Sharing the News about New York History

Signed contracts, a press release, a day and time for an announcement all of the pieces were in place to go public with the news. Cornell University Press was about to tell the world that we would work with the New York State Museum to publish the journal New York History. It was big news. It was exciting. I also had no idea how people would react.

New York History, the journal of record for the history of the Empire State, has been around for a century.

Begun as The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association in 1919, it has been the key publication for historical research about the state. New York History has been the venue where great essays from stellar scholars have appeared across the decades; careers have been launched and critical debates have been engaged in its pages. Accordingly, many people academic historians, public historians, and engaged lay people alike cherish the journal.

It is, in every sense of the term, an institution.

That attachment is a good thing. What would those same people say, however, when they heard of changes to their beloved journal? Would they want everything to stay the same or would they ask to turn back the editorial clock to 1985? I wondered about possible reactions all last Thursday, as I worked the 2018 installment of the Researching New York Conference on the uptown campus of the University of Albany, and anticipated the announcement I would make at the New York State Museum that evening.

Amidst my fretting, my colleagues in this endeavor, State Historian Devin Lander and Chief Curator of History Jennifer Lemak, supported me. It was all going to be well received they said. And I believed them, sort of. A couple of historian friends with whom I quietly shared the news in advance were similarly positive, and I started to think that modest enthusiasm, and not a welter of critical questions, would be the response to the news.

So when I was invited by Susan McCormick, Lecturer in History and Documentary Studies at the University at Albany, to say a few words to the crowd gathered in the Adirondack Hall, I was only a little nervous.

I told the group that the Fenimore Art Museum had passed on the stewardship of New York History to Cornell University Press, and that we would be working with Devin, Jennifer, and staff at the New York State Museum to produce the journal. Jennifer described how the journal would now actively solicit essays on a variety of topics, including public history and museum studies, and how the editorial program would aim to unify the diverse communities of historians, teachers, curators, and archivists engaged with the history of the state. Finally, Devin spoke about details of the editorial work, how the journal would soon appear semi-annually, and that New York History would return to print publication (in addition to its digital dissemination).

There was applause. There were congratulations. My trepidation was wholly unfounded.

The gathering of 50 or so people appreciated the news and were excited about what was to come; by all appearances, they were not just accepting changes in the journal but welcoming them. And that positive response spilled over to email and Twitter as the word got out to the wider historical community in New York State and beyond. I was elated and, yes, relieved.

New York History is in for some change and the community of interested scholars, educators, curators, archivists, and readers is ready for it. As the journal celebrates its centennial in 2019, there is no better time to make this change—appreciating the excellence of the first century and anticipating the next century of publication.

There will be revisions to the journal, and, as the publication develops, I encourage the community to remain interested, appreciative, and engaged.

Now the hard but satisfying work of stewardship and editing begins. I encourage the community interested in the history of New York State to keep cheering us on and, most importantly, working with us in the months and years to come.

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About the writer of this blog post: Michael J. McGandy is Senior Editor and Director of the Three Hills imprint at Cornell University Press.

 

Sharing the News about New York History

Gerri Jones, Professor Cleese, and Me

Last summer, Gerri Jones called to tell me that Cornell Professor at Large John Cleese would be coming to Ithaca in September for a week. She told me that she had scheduled me for a public talk with Cleese on September 11th at Bailey Hall that would become the last chapter of the book we were working on together.

Since joining this amazing Press in 2015, moments like this seemed to occur with some regularity. I attended a poetry workshop at Olin Library café with a former leader of the SDS at Cornell, a Nobel Laureate and an A.R. Ammons biographer. Today, I am surrounded by correspondence rejecting Vladimir Nabokov’s novel in verse and a ledger that holds the 1939 pencil-written royalty entries for the publication of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. I am also keenly aware at times of Cornell founder Henry Sage and his wife Susan who initially occupied the mansion where I work. Gerri Jones fit right in as part of an emerging entourage.

A small family of deer mingled outside my window looking in my direction as if waiting for an answer. Surely someone else would want the opportunity to have this conversation. Gerri confirmed that she had cleared it with the Provost’s office, and that the Provost would be introducing us both. I still didn’t believe it was going to happen.

