I love sharing stories from history on this blog, but I also want to let you know some of the resources I use to find those stories. Historians are all about research and they need venues to share the results of that research.
One of the most common ways for a scholar from any field of study to disclose the results of their research is to publish in peer reviewed academic journals. Journal articles are peer reviewed, or refereed, by at least one expert in the same field, an unpaid process undertaken as a service to the academic community to improve scholarship.
Today I want to talk about The English Historical Review, the oldest English language history journal. The EHR was first published in 1886 as a quarterly periodical, addressing history since the Classical Era in any part of the world. I wanted to understand exactly how long ago this was and appreciate the longevity of this journal and did a little research. Also in 1886, Grover Cleveland was President of the United States, the dedication for the Statue of Liberty took place, the first gasoline-driven automobile was patented, Apache leader Geronimo surrendered, American pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton invented and began advertising Coca-Cola, Mexican painter Diego Rivera and U.S. Baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb were both born, and American poet Emily Dickinson died.
You can go to the Hathi Trust Digital Library to look at the very first volume (all four issues) of EHR from 1886. The copyright expired in 1923 so all of the issues prior to that are technically available. I couldn’t download the entire volume without a Hathi Trust partner login, but I was able to download individual pages, and could probably download the whole volume one page at a time.
As I have looked at a lot of history journals, I wanted to see if there was some connection between what was going on in the world at the time and what the journal editors chose to publish. Rather than speculate, in 2014, about what was believed in 1886, we can just read about what historians believed, what they felt was important enough to study, and how they viewed history.
Instead I got distracted by the “Prefatory Note”, no author listed, explaining why the journal was established and what the readers could expect of the contents. Basically, England was the only great country of Europe that did not have its own academic history journal. The Note mentions that along with the “United Kingdom, there is in America and the British colonies and dependencies an English-speaking population of nearly seventy millions”. As an American, my favorite part was when it said all those people form “for the purposes of literature, learning, and science, virtually one people with the inhabitants of the old country.” An interesting concept considering it was a little over a 100 years since the Declaration of Independence.
This Prefatory Note is also a perfect example of how history sometimes leads you somewhere totally unexpected. There have been so many changes in the study of history in the past century, mainly the inclusion of social history, that it was startling to read the declaration that “It seems better to regard history as the record of human action, and of thought only in its direct influence upon action.” So history was to be about states and politics, and only those individuals who played a great part in states and politics, because their actions “have usually been more important than the acts of private citizens.” This was long before Margaret Mead famously stated “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The last idea of the Prefatory Notes that struck me was that history was about facts, and if historians stick to the facts, they usually won’t give offense. “Some topics it will be safer to eschew altogether.” The idea that historians not publish any research that may offend or make people uncomfortable was, to me, a completely new and distasteful idea.
Today the EHR is up to volume 129 and is published bimonthly. The current publisher is Oxford University Press, who publish many other journals in history and other fields of study. From the EHR website you can access the Table of Contents for any volume since the first in 1886. This is a subscription site, so if you are not a subscriber or a member of a university that subscribes, you have to pay to access anything other than the abstract, or description, of the article.
I’ll talk more about academic history journals as this blog continues, but I thought I’d start with the original. These journals are a great resource for students and for writers. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction and journal articles are not only a great research resource, but are also a great place to find ideas. One journal article can start you on an unexpected path.