In this final post of 2021 we mark five years since the creation of New Historical Perspectives, the Society’s Open Access book series for early career historians. The NHP Series and its distinctive publishing model was created in 2016 under its first co-editors, Professors Simon Newman and Penny Summerfield, and in tandem with our publishing partners – the Institute of Historical Research and University of London Press.
The aim of the NHP series is twofold. To offer early career historians a way of publishing a first (or second) monograph or edited collection Open Access without themselves paying the book processing costs. And, second, to provide early career authors with as much support as possible as they turn their contracted proposal into a published book. NHP therefore provides each author with an academic mentor (from the editorial board) to advise and guide during the writing phase; and a workshop at which subject specialists meet with the author to discuss a complete first draft of the book prior to its final revision and submission for publication.
New Historical Perspectives currently publishes five new books a year, with its tenth title appearing in November 2021. November also saw the 50,000th online download of work in the series. In this post we invite four people involved with the Series – two series editors (past and present), a publisher and an author – to comment on their experience of NHP between 2016 and 2021. We begin with the modern historian, Professor Penny Summerfield, who helped design and launch the series in 2016.
I: Professor Penny Summerfield, the founding series editor …
The idea for New Historical Perspectives (NHP) grew out of discussion in 2015 on the way forward for Royal Historical Society publications. Several of us were keen to embrace Open Access, for books as well as articles, and Simon Newman, then chair of the RHS Publications Committee, led the way. Our new model would comply with future research assessment requirements but, more importantly in many of our minds, would provide a route to Open Access that would not cost authors thousands of pounds, and that would make their books globally available free of charge. As one scholar of African history pointed out, even if access to computers is limited in many countries, phones and tablets are widely distributed. From an author’s point of view, whereas one might sell 400 to 500 copies at best of a monograph in its entire lifetime, with OA one can expect thousands of downloads per year.
The Society and Institute of Historical Research established a publishing partnership, overseen by the RHS President at the time, Professor Peter Mandler. NHP gained generous external funding (to design and build a publishing platform, and to employ staff to get the project off the ground), together with additional start-up support from the Past & Present Society and Economic History Society. The RHS and IHR assumed the production costs, and the books (starting in October 2019) are published by the University of London Press.
We were keen from the outset to benefit Early Career Researchers, that is (for NHP purposes) historians within 10 years of getting their PhD from a British or Irish university. We wanted to provide an opportunity, now increasingly rare in UK academic publishing, for early career historians to develop excellent PhD theses as attractive monographs, as well as to encourage a variety of formats. These include short- or long-form works as well as edited collections which would see early career scholars working in tandem with more established colleagues (recent examples of these collaborations include Church and People, Precarious Professionals and The Politics of Women’s Suffrage – all of which were published this year).
In creating the NHP series we also wanted to make the publishing experience a positive one. Author Workshops are conversations between specialists and colleagues which seek to make a good manuscript an even better book.
In creating the NHP series we also wanted to make the publishing experience a positive one. In addition to filtering proposals through an NHP editorial board, and sending proposals for peer review, from the start we provided contracted authors with a ‘mentor’ from the board, plus an author workshop held once a good first draft was in place. At the workshop two external readers chosen by the author – along with the series editor, the editorial board contact, and the author – spend half a day discussing the book manuscript. This is not, as we remind authors, a ‘second viva’. Rather it’s a conversation between specialists and colleagues which seeks to make a good manuscript an even better book. It’s a return to earlier forms of scholarly publishing in which authors, subject specialists and publishers work together to develop a project to create the best possible book.
We remain convinced that this is a more constructive approach than simply sending an author anonymised report. The author workshop has become a key stage in the publishing process, and we’re very grateful to all those who’ve given time and advice to support early career historians in their field.
In addition to workshops for contracted authors, the Series also runs a programme of training seminars on academic publishing for historians looking to write a first article or book. Again, the aim is to make the process a positive one, and also to ‘demystify’ publishing as much as we can. Since 2018 the RHS and the IHR have run regular sessions of this kind, first in person and now online – including the Society’s recent ‘Getting Published: a guide to first articles and journal publishing’.
During my three years as NHP series co-editor (working with my colleague Simon Newman), it was invigorating to see the series take off. By the end of 2019, we had received 28 submissions, commissioned 12 books, and seen the publication of the first NHP title: The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53 by Edward Owens, from whom you can read more below.
Professor Penny Summerfield FBA was a founding editor of New Historical Perspectives, with Simon Newman, 2016-19.
II: Professor Heather Shore, the current series co-editor …
I took over from Penny as one of the NHP co-editors in late 2019, and remain in post working now with Professor Elizabeth Hurren (Leicester) as my co-editor. Interest and engagement with the series quickened following publication of the first books in the series, beginning with Edward Owens’ The Family Firm, a study of monarchy and media in mid-century Britain. It helped greatly that potential authors could now see the books appearing, and better understand the combination of print and Open Access publishing formats that the NHP offers.
As with the editorial process described above, these dual formats seek to combine established and newer publishing models: each NHP title therefore appears in paperback and hardback print (with prices typically capped at £25 to £45 for print and hardback respectively), as well as eBook and Open Access via the University Press’s bespoke publishing platform and JSTOR Open Access. JSTOR also enables chapter-by-chapter download, which is especially valuable when selecting relevant content from a monograph of collection for reading lists.
In the first two years of publishing books (to November 2021), copies of NHP titles have been dowloaded 53,000 times and in 190 countries, which far exceeds print sales in the low hundreds for traditional monograph publishing.
Now that NHP is up and running, it’s easy to forget just what a significant step our first authors were taking: assigning their valuable PhD research to a new series and an original publishing format. We were – and remain – very impressed by the willingness of our first-time authors to choose this new option, and we sincerely hope they’re pleased with the decision they took and the outcomes in terms of print copies and online downloads. For the latter the numbers have exceeded our expectations. In the first two years of publishing books (to November 2021), copies of NHP titles have been dowloaded 53,000 times and in 190 countries, which far exceeds print sales in the low hundreds for traditional monograph publishing.
One striking feature of my editorship has been the breadth of the first ten books: medieval scholasticism, the mid-seventeenth-century church, Hanoverian grand tours, grass-roots suffrage activism, professional life and precarity, early twentieth-century military logistics, the political Left in inter-war Spain, and post-war cinema-going and deindustrialization in Scotland, Forthcoming titles in early 2022 include Charlotte Berry’s The Margins of Late Medieval London, 1430-1540, a first study of London’s urban fringe, and Sara Fox’s Giving Birth in Eighteenth-Century England. Recently commissioned projects include a growing range of titles in fields such as global history, and histories of North America and the West Indies. Current and future NHP authors will be supported by a series of new appointments to the editorial board, to be announced in early 2022.
Finally, it’s very pleasing to note that our books are also receiving scholarly and media attention. They’ve been widely and positively reviewed (including in the London Review of Books), and three of them have recently been nominated for book prizes – Sarah Goldsmith’s Masculinity and Danger on the Eighteenth-Century Grand Tour (2020) for the Whitfield Book Prize; Christopher Phillips’ Civilian Specialists at War: Britain’s Transport Experts and the First World War (2020) for the Templar Book Prize; and Ewan Gibbs’ Coal Country. The Meaning and Memory of Deindustrialization in Postwar Scotland for the 2021 Saltire Society Best History Book. We are delighted to see our books making an impact and very much look forward to continuing to offer a positive experience early career historians.
Professor Heather Shore (Manchester Metropolitan University) is the current series co-editor of New Historical Perspectives
III: Lauren De’ath, the publisher …
In 2016, in the context of heated discussions over scholarly publishing and Open Access, the Royal Historical Society came together with the Institute of Historical Research and University of London Press to design a new digital-first publishing programme to cater for early career researchers entering the academic profession. The resulting New Historical Perspectives promoted Open Access (OA) formats as a core part of its publishing output. At the time, OA was still seen as a little novel; faddish, even. Little did we know how critical it would become.
