C0-editing a special issue

Words cannot quite express how excited I am that the special issue that I worked on over the past couple of years is now published (http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rwhr20/25/1) – and that a print copy of the entire issue arrived just the other day!

Words also cannot express how very grateful I was for this opportunity. What happened in this case was that June Purvis, the editor of Women’s History Review heard about a symposium on Constance Maynard that we were putting on at Queen Mary (University of London), and, because she thought it might make a good special issue, got in touch. It was also thanks to Thomas Dixon and Nadia Valman at QMUL that I was involved in the symposium at all. And it was thanks to the patience and assistance of Sue Morgan (the deputy editor at WHR, and a speaker at our symposium) that we got through the editing process!

In many ways this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Writing my article and responding to peer review might have been the easiest part. Harder was choosing people to invite to contribute; ensuring the article topics worked together; working out what to do when people dropped out; finding and managing peer reviewers; and being diplomatic if contributors got harsh peer reviews, or missed their deadlines and didn’t get back to us…

The most enjoyable challenge was co-writing the introduction. Having just finished the solitary experience that can be a PhD, it was great to get together with other people to plan a piece of writing. I was lucky in my co-editors and we had a truly collaborative experience. I only thought afterwards about how awful it might have been had we not all agreed on our vision for the special issue, and appreciated the different perspectives and approaches that we each brought to the project.

Here are some of the things I learnt about editing a special issue:

Reasons editing a special issue is an amazing experience:

  • You get to commission articles on things that really interest you.
  • You get to read the latest research as it is developing, before anyone else.
  • You get to work with some really great editors of journals, contributors, and peer reviewers.
  • You learn about yourself as a scholar – what sort of work you respect/enjoy/want to emulate, and what direction you want to take your subject in.
  • You develop the confidence to disagree with other editors, or peer reviewers, and to stand up for your contributors and your vision.

Things that I would do differently next time:

  • Be clearer about the word count from the start – and make people stick to it. I sincerely apologize to all my contributors for making them cut their wonderful essays at the last minute.
  • Think about alternative contributors earlier in the process – not wait for two contributors to drop out before searching for a replacement.

Other advice:

  • Three co-editors is probably the perfect number. We could split out the work evenly, each keeping up with our own pet contributors and their peer review process – we re-distributed if people dropped out or if our personal work loads had changed – but we didn’t have too many competing ideas.
  • Work with people you enjoy. Despite the stresses of putting together a special issue, we had fun, especially when we had to continue our editorial meetings via Skype when I moved away. There’s nothing quite like a cat-on-the-laptop interruption for lightening the mood.

So, all in all, I highly recommend this process to others. If you would like to access the result of our hard work, it’s available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rwhr20/25/1

(Most of the articles are only accessible from a library that subscribes to the journal, although if you scroll down you will find that Lesley Hall’s article on same-sex relationships in inter-war Britain is available to download for free.)

You can download a free copy of our introduction here (limited number of copies): http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/XstCSIUXdnfr55tBVHDy/full

And a free copy of my article here (limited number of copies): http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/vSigHhuGVGIjXARWTBum/full



Special issue of WHR – ‘Love, Desire and Melancholy: inspired by Constance Maynard’

I’m immensely excited and proud to announce that the special issue I co-edited with Elsa Richardson and Jane Mackelworth was published last week!

Review (2)

The special issue was initially based on the Constance Maynard Symposium we hosted at Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL) with QMUL Archives and the QMUL Centre for the History of Emotions, to mark the completion of the digitisation of Constance Maynard’s autobiographical writings. Maynard’s diaries and unpublished biography provide fascinating material for historians of women’s sexuality; she wrote in detail about her relationships with other women teachers and students. The symposium therefore did not solely focus on Maynard, but considered the wider question of how love is related to history, culture and religion. It also encouraged interdisciplinarity, through welcoming how the approaches of art history, literary studies, architecture studies and life writing could all contribute to understanding Maynard and the history of women’s sexuality.

When it came to editing a special issue for Women’s History Review we wanted to retain this wider focus and interdisciplinary approach.

The special issue starts with an introduction providing: an introduction to Constance Maynard, considering how she was both exceptional and representative of women of her time and background; a summary of the symposium; and a survey of directions women’s history has taken concerning women’s understanding of their sexuality and sexual identities through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Part 1 of the special issue includes articles that touch directly on Maynard’s life and writings. Pauline Phipps’s article reflects on her experience writing the biography of Constance Maynard (available to buy here).

My article then discusses the representations of women’s intimate relationships in religious literature of Maynard’s time, and how Maynard wrote about her relationships with women using the tropes of this culture. In her article, Naomi Lloyd continues this consideration of how Maynard’s religion interacted with her sexuality, but adds a discussion of how colonialist discourses of space also helped to shape Constance Maynard’s erotic imagination. Elisabeth Jay’s article then considers how an appreciation of the genre of spiritual autobiography can add to our understanding of Maynard’s life writing.

Lorraine Screene, the archivist responsible for the digitisation of Maynard’s writings, contributes an article that considers how archival materials can reveal the interaction of religion and education at Westfield College. And Lisa C. Robertson’s article explores how architecture and other structures challenged the domestic model of the college and impacted women students’ experiences.

Part 2 includes articles that extend discussion of the themes of the special issue into the twentieth century, and includes both a review essay and a reflective essay on these themes.

The section starts with an open-access article by Lesley Hall, which examines the cultural representations of women’s friendship in the early twentieth century, identifying a complex interplay between the tropes of female friendship represented in literature, letters, life writing, and also in sexological, medical and psychological texts by women.

Alison Twells’s article develops a new method for reading the ‘ordinary diary’ as she finds evidence of the formation and expression of heterosexual desire in a woman’s Second-World-War diary.

Our review essay, by Elsa Richardson, considers Laura Doan’s recent book Disturbing Practices (available to buy here), how it develops her influential work on the history of women’s sexuality, and how it might inform readings of the Maynard archive.

Finally, our reflective essay, provided by Carol Mavor, demonstrates how poetic interpretations of nineteenth-century art and photography might enable different strategies for women’s historians to get closer to the experience of a given culture’s narratives and values.

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You can access the special issue here (to gain access to the full text versions of most of the articles you will need your library to have subscribed to Women’s History Review).

You can access (limited) printable copies of my article here.

And (limited) printable copies of the introduction, co-authored by Jane Mackelworth, Elsa Richardson and myself, here.