This is a re-posting of an interview published on the website of “The Bridge-MOCT.” To see the original article, please click on the following link: http://thebridge-moct.org/pages/reviews/steinberg_slavic_review/
Slavic Review: Over 70 Years in Slavic Studies
Elena Gapova: Slavic Review is considered “the main” academic journal in the field of Slavic and East European Studies. What is its history? When did it start and how did it happen?
Mark D. Steinberg: We traditionally date the beginning of Slavic Review as 1941. The wartime bombing of London made very difficult the continued publication in the UK of the Slavonic and East European Review, so a group of scholars in the US agreed to publish an American edition of the journal, which was initially called the Slavonic Year-Book: American Series (1941) and then the Slavonic and East European Review: American Series (1943–1944). After the war, and the resumption of publication in the UK, these US-based scholars decided that the profession in the US had become mature and developed enough that it should publish its own journal, which was called initially the American Slavic and East European Review when it begin publishing in 1945, renamed Slavic Review in 1961.
Besides international cooperation and solidarity, I find striking that the core idea was multi-disciplinary work, especially in literature, history, and political science. The idea of “area studies” (if not yet precisely named) and the expectation that knowledge cannot be confined by traditional disciplines seems to have been the “idea” of the journal from British roots and was embraced fully.
E.G.: Who are your readers at this time, both geographically and from the point of view of disciplines?
M.D.S.: The core readers are ASEEES members, as every member of the Association gets a copy of the journal. The journal is also in a great many libraries worldwide. That said, anecdotally, based on submissions of manuscripts and correspondence with referees, book reviewers, and others, I would describe an international readership: United States, Canada, and the UK are the location of a great many readers, but also across Europe, east and west, with a fair number of readers in Asia (especially Japan and Korea), Australia and New Zealand, Israel, and some readers in Latin America.
As to discipline, again based on manuscript submissions and other correspondence, the range is very wide: literary scholars and historians are the largest groups, but there are also quite a large number of anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, film and media scholars, geographers, and interdisciplinary area specialists.
E.G.: How did the journal change in the last, say, twenty years? What are the tendencies?
M.D.S.: This is necessarily subjective. My view here reflects, I think, my observations as a longtime reader of the journal no less than as its editor for the last seven years. I think the simplest way to summarize the changes I have seen—which I applaud and have done all I can to encourage—is that the journal has become more interdisciplinary, more innovative, and more international. There were excellent articles twenty and more years ago—some of them still influential. But work over the last twenty years, it seems to me, has become more theoretically informed, conceptually rich, and methodologically innovative, and therefore able to do more to speak beyond particular topics of research (however important) in order to engage ideas and problems than can be of interest and importance to a wider range of scholars. This trend, of course, reflects tendencies in humanistic and social science scholarship more broadly. This is made all the stronger by another important change: participation in the journal, and in these trends, is not limited to the United States and Canada, as it once was. The journal has become far more international in readership and contributors.
E.G.: Slavic Review is published by ASEEES (formerly – AAASS). What exactly does it mean: what is the role of the Association? Does it provide financial support?
M.D.S.: This relationship between ASEEES and Slavic Review works on a number of levels. ASEEES chooses the editor (more on this below), who reports regularly on every aspect of the work of the journal (from publication and editorial matters to the budget) to the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, and the annual membership meeting. There is also an ASEEES appointed Slavic Review oversight committee. Slavic Review is a membership journal: it is included with membership in ASEEES (though, financially, the journal does not receive a proportion of membership dues) and we ask authors of articles accepted for publication to join the Association (this used to be requirement to submit articles). The financial relationship is as follows. The Association pays the salary of a full-time managing editor of the journal, one of the three quarter-time editorial assistants, and a one-month summer salary for the editor.
