This is an experiment.
An idea conceived more than a year ago and refined during the past seven months has finally come to life: a review of books in the humanities that places a premium on quality, creativity, and discoverability.
The Marginalia Review of Books hopes to rehabilitate the ailing academic book review. We are hoping to create a new standard of quality in both style and substance. Penetrating analysis and engaging prose should be held together, though they are too often divorced in academic writing. [See David Lincicum’s editorial.]
Many have voiced concerns over the diminishing returns of book reviews. One publisher wrote to us lamenting that a decade ago he could anticipate a dozen penetrating analyses of the books he sent out for review, but today he is too optimistic if he expects more than a couple.
We want to reverse this trend. Even after providing extensive guidelines for reviewers, every submission passes through rigorous peer-review and developmental editing before publication. We work diligently to ensure clarity of prose as well as depth of the analysis. They are never pitted against one another, as if by a sole focus on rigorous discussion one could make an opaquely written review enjoyable to read. Some contributions simply will not pass. Our review writing advice along with the contribution of John Barton expresses our hope for what the review could become in our academic disciplines.
We also champion creativity. Marginalia distinguishes itself as a review of books, rather than merely a publication of book reviews. The contrast is subtle, but important: the former creates a space for conversation through a variety of media. We believe our disciplines will flourish in a dynamic media environment that makes the results of our toiling more widely available. [See Charles Halton’s editorial.]
And not only to other academics. We envision cultivating a style that communicates our research to those who have been kept out of these conversations due to our own hyper-specialization. Contributors to this publication will exploit every opportunity for digital creativity – through videos, images, or linking to other material. While the review of academic literature is the sun in our universe, our orbit will include many other features. We are commissioning and welcoming proposals for essays on important trends in research, histories of scholarship, religion and culture, or other topics of interest. We will publish interviews with authors and host panel discussions on the most pivotal publications and debates. Readers will be invited to participate in the exchange of ideas, and to regard Marginalia as a forum where these discussions take place.
Finally, Marginalia contributes to the Open Access movement. Academic publishers were singled out at the Frankfurter Buchmesse in October as the big surprise among the digital publishers. Nonetheless, while they are publishing more online, academic publishers still require users to pay subscription fees or make one-off purchases. The humanities have fortunately not (yet) suffered the morally repugnant burdens with which the colossal for-profit publishers have saddled the scientific publications, but we still struggle to find material on the other side of pay walls or university networks.
Marginalia shows gratitude to our forerunners while making an auspicious statement about the future of the humanities. We are supported by an Advisory Board of internationally renowned scholars, and by the skills of more than 40 outstanding young scholars who are dedicating their time and energy to this vision by serving as review editors and editorial assistants. We are always considering new editors for our team and welcome nominations. We also plan to push boundaries in academic publishing, so we are eager to hear from those whose technological talents might be able to open new vistas for us that we have yet to consider.
Today we begin our experiment. We hope you will join us.
Timothy Michael Law
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief