One of my predecessors who is also a distinguished student of Spanish colonial viceroys suggested some time ago that each outgoing managing editor should do as the viceroys did and prepare a Relación de Mando for the guidance of his successor and enlightenment of future generations. The idea struck me as a sound one, and the result now follows. It appears in this November 1991 issue, the last to be assembled by the University of Florida editorial team. The formal transfer of responsibility to the new team at Florida International University, headed by Mark Szuchman, occurred on July 1, but the lead time for publication is such that November copy was sent to the press in June.
Service as editor has naturally brought a full share of satisfactions and frustrations. Among the former I must mention first of all the opportunity to become better acquainted with members of the profession with whom I would not have had dealings if they had not been submitting articles or serving on the Board of Editors or helping in some other way to produce the HAHR, which is very far from a one-person operation. Another satisfaction is the sense of power that comes with the job, although this is more than a little misleading. The editor, as keeper of the keys, does have ultimate authority either to accept an essay for publication or to consign it to outer darkness, but unless he is prepared to write the articles himself (or in principle also herself, although the case has not yet arisen) he can only choose among a limited number of options. Where he does have absolute power is over the placement of commas in articles once accepted and the formulation of policy on such matters as capitalization and footnote style. He can even set style policy in violation of the sacrosanct Chicago manual, and no one will stop him; the associate editor and book review editor and members of the Board generally do not want to be bothered with such details.
The flow of manuscripts actually received is presented in Table 1, which covers the first five years of the University of Florida’s custody of HAHR but not the one-year extension made necessary when no other institution was prepared to assume responsibility just when Florida’s term was up. The grand total is 299, which represents a slight decline from the 316 received during the previous five years at the University of New Mexico and an even sharper drop from the 405 at the University of Arizona from 1975 to 1980. The precise reasons for the declining trend are not clear, although two factors that most likely have contributed are the reduced numbers of new Ph. D.s in history being turned out by our universities and the appearance of several new journals, some devoted to particular topical specialties, that provide alternative outlets for scholars’ efforts. In our case, however, the slowest year was the first, when 48 articles were received; after that the general trend was upward. The last year of the quinquenio, from July 1, 1989, to June 30, 1990, saw 70 articles arriving. The year of extension, not included in the table because the books cannot be closed on some articles until well into the following year, brought a moderate decline from that peak—a total of 54 articles submitted. But we still may hope that the trough has been passed. (It must also be noted for the record that if an article, once declined, is re-submitted in substantially revised form it is counted as a new submission even if bearing the same title, whereas those accepted subject to minor reworking are counted only once.)
Ninety-one of the articles were finally accepted, for an acceptance rate of 30%. For articles by professional scholars the rate is higher, since the average is brought down by the occasional article received from an eighth-grade boy whose teacher tells him his term paper is worth getting published or from the amateur historian whose focus is more antiquarian than historical. We have, even so, published a number of articles by graduate students and by others who are not even in the process of getting a doctorate in history. The article flow has been sufficient to fill our four yearly issues. There were merely times, during the first four years of the Florida tenure, when the last article needed for a given issue arrived in its final revised version on the very eve of our having to send copy off to the Duke University Press. Then, about the middle of 1990, we found ourselves suddenly building up a backlog of accepted, revised, and copyedited manuscripts, which relieved the editorial staff of some pressure but also meant that authors could expect a longer wait before their handiwork appeared in print.
The distribution of articles received by geographic, chronological, and thematic focus is also shown in the table. It has been relatively stable from year to year, except perhaps for the bursting of the Central America boom. During 1988–89 we received as many articles (four) on Guatemala as on Argentina (for which it happened to be a slow year). The year after that, Guatemala was down to two, and during 1990–91 to only one. The actual distribution, whether by topical emphasis or by style and method, is not, of course, what the editor would necessarily like to see. I would personally have preferred more articles on Colombia and Venezuela, even at the expense of Argentina and Guatemala; more on the national period at the expense of the colonial; and more wide-ranging think-pieces as against reworked dissertation chapters. As already noted, however, the content of the journal is mainly determined by what people spontaneously submit for publication. The editorial staff can control the outcome only to a minor extent, by tightening the acceptance standards for articles on seemingly overworked topics or by actually soliciting articles in some cases from other historians. I once had the pleasant surprise of seeing such a solicited article win the Robertson Prize for best-of-the-year in HAHR. But solicitation is a tricky business, as the manuscript must still go through the standard review process, including approval by external referees. One thus has to be pretty sure that the solicited article will have no trouble with referees, lest one end up in the embarrassing position of having to decline the very article requested. Still another hazard in the solicitation process is that people who agree to produce articles do not always deliver, as happened more than once.
Although the contents of the journal broadly reflect the interests of the scholars submitting articles, they do not as faithfully reflect what scholars generally are doing in the field. One reason is that a disproportionate number of articles are submitted by new Ph. D.s, eager to get at least something into print pending the time when with luck they will publish the entire dissertation. The conventional term “dissertation chapter” for such articles is not quite fair, since they often bring together material from more than one chapter and combine tidbits of newer research too. It is eminently desirable, furthermore, to obtain the collaboration of the new blood in our profession; yet articles in this category do have in common a fairly narrow focus on whatever problems the author was working on as a doctoral candidate.
