‘New Historical Perspectives’ (NHP) is our new Open Access book series for Early Career Researchers, a partnership between the RHS and the Institute of Historical Research. As the first tranche of finished manuscripts begins to arrive, Penny Summerfield – one of the series’ editorial convenors – reflects on the formation of NHP and its work to create a new list of OA monographs.
‘New Historical Perspectives’ was launched in April 2016, with Professor Simon Newman and myself as co-editors, as an Open Access publishing venture under the joint auspices of the RHS and IHR and with support from Economic History Society and Past and Present. The Editorial Board (EB), characterized by equal numbers of men and women and a diverse range of expertise, was in place by June 2016. We had no idea whether the idea of Open Access publishing would appeal to the early career researchers (ECRs) we wanted to attract. RHS had agreed that they should be within ten years of receiving their PhDs from British or Irish universities.
Helped by the Publishing Workshops organized by Jonathan Newbury from IHR, we have received 23 proposals since June 2016. Eleven of these have been accepted, following scrutiny by the editors and Editorial Board members and rigorous peer review by leading experts in their specific fields. Eight of the successful proposals are for monographs, three are edited collections. The series is not themed, and its openness in terms of subject matter and chronology has brought in proposals relating to periods from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries and topics as varied as medieval scholasticism, and masculinity and danger on the Grand Tour.
NHP offers an opportunity to rewrite a PhD thesis for publication, and this has evident appeal to authors, especially in view of the negativity of some publishers towards theses. Our view is that some of the most creative and thoroughly researched work is invested in PhDs, which are often the source of the ‘new perspectives’ we wish to encourage. However, every PhD thesis needs development before it can become a useful and readable book. The comments of EB members, and the often quite lengthy reports of peer reviewers, are an essential part of that process, as are the Author Workshops that we offer each of our authors.
These workshops involve two or more experts in the field, plus an EB member and one of the Co-Editors, meeting with the author for half a day to discuss a near-to-final draft. We have held four such workshops so far and the feedback from authors has borne out our initial hunch that in-depth conversations about a book in preparation are extremely useful to novice monograph authors, probably more so than further written reports. The experts who have agreed to join the workshops have given really valuable service, and, like the authors, they seem to have enjoyed the experience. We ask for finalized manuscripts to come in within about six months of a workshop, and so far we are just about on target, with the first four titles due out in Spring/Summer 2019.
On publication each NHP title will be appear on the IHR’s Open Access books platform, with copies of the work available as OA downloads, eBooks and in hard and paperback formats. As with current IHR publications, each New Historical Perspectives title will also feature on JSTOR’s OA books platform, increasing discoverability and the option to access and share a book at the chapter level.
We are open to non-standard forms of publication, such as short-form works, and also to proposals for edited collections of essays. In this case the lead editor and at least half the contributors need to be ECRs, but they may work with more experienced historians. We have accepted three edited collections on condition that they are thematically coherent and characterized by a rigorous approach to the editing process. Editors of such collections do not get an Author Workshop – which would become a major conference-style event if all the contributors were to be involved – but the complete manuscript is of course subject to peer review.
Simon Newman moved on in June 2018, after sterling service, to be replaced by Jane Winters who, as professor of digital humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has particularly relevant expertise in Open Access publishing. The Editorial Board is composed of admirably committed members whose scrutiny of proposals and reports, care of authors, and input to shaping the series, is invaluable.
My term of office ends in Spring 2019 and I’ll use this opportunity to say how interesting and satisfying the role of co-editor of NHP is, in the hope that this will encourage potential successors!
Professor Penny Summerfield
Co-editor, New Historical Perspectives
University of Manchester