Big history is making a comeback in the subfield of early American history. Or perhaps I should say that bigger history is once again of interest to scholars and, as an acquisitions editor, I am seeing exemplary work that shows what can be accomplished when one takes on the challenge of offering a more grand and sweeping account of events.
The contrast here is with the more fine-grained, local, and sometimes fragmentary work that came to the fore in the decades-long rise of social and cultural history. Rightfully weary of the big histories of famous men, military conflicts, and affairs of state, historians turned to the particularities of events and personal experience. In so doing they did scholars and lay readers alike a great service by putting us in contact with the daily and intimate aspects of history (often using diaries and court records), the experience of lesser-known historical actors (often women and people of color), and informal practices that structured experience (often unregulated markets, social networks, and resistance movements). And, as a result, today no one can do legitimate research and write meaningful narratives while overlooking these rich dimensions of historical experience. Continue reading “Outbox: Trends in the History of Early New York”→
My colleagues and I at Cornell University Press were saddened to learn that Susan Christopherson, Professor and Chair of City and Regional Planning at Cornell, died on Wednesday, December 14. In the obituary posted on the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning website, her faculty colleagues celebrate her excellent research and writing, her commitment to equity in our communities, and her tireless work as an administrator, teacher, and mentor. At the Press my colleagues and I saw those qualities of mind and character displayed in her role as a fair and exacting referee on book manuscripts. My predecessor, Peter Wissoker, and I benefited greatly from her dedication to supporting projects that brought theoretical innovation to grounded research as we built a list of titles in that melded political economy approaches to geography with urban studies. Susan was an indispensable and savvy critic, and a champion of worthy projects in the rough that needed just a little more editorial attention. When my energy flagged on a book she cared about, Susan would jump in and revive the project and push both editor and author to work a bit harder. I cannot imagine a better partnership between editor and faculty member. Susan will be missed be me and by my future authors.
Michael McGandy is a Senior Editor at Cornell University Press.
Book editors are notorious for having too much to read and edit, running behind schedule, and, generally, holding up brilliant work that should have been published yesterday. Whether we are seen as imperious gatekeepers whose ways remain hidden behind in-house processes or as antiquated bureaucrats dithering at our desks, there is a general sense that authors as well as readers are unfairly beholden to our jam-packed schedules.
There is some truth to those assessments, of course. And of late I have been keenly aware of these critical (and sometimes contemptuous) evaluations of the work of editors. Coming back to my desk after six weeks of personal leave, and facing hundreds of emails and tens of overdue commitments, has reminded me of how many people are waiting, some patiently and some less so, on word from me about their book projects.
There is a sense of timeliness that is about the inherent quality of the work—the time a work needs and not what the events of our times might mean for its reception and relevance.
I have also been reflecting on the whole idea of the timeliness of books and the time that it takes to make books, particularly excellent books. Recent political events have turned over lots of publishing ideas with once-important books fated for irrelevancy on their first day of sale on Amazon, and editors and authors chasing after the new hot topic associated with the Trump presidency. Timeliness is, indeed, fickle. Continue reading “Outbox: What makes a book timely?”→