishable quality, and that they don’t see it quite fitting with traditional history journals, but that they’re not terribly familiar with what interdisciplinarity “looks like” in other disciplines. One potential roadblock that I can imagine is that what seems like CRD to them will not seem to “fit” for people who actually are practitioners within CRD, if you don’t have a CRD person on your committee. So, if you don’t have a CRD person on your committee, I would recommend going to a CRD person with the material and seeing what that person thinks.

    I think also that this may be more or less challenging depending on time period/national affiliation. As Perpetua writes, interdisciplinary work is pretty common in American fields, whereas it can be less common or have less of a vibrant tradition in (some) periods of British literature. Interdisciplinarity in medieval studies? Totally common. In other fields? Perhaps less so. It’s also worth noting that journals can have preferred “kinds” of interdisciplinary work that are more likely to be published, so it’s worth reading around in journals that call themselves interdisciplinary to see whether your kind is their kind. (I’m thinking of a few journals in English in particular that are “interdisciplinary” but what that really means is that they like cultural studies sorts of approaches, or certain kinds of theoretical approaches to be integrated into the literary analysis, but they aren’t necessarily interested in other kinds of interdisciplinarity.)

    But so anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that if the original questioner felt comfortable mentioning the CRD, he/she might get more targeted advice about placement possibilities, or advice for how to pitch the article.


  10. Thanks everyone–great further advice and perspectives. I think Squadrato’s point about having future referees point to the article briefly, and provide a little context, is exactly right. No need to belabor the point, but just explain it and move on. (Interesting story about being rejected by interdisciplinary departments because you didn’t have the exact degree!)

    Dr. Crazy’s point is a good one, too: I saw a longer version of this letter, and got the impression that Eileen indeed has CRD training and mentors as well as history advisors–but your advice is good, just to be on the safe side.

    As to perpetua’s question about where the hostility towards interdisciplinarity might reside: I think it’s more of a local issue than a subdisciplinary one. (That is, some departments or organizations might be hostile to interdisciplinarity, but it’s not related to subject matter from what I’ve seen. Caveat: medievalists and ancient historians tend to be much more interdisciplinary, because of the scarcity of evidence. Most ancient historians are really classisists, who are by definition interdisciplinarily trained.)

    I will say this: although in my scholarly lifetime, we’ve all been encouraged to think of English and History as closely allied fields in the humanities, I’m surprised by the amount of hostility historians and literary scholars can (and do) demonstrate towards one another. (I myself have been guilty of this at times–so this is a confession, not an accusation.) Has anyone else seen this and wondered at it, too? For 25 years or so, history has been inclined more toward the humanities and cultural studies (as opposed to the social sciences with which it was aligned in the 60s and 70s), and historians and lit people talk trash about each other all the time.

    Perhaps it’s the familiarity that breeds contempt?


  11. I think it might be needful to deconstruct the “trash-talking,” since in some walks of life (or runs of sport, anyway), t-t can be a form of bond-solidifier, or at least a pressure valve to work around deeper potential conflicts. The place(s) where I’ve observed, I’d say it’s a period of relative detente, maybe a bit uneasy here, somewhat more comfortable there, with relatively limited efforts to truly create any fusion forms. Some historians *might* think that literary scholars feel freer to “do history” or to make broader historical claims and generalizations than they feel free to analyze literary texts. In biographical work, literary biographers might be seen as having a somewhat more credulous approach to “evidence,” or a less aggressive imperative about smoking it out. But these are big mights, and all doubtless subject to refutation. I’d say that this scholarly interface sometimes may get a little bit rumpus-housey, but nothing like “Jersey Shore.”

    That’s a T.V. show, right? I haven’t actually gotten around to watching it or anything like that, but I did see a bumper sticker for it the other day.


  12. hmm having taken a grad seminar in English as a historian I have to say I did not feel the love. The lit folk acted like historians had no expertise in textual analysis, like somehow lit texts were different from other written sources.

    My work is highly interdisciplinary and I interviewed in three separated fields when on the job market straight out of grad school. Historians were definitely the most uptight about interdisciplinary work and I was called upon to defend my very modern interdisciplinary pieces. I can’t say it actually cost me jobs, since who knows what goes on inside the minds of hiring committee members, but it did become tiresome after a while.


  13. Two things:

    Eileen, good on ya for getting a publication as a graduate student. Going through the peer review and publication process is a good experience to have before you go on the job market. It will take the mystery out of it.