In October 2019 we published the first title in the series: The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public by Dr Edward Owens. Early book sales and downloads performed well; clocking up some 2000 downloads in three months, and with readers in Ethiopia, Iran and South Korea. This steady start shifted gear in Spring 2020 when, with the start of the Covid pandemic – and the resulting move to remote teaching and resource access, many more students and lecturers turned to accessible online publications. In response, the Press launched a #FreeReadsFriday initiative that unlocked backlist titles alongside our newer NHP books. Site traffic jumped 300% and ‘Open Access’ became our most prominent search term. In the period since, the Press has secured more than 500,000 downloads across all its titles, with New Historical Perspectives a leading series in this rapid turn to online access.
New Historical Perspectives books start and frame conversations. Since 2020 NHP titles and authors have featured in a growing range of publications – from The Daily Telegraph to Oprah.com.
2020-21 was also characterised by calls on new NHP authors to comment on the historical content of current events. For the British royal family, 2020-21 (as for many) proved to be an annus horribilis; from the fateful Oprah interview to the death of Prince Philip. In that time, Family Firm author Edward Owens has contributed more than 30 interviews with mainstream media and press including CNN, BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Most recently, he recorded Netflix’s excellent Vox Explained episode on Royalty, speaking about research from his book. Similarly, in March 2020 Sam Manning — author of Cinemas and Cinema-Going in the United Kingdom — used his timely research on the 1918 influenza epidemic to help us better understand community responses to disease outbreak. Meanwhile Sarah Goldsmith, author of Masculinity and Danger on the Eighteenth-Century Grand Tour has commented on parallels between the Grand Tour and current trends for mobile-home living. Our books start and frame conversations.
Since 2020 NHP titles and authors have featured in a growing range of publications: The Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent, London Review of Books, Scotland’s Sunday National, The Morning Star and Oprah.com. Our authors have had speaking engagements on the BBC and CNN and been featured on Netflix, radio, podcasts and in think-pieces for The Conversation, Talking Humanities and History Matters. We have watched our authors’ academic (and non-academic!) careers develop following publication, as they win prizes and teaching awards. We have fostered a very generous community of authors who cross-promote one another’s titles on release and advocate for each other on social media. It’s been heartening to watch the series develop and grow organically in this way, and I am proud to work alongside such kind, dedicated and talented people.
In the coming year, the Press will launch a new website with Manifold that will allow authors to curate a moving digital book that incorporates ‘live’ resources.
Along with the next set of NHP titles, 2022 also sees new developments in online publishing formats. Just as our thinking in 2016 was partly experimental (was there a readership for Open Access monographs?; would authors be interested in publishing in this new format?), so in the early 2020s we’re continuing to speculate on future forms of online publishing. In the coming year, the Press will launch a new website with Manifold that will allow authors to curate a moving digital book that incorporates ‘live’ resources such as image galleries, data stores, YouTube clips, and oral history interviews into and alongside the text. The full implication of UKRI’s recent announcement on Open Access monographs will also need careful assessment and will likely see a growth in born-digital monographs akin to the NHP model. Let’s see where the next five years takes us!
Lauren De’ath is Sales and Marketing Manager for the NHP series at University of London Press
IV: Dr Edward Owens, the author …
It was a pleasure publishing my first book, The Family Firm, in the New Historical Perspectives series. I was drawn to this initiative because of its ambition to release all titles as Open Access books from the outset. As an early career historian, the most important thing for me was that my research be accessible to anyone who was interested in reading it. I knew that my work was more likely to have an impact if it was available as widely as possible. In the two years since its publication, the online edition of my book has been downloaded on 18,300 occasions.
