Podcast: James Marten on SHCY and JHCY

Earlier this month James Marten, the new editor of the JHCY, spoke with Brian Shea, Public Relations and Advertising Coordinator for the journal division at Johns Hopkins University Press, about his new role and the challenges facing journals and associations. The full podcast is available here and below is the transcript of the interview.

Shea: Thank you for joining me today Jim. How excited are you to begin your term as editor of the journal?

Marten: Well I kind of want to get started and figure out the system. It’s a new kind of technology for me. Everything is done online, and while I’ve done lots of editing of anthologies and other things, this is a very different process and so I kind of want to get into the first issue or two and learn how to do it. So, yeah, I’m very excited. Personally it’s a challenge because it’s a new sort of thing, but also it’s a great service to the society so I’m quite excited.

Shea: What are your priorities in this new position, as you’ve said you’ve done this sort of thing before so you have experience? So, what are you looking for to accomplish when you take over?

Marten: I think the first priority is to continue the good work of the original batch of editors. They’ve done a great job getting this journal going, and the challenge will be that I’m one person taking the place of four. That’s a more typical way of running a journal for that matter. A second priority will be determining what the most valuable parts of the journal has been. We haven’t done a reader survey for a long time, and so we want to find out if the various components–the original articles, the policy pieces, the object lesson, the book reviews–what are the things that people like the most? I don’t have any sense of changing anything, but I do want to find out what’s the most important and valuable parts of the journal. I guess the third part is to figure out how to enhance the journal’s contribution to the field, to the society, mainly to the website. We’re trying to beef up the website too, and so I’d like to have a lot more interaction between what goes on in the website and what happens in the journal.

Shea: To expand on the second part of that a little bit, this is, I guess, being a relatively new journal, it was important probably to examine those things whether there was an editorial change or not. To see what’s working and what’s not.

Marten: Oh I think every editor does this, you know, from time to time so yeah I think that’s very much true.

Shea: You served as the newsletter editor back in the earlier days of the society, that proceeded the journal. How does that experience, how will that impact your term? You mentioned already the technological changes, so how will you transition from that previous experience to the new position?

Marten: They’re not really anything alike, I don’t think. The newsletter, Kathleen Jones and I were the co-editors and she continued then until we sort of suspended the newsletter a couple years ago as we thought about how the website should work and so forth. But the newsletter was pretty informal. We had ad hoc deadlines, it was twice a year. Kathleen ran the online part of it, but it wasn’t a very high pressure sort of thing. The journal has deadlines. We’re published by Johns Hopkins so obviously there’s a publisher involved here. There are readers’ expectations that we didn’t have with the newsletter. So I think it’s going to be a very different thing. I think it’s more important that I’ve been doing the editing of anthologies that has gotten me used to dealing with authors and copyediting and things like that.

Shea: Now you’ve been with the society since the beginning and now moving into this new position, how satisfying has the progress of both SHCY and the journal been from someone who’s been there from the start?

Marten: Well it’s been pretty fun. There was a meeting in Washington in 2000 where there were probably 30 people there. And I had just really gotten into children’s history then with a book about children during the Civil War. And I volunteered to be Secretary-Treasurer and we actually hosted the first meeting in Milwaukee in 2001. And so to go from those very humble early beginnings to an international organization has been really interesting, it’s been very fun, and has been rewarding. One of the rewarding things about it has been the number of grad students that participate. We have lots of grad students on the program every year, and Nottingham this summer is no different. To see the society grow, partly in terms of numbers and partly in terms of reach– we have members from 20-25 different countries, although most are from England and North America, but we have lots of members from around the world–has been really rewarding. It’s fun to see everybody every two years at a conference. I’m a Civil War historian and that’s a whole different set of people for me to get to know.

Shea: You mention the graduate students. I know a lot of editors always talk about that, getting younger scholars involved. Do you think maybe it was easier with a newer society, with starting on the ground floor like that?

Marten: I think it was easier with the subject matter. The histories of children and youth are a field that kind of emerged from social history and women’s history, somewhat family history I guess, in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a relatively new field. A lot of people who are in it are writing their first books, or 10 years ago they were writing their first books I should say. And so that has been one reason that’s it’s a relatively young crowd when we get together. I think it’s also a challenge, because a lot of people do children’s history for a chapter of a larger book or one project out of a larger research arc and it’s hard keeping them as members when they stop doing children’s history. So I think because the field is young, the scholars have been young.

Shea: What advice can you give to someone who is considering starting an organization or journal? It’s obviously a very difficult task, so what kind of lessons have been learned over the period of the first 10 years of the society and 7 of the journal?

Marten: I think from the society’s standpoint you need to have a built-in clientele or research specialization. And have a way of keeping them in the society. Make something of value for them. It’s hard to keep the membership going. And I’ll tell you this, I think, one of the things we’re facing is cutback in travel money and travel allowances in the universities. And so it’s kind of hard to get people to be able to afford to go to conferences. We’re probably the second conference people go to after the AHA or the OAH, or whatever, other larger conferences. And so that has been a challenge this year. We’re in England this year and it’s expensive to get there for Americans. I know we’ve lost a few papers because of this since we’ve locked down the program. I think from a journal standpoint–and I don’t know enough about it yet, I’ll get back to in a year what I think about that–I think that it’s more complicated than it used to be with the electronic side of journals. That you measure success somewhat differently now than you used to. It’s not just how many subscribers, but how many downloads you get through JSTOR, Muse and things like this. So I think you need again to have a real good base of subscribers that can meet whatever the publisher needs, you know, to cover its cost and then to sustain that over the years. I think we have plenty in our journal, for instance, we have plenty of content. I think the trick is keeping people coming back for the journal.

Shea: That’s great, it sounds like very exciting time for both the society and the journal and we wish you congratulations and look forward to working with you in the position and I’m sure many great things will come for the society and the journal. Thanks for joining us today Jim.

Marten: Well thank you very much. I look forward to working with Johns Hopkins as well.