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More than one year after that call and the event that formed the final chapter of Professor at Large: The Cornell Years, Gerri Jones passed away on August 10th, 2018. She was 68. She died from an infection in the hospital while being treated for leukemia.

This mystical and extraordinary woman who first alighted upon the second-floor landing of the Sage House during a folk concert never got to see her book get published. It was Gerri who brought one of the world’s most impressive and hilarious minds to Cornell over a span of seventeen years.

“Start thinking about a plan for the conversation,” she instructed me.

 

As it always was with Gerri, I knew what she meant. Avoid the cliched version of the Professor. Don’t spend a lot of time on Python—which I already knew anyway. If my words didn’t energize Gerri—she became bored and disinterested. She’d make a face. You had to elevate your game to be on the field with her. Those words reverberated in the weeks after the call. I dove into the Cleese canon of books, movies, and television shows. His mind came first. I read the manuscript of lectures and talks over and over.

While studying the Minister of Silly Walks, I recalled Gerri’s return to Sage House after the folk concert wearing knee-length boots and John Lennon shades. She carried a white shopping bag of Cleese talks and lectures on CDs. She told us about the never before published lecture entitled “The Sermon at Sage Chapel” that included a passage about “The Psychopaths for Christ.”

I received word of her passing and attended her funeral. She was supposed to be in remission now.

Through her friends, I came to discover that this whole episode was another glorious chapter in the amazing life of Gerri Jones. She could tilt the universe in any direction. She brought the Dalai Lama to Ithaca twice as the house mother to the Tibetan monks. She carried Kurt Cobain’s ashes back to Courtney Love after the monks had prepared them. She had even used one set as a door stop. She broke Reagan’s blockade of Nicaragua. She was the pride of Central Islip High on Long Island. To everyone there, she was simply “Ger.”

She loved Mardi Gras, dogs and Professor Cleese fiercely. They trusted each other and their chemistry was telepathic. She engineered a schedule that both challenged and protected him and left him with enough space to be creative. “I can’t read him,” he told Gerri during our second meeting after trying to discern the meaning of my facial expression. I can tell you that in that moment I felt absolute joy. My preparation for the talk had been rigorous and thorough. Professor Cleese had been talking about the brain and I leaned back in my chair and smiled. Yes, I had a little secret. I had known exactly what he was going to say before the words came out but I didn’t want to tell him that in the aftermath. Getting to know John Cleese is like learning how to play guitar. The chord structures are accessible, but they merely serve as a launch pad into an endless galaxy of improvisation.

I was ready for the public conversation and had enough confidence in his presence to suggest how the show was going to begin. After nearly falling off the chair with laughter, he agreed. Until now, Gerri was the only one I told this to in the hallway after we left Cleese that day. She and I have other secrets related to the book. Those we will keep. She swore me to it.

“We make a good team, don’t we?” She pinched my arm.

GERRI
Photo courtesy of Slade Kennedy.

 

About the author of this blog post: Dean Smith is the Director of Cornell University Press.

Gerri Jones, Professor Cleese, and Me

Adventures in #Acquisitioning: AAUP 2017

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Austin via South Congress, complete with guitar-playing cowboy (right)

By Bethany Wasik

Two months ago, for the second consecutive year, I represented Cornell University Press at the AAUP Annual Meeting. The discussion panels, networking opportunities, and ambient air temperatures in Austin, TX, were extremely positive experiences.

First, who am I and why did I trek all the way to Austin?

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Bethany Wasik

I have been an acquisitions assistant at Cornell University Press for approximately two years, recently making the transition to assistant editor. I landed here after receiving a Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics studying beetle horn development from Indiana University and completing two postdoctoral appointments researching butterfly wing patterning at Yale and Cornell Universities (true story). As my second postdoctoral appointment came to an end, I realized my passion was with editing and publishing rather than bench work. I had the experience to justify such a switch, having published my research in several academic journals (still ongoing!), edited and peer reviewed manuscripts on a regular basis, helped students and lab mates with their writing, and composed grants for my own funding. Thus, unbeknownst to me, I was already performing some tasks of an academic editor even before walking through the Cornell University Press lobby. Continue reading “Adventures in #Acquisitioning: AAUP 2017”

Adventures in #Acquisitioning: AAUP 2017