    Second, really, its a publication. Hopefully, one of several in the course of a career. I think almost everyone is over thinking this one. There is no downside. If a committee takes issue with a publication in a peer reviewed article in a CRD, then you were doomed from the start. They might as well throw out your application because you wore a brown suit instead of a blue one. Seriously. Its a publication. No downside.


  14. @ Femomist (and sort of off topic) – Actually, we folks in English DO think that literary texts are different from other sorts of texts. (In olden times, most people would say better, but I’m not saying that. I’m just saying different.) That’s kind of central, actually, to how literary studies is defined as a discipline. If there were no difference between literature and other written sources, then why bother to undertake the specialized study of literary texts?

    This is not to say that people outside of English don’t have the ability to do textual analysis – of course they do – but I would argue that there are techniques of textual analysis that are specific to the study of literature, that attend to literature as literature, and that those techniques are important. I don’t think this is all that different from discipline-specific techniques of historical analysis, actually. While it’s true that I am a skilled reader, as someone trained in reading literature, my methods and approaches are not going to be the same as a person in history, even if I’m reading historical sources. It’s those methods and approaches that situate a person within a discipline, even if one is doing interdisciplinary work. Or, put another way, just because I go look at some archival material for my scholarship, I can’t claim to be doing a historian’s work. Just because somebody has a library card and good analytical skills, that does not mean that he or she can claim to be doing the work of a literary scholar.


  15. I guess I’ll out myself just a bit, first to thank Historiann again and all the commenters for your great advice. This blog and the comments take the mystery out of a lot of things that go unsaid in graduate training, I think.

    For my specific situation (which I hope won’t take away from the very interesting general discussion), my CRD is archeology, but I’m using an archeological collection to make a historiographic intervention. Part of the problem is that my committee is divided–my archeologist member and member from history want the piece put in an archeology journal, while another member from history and my advisor (also history) want it in a history journal for its bearing on the historiography of the field.

    The points feMOMhist, Indyanna, Dr. Crazy, Squadrato and Historiann make about the shifting interdisciplinary alliances are interesting. At my institution, the history department is very friendly to interdisciplinary work with literature, gender studies, and ethnic studies, but not so enthusiastic about work with anthropology (for example). But for their parts, the literature and anthropology faculty at my institution are not very happy about historians who use their methods, sources etc. Part of my intent in writing to Historiann was to figure out how much of this is the local culture of my institution and whether it’s worth bothering about attitudes like this as a graduate student, especially given that they seem to shift with time. This thread has been very helpful in looking outside my insular grad school bubble!


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  17. (1) At least in the natural sciences, there is a certain kind of old-school traditional disciplinarist who is outraged at any sort of blurring of the lines or interdisciplinary activities of young whippersnappers. At one of my job interviews for an entry-level tenure-track faculty position, this douchebag kept asking me over and over with an indignant and aggrieved tone in his voice, “So, why are you a member of the Society of Stuff That’s Not At The Obvious Core of My Research Program?” And he simply would not take my answer–that I have performed work in that area, present at the annual meetings, and have been trained in the area–and move on. We spent the entire 30 minutes sparring over whether I was “entitled” to be a member of that scientific society. (I didn’t take a position at that place.)

    (2) When I think “Dexy’s Midnight Runners”, I think of a bunch of British dudes with diarrhea all night.


  18. This conversation belatedly jogs me to remember that I’ve been on two NEH summer seminars, both led by English professors and both heavily skewed toward junior, mid-career, and senior participants who were literary scholars, but also with some historians. And they were incredibly refreshing and no turf tensions at all. They were an ocean and half a continent apart and a good part of a decade apart. One was very explicitly archival and evidence-based, and in fact about the nature of evidence. The other was arranged around key texts and access to a high-end library. On the first one, especially, it was amazingly enjoyable to be a disciplinary minority, not to be expected to know (much less to have a position on) the big names and key terms, not to know what “AY-SEX” was, and to be go-to for archival tips. In the mornings we argued about close-read texts and in the afternoons we stormed the archives. At night we hit the pubs and theatres. What was not to like? I think interdisciplinarity may work best when there’s no presumption of long term transformation or triumph, but just an opportunity to step out of the usual line of perspective for a period of time. Federal dollars at work is also a constructive component, but don’t tell John Bonehead (R-OH).

    I also had a chance to work with a team of archaeologists on an early public history project, and that was very good as well. Trash talk was about actual trash, which was news to me.


  19. Eileen, this is a win-win situation. Publishing an article in your discipline may help get you known, and publishing an article in a related discipline shows your breadth. When someone comes up for tenure, I’ve seen publishing in several disciplines spun positively much more than I’ve seen it spun negatively. And publishing when you’re a grad student is a Good Thing, period.