The other two broad categories of articles come primarily from the associate and full professors, established people in the field. One of these consists of recycled ponencias, or conference papers that the authors decide to get further use out of by adapting them for journal publication. The practice is to be encouraged, particularly when these essays involve broad exercises in interpretation: one such thinkpiece-ponencia was among the Robertson Prize winners. Then, finally, there are the articles conceived and written for the precise purpose of submission to a journal. This last category is at least as large as the second, though it also includes most of the strictly amateur productions that are quickly rejected. And, when all is said and done, the senior and midcareer professionals do not submit many articles, presumably because they are too busy preparing their newest monographs, to be read by the HAHR reviewer and it is never entirely clear by how many others. For an article in HAHR, by contrast, the Duke University Press guarantees a paid circulation of 2,229 copies, well in excess of the press run of the typical scholarly monograph.1 To be sure, not all subscribers read the journal from cover to cover (I never did until I became managing editor), but over half that paid circulation consists of library copies, which are rather more likely to be picked up and read by passing students or professors than the monograph that goes immediately to a dark corner in the library stacks.
One change that has occurred in the pattern of submissions—and that contributed to the recovery of the submission rate from its initial low point—is in the number of foreign contributors (see Table 2). For the period as a whole (including the one-year extension), we received 353 articles, of which 99 were from non-U.S. authors. The increasing relative importance of such submissions is suggested by the fact that they amounted to 12.5 out of 48 articles submitted in the 1985–86 editorial year (the half article representing one jointly authored by a U.S. and an Argentine scholar), whereas in 1989–90 they were 26 out of 70. For 1990–91 the figure was 16 out of 53, still a higher proportion than the first year. In the May 1990 issue, only one of five authors carried a U.S. passport. This trend may suggest that domestically produced scholarly articles will eventually go the way of U.S.-made consumer electronics, but it is welcome ratification of HAHR’s international preeminence in Latin American history. From Bangkok to Tel Aviv, from Tandil to Vancouver, historians are thinking of this journal as a place to publish their essays. The professional caliber of the foreign submissions, moreover, is probably higher on average than that of homegrown articles, if only because the school-children and antiquarians in Bangkok and Tandil have not discovered us. On the other hand, slightly fewer foreign articles are accepted, for which one reason is that those by Latin American authors are often too narrowly focused on some one aspect of the history of the author’s own country or else assume too much prior knowledge of that country.
We have, even so, been publishing articles by Latin American authors, and since May 1991 we have been doing so in their own language, unless the article was already submitted in translation. This policy was adopted by the Board of Editors at its 1989 meeting, and I warmly supported the motion even though I did not originate it. I like to think that the great majority of our subscribers do at least know Spanish or, if they cannot read it, will be hesitant to admit as much. After all, Spanish today, not English, is the lingua franca of Latin American studies. (Portuguese is also covered by the Board’s policy, but we have not yet had occasion to put that part to the test.) Publishing in the original also spares the editor the terrible headache of getting good translations, as we do not have the funds to hire a Gregory Rabassa. Whether the possibility of seeing things published in their own language will encourage more Latin Americans to send us articles is, however, a very different matter, since those who turn to an English-language journal commonly hope thereby to reach even the laggards who have not yet learned Spanish or Portuguese. So, conceivably, subsequent editors may want to reexamine this entire question.
As Table 2 reveals, far and away the largest contingent of foreign authors is the Argentine, which no doubt tells us something about the problems of the historical profession in that country in recent years. At the very least it reflects the curious lack in Argentina of a journal comparable to, say, Historia Mexicana in which to publish domestically. At almost the other extreme, I regret to observe that we receive so little aid from our immediate neighbors to the north. This cannot be because we discriminate against them, because we do publish Canadian articles, and we have both Canadian and Mexican representation on the Board of Editors and Advisory Editors (all in advance of the North American Common Market).
The HAHR does not live by articles alone. Some years ago it discontinued printing a section of professional news, on the ground that such notices were more appropriate for the Newsletter of the Conference on Latin American History, but it does publish obituaries, recording the unfortunate losses that occur in the ranks of our profession. The latter responsibility is not an easy one to discharge, as there is no completely reliable way to get timely information on the death of other historians, particularly outside the United States. However, the willingness of friends and colleagues to prepare such final tributes caused both gratitude and satisfaction. Then too, we have our correspondence section, in which aggrieved authors of books can reply to reviewers. Above all, we include the book reviews themselves, in which respect I am proud to say that nowhere in the world do you find as many books on Latin American topics reviewed as in the pages of HAHR. For the six years in which the journal was based at Florida, we published reviews of 1,097 books (see Table 3), some of them included with other works in joint reviews. Along with this quantitative accomplishment, we carried out a few changes in the format of the book review section of which I boasted in an earlier, interim report to readers.2
There is no denying, however, that book review coverage is imperfect. On one hand, we have reviewed some works that probably did not deserve the honor and would not have been reviewed if the editorial staff had read them before sending them out. On the other hand, there are valuable works on Latin American history that still escape our net. We miss very few that are published in the United States, whose scholarly presses are well trained to provide review copies. As the table shows, we also do well in Mexico, where such major publishers of historical studies as El Colegio de México and Siglo XXI regularly send review copies and individual scholars, well versed in the ways of the U.S. academic scene, often see to it that we have copies of their works. We do better with the United Kingdom than the table suggests, because the many works on Latin America from the university presses of Oxford and (above all) Cambridge are tabulated as coming from their New York branches. But in the rest of the world, including continental Western Europe, things are more haphazard. For a publisher to spontaneously send a copy for review is the exception. More often the authors themselves will do so. Even so, we remain heavily dependent on the good offices of traveling members of the Board of Editors or other colleagues on trips abroad, as well as on friends of the HAHR living in other countries, to either expedite the sending of review copies or advise us of the appearance of things worthy of review. In the latter case we can then write to the publisher, who may well send the book accompanied by a bill, or better yet write to the author, if known to some member of our staff. In this imperfect world, there is no way of catching everything, but we have at least been trying.
For the rest, I now await my residencia.
“Extent and Nature of Circulation,” HAHR, 71:1 (Feb. 1991), facing “Contributors” page.
“Report from the Managing Editor,” HAHR, 68:2 (May 1988), 204, 207-208.