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