    As to what makes a prestigious journal: in some fields there is actually an “impact factor” for each journal, based on the average number of times each article in it is cited. In History and Archeology it is much fuzzier. Talk to as many people as you can for their suggestions as to specific journals. In general, without knowing your subfield, I’d say that the journals that cover a whole discipline or subdiscipline, and therefore include a wider range of work, are considered more prestigious than ones that have a narrower ambit. The journal of a national society is more prestigious than the journal of a regional society.


  20. I’m late to the discussion, but I’m intrigued by the sense of tension between fields. I was trained when we read anthropology and sociology, but for 20+ years have been in various conversations with lit scholars. I’ve come to appreciate that while we think about similar texts, and related questions, our fundamental questions are different. That’s true even for historically oriented literary critics whose work I admire greatly. I have also once or twice heard lit scholars put down social historians because we deal with minuotiae (as opposed to cultural historians who deal with the BIG questions.) I think our different questions lead to moments of frustrating mutual incomprehension, which is probably a source of the trash talk.

    And Dr. C, once I was at dinner with an Eminent Literary Historian (ELH) and she argued that historians did indeed need to learn about nuanced reading from literary critics. I wonder, though, if that has to do with her theoretical position as opposed to yours…

    Anyway, right now I’m right where I want to be in a group with the lit people AND the anthropologists. And I think Eileen publishing in archeology is not an issue at all, since archeology is so historically oriented…


  21. Late to the conversation but this is right up two of my alleys. My work (in the physical sciences) spans several disciplines, and the ones that top the list are not the one in which I took my primary training and where I now find myself tenured. I was hired for a particular skill set rather than the subject area of my work. Despite all of this, I am in many ways a traditionalist and maintain a firm hold on my disciplinary roots.

    I do believe that my strong disciplinary foundation is what makes me good at what I do, regardless of the focus in a particular project because it gives me a framework in which to approach a problem. It can be a good thing to say look, I went off and did this project in CRD but I brought my disciplinary sensibility to it and that made the work better (unless of course you are applying for a job in the department of CRD).

    I also have considerable journal editorial experience in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts. Historiann’s suggestion to send a short inquiry to an editor at a potential journal is excellent. Editors know what they are looking to publish and if they’ve been at the job for a while, know how their reviewers are likely to receive a manuscript.


  22. I have a kind of related question to this- recently I saw a job advertised in ‘English Studies’ looking at the exact period and literature which I engage with as cultural historian. Do I apply? Or, is what matters less shared sources and instead methodology- and for that matter, is there is a huge difference between the cultural history and literary studies?


  23. Feminist Avatar – If the job’s in English, it’s likely in the ad that they require a PhD in English. And even if it’s not in the ad, it’s entirely likely that the accrediting agency demands a PhD in English, or 18 hours of grad course work in English as a minimum. And even if neither of those two things are true, English is so glutted that we just don’t have to consider people with out-of-discipline degrees. If you’d applied for the search I was on this year, your application would have ended up in the recycling bin immediately, however great you are.

    (Also, I would say that yes, there is a difference between cultural history and literary studies, most notably that not all literary analysis is historical and that not all literary analysis examines any cultural documents other than literature and the criticism of literature and the theory of literature. It’s true: literary studies is its own discipline. And further, it’s already glutted beyond glutted, so people out of discipline have little to no chance of ever being hired within it. Heck, people IN discipline don’t have a great chance of being hired within it.)


  24. Dr Crazy- that was my feeling- in terms of the huge competition in your own field in this market without crossing into another- but I was intrigued by the fact the job ad did not specify what subject the PhD should be in and that I would otherwise have been perfect (in terms of dealing with the literature they wanted taught)!


  25. So as an historical archaeologist (a CRDer?)I’d recommend looking into Public History or International Journal of Historical Archaeology as potential homes for your article (depending a little bit on the time period of your collection). The latter journal is both well known and very broad in the way it thinks about the boundaries of history and historical archaeology. (I just got an article accepted there, and the editor is very nice).

    I have an alternative question, though, about publishing in other fields. I don’t wish I was in a different field. I’ve decided to stop worrying about publishing outside my field since it seems to me that my chances of getting an academic job after my current postdoc ends are very small, and so I figure I might as well enjoy what I like about academia as long as I have it, which is access to lots of cool information and the ability to do research. On the other hand, I sometimes have the niggly feeling that I’m actually burning my bridges in perhaps a stupid way?


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