The process for submitting the original proposal made me think critically about how the monograph could build on my doctorate, and how I should frame my research in relation to the wider body of published history on the monarchy. The feedback I received from the readers of the proposal gave me ideas for how I could develop a new chapter for the book. Penny Summerfield and Simon Newman, the NHP series’ editors, were supportive as well; helping me interpret the readers’ comments in order to establish a realisable set of aims, which I could then apply to complete a full draft of the book.
Professor Richard Toye (Exeter) was nominated by the editors as my mentor and contact person and kept the board updated with my progress. Richard gave me good advice when I found that completing the new chapter on the Second World War was taking longer than anticipated. Together with my dedicated series editor Penny Summerfield, we planned ahead and adjusted my final deadline accordingly. Finally, almost exactly one year after I had received the readers’ comments on the original proposal, I submitted a full manuscript.
The workshop helped to bring into focus the ‘USPs’ of my research and led to significant redrafting of the introduction and conclusion.
Next came the author workshop – something that sets apart the NHP series from other publishing initiatives. It was a crucial stage in shaping the book’s evolution. I recall being nervous before meeting my readers, Professors Jo Fox (London) and Adrian Bingham (Sheffield), who, like Richard and Penny, are leading experts in modern media history. All four were extremely supportive. They had carefully read the manuscript and, over the course of a day, we dissected its strengths and weaknesses. We also developed the plan I would follow in order to rework sections of the book. The workshop helped to bring into focus the ‘USPs’ of my research and led to significant redrafting of the introduction and conclusion.
Over the course of six months I completed the redrafting as agreed and submitted the final book manuscript in spring 2019, exactly two years after I had sent off my original proposal. At this point the University Press team began the production phase, which included cover design and marketing preparation with Lauren De’ath. The Press also helped with the administrative work involved in securing image rights (often more challenging for an Open access text) and with the proofing and indexing of the manuscript. Advice was also available on the terms and meaning of Open Access, along with recommendations on the form of licence I should attach to my book – so determining the ways that readers could cite and use my work. Then, at last, The Family Firm was published – simultaneously as a hardback, paperback and as a downloadable PDF – in October 2019. This was one of the happiest moments of my career to date.
This, however, was not the end of our collaboration. The RHS, IHR and University Press helped enormously with the marketing and publicity for the book. I wrote a series of blog posts for Talking Humanities linking the historical trends identified in The Family Firm to current royal events. The Institute also played host to the book’s official launch event in February 2020 which, fortunately, took place just before Europe descended into lockdown with the Covid-19 pandemic.
For this event, we arranged a panel-based discussion where I was joined by two other historians who have written about the monarchy, Professors Heather Jones (UCL) and Philip Williamson (Durham). In front of a large audience at Senate House, we discussed a number of the book’s themes, including the challenges of researching the history of the royal family and what the future of the monarchy might look like. It was an excellent opportunity to explore The Family Firm’s arguments and respond to questions from those present. Since then book launches and panel discussions have become an important part of launching and debating new titles in the series.
I realise how much I have learnt about the writing and publishing process as a result of my partnership with New Historical Perspectives.
Now that I’m preparing my second book I realise how much I have learnt about the writing and publishing process as a result of my partnership with New Historical Perspectives. I feel more confident in my ability to produce a full-length monograph because of the feedback, advice and encouragement that I received throughout the months I spent working with NHP. I’m extremely grateful to all those mentioned here and the rest of the team for their help and support throughout the process and I urge all early career historians to consider sending their book proposals to NHP.
Edward Owens’ book, The Family Firm, was the first title published in the New Historical Perspectives series.
More about the New Historical Perspectives series …
Further details of the New Historical Perspectives series are available from the Royal Historical Society. We welcome submissions for new books in the series (monographs and edited collections) from early career historians.
A full listing of NHP titles (including Open Access editions) is available from the University of London Press, from where print orders can also be made. Readers in North America may purchase copies via the University of Chicago Press. Open Access copies and chapter downloads are also available via JSTOR Open Access Books.