At least since the journal came to the University of Illinois (when Diane Koenker was chosen as editor in 1996), Slavic Review has brought income into the Association rather than required a subsidy. We are able to do this partly because of important support from the University of Illinois: our office space, computers, administrative assistance, and technical support are provided without charge by the university. The Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center at Illinois has also supported us, funding two additional editorial assistants. Most important, we receive income from library subscriptions, advertising, and permission royalties. We also diligently look for ways to keep our costs to a minimum without sacrificing quality.
E.G.: How is the editor of the journal “selected”? What is the procedure?
M.D.S.: New editors are selected by the elected Board of Directors of ASEEES. When a current editor is near the end of his or her term (typically 5 years) and wishes to continue for another term, a committee of the Association reviews their work and makes a recommendation to the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors, who decide whether to offer a new contract or to search for a new editor. When a new editor is sought, a national search follows an announcement to the membership. The search seeks proposals from potential editors who can also arrange needed support from their home universities, where the journal will then be located. In the immediate case, I asked the Association to seek a new editor before the end of my second term, due to family health issues; but even then, the process of reviewing potential new editors was systematic before an offer was made to Harriet Murav.
E.G.: You are a professor of history, a scholar. At the same time, you are a journal editor. How do you “divide” your time between these two (or more?) roles and identities? Do you have a smaller teaching load at the university because of your responsibilities as the editor? Why would the university be interested in that?
M.D.S.: There are two aspects to this question, it seems to me: the logistical and intellectual. The first is easy to answer, though it was a challenge to work out. During my seven years as editor, I spent about 20 hours a week on journal work. For this I was given a course reduction, though I would not say the time gained fully compensated for the time required. The University supported this—and, as I mentioned, they support the journal in a great many tangible ways—for many reasons, including a belief that faculty at a major global university should do more than teach and research, but also play an active role in the profession nationally and internationally.
The second element of this equation is more interesting, I think, though harder to describe. Reading actively a very large number of article manuscripts (most of which will not be published in Slavic Review), peer reviews, and revisions of manuscripts, as well as book reviews—and corresponding with manuscript authors about their work—in disciplines and about geographic locations often quite far than my own areas of research and teaching has been an incomparable intellectual experience: the sort of broadening and stimulating interdisciplinary encounter that led me toward a scholarly life in the first place. In that sense, these were not separate roles or identities. And the time the work takes away from my own research and writing also benefits my role and identity as a scholar.
E.G.: What are the responsibilities of the editorial board? And how is it put together? What is “the principle” here?
M.D.S.: The long standing principle for editorial boards has been that its members represent (and are generally divided evenly among) history, literature and the arts, and social sciences, reflecting the commitment of the journal to multidisciplinarity. In my view, a strength of recent editorial boards has been the interdisciplinary orientation of individual scholars—they don’t just come from different disciplinary places intellectually, but are boundary-crossers in their own work.
I meet with the editorial board once a year at the annual meeting of ASEEES (before which they receive the same report I submit to the Board of Directors) and regularly consult with the entire board, or appropriate members of the board, by e-mail. The board provides advice on every policy change, examines current practices, and helps resolve individual problems with articles or book reviews. Quite often, when manuscript peer reviews are contradictory, I consult with appropriate editorial board members. The board is also charged with developing proposals for cross-disciplinary discussion pieces and review essays.
E.G.: What is the role of the editor conceptually? Can you change or “alter” the trajectory the journal follows?
M.D.S.: An editor’s influence, if active and engaged, is subtle but not inconsequential. There are all sorts of ways an editor’s perspectives and orientations toward scholarship can be reflected in a journal (though a good editor also tries to work against his or her own proclivities): for example, whom an editor asks to be a peer reviewer and how s/he use these evaluations; the dialogue between the editor and each author when revisions are being discussed; the discussions the editor has with scholars at conferences and other academic settings, which can influence submissions and help organize thematic clusters; even the subtle effect on what is submitted to a journal of an editor’s reputation as a scholar and then, with time, as editor. But while I do believe that my role made some difference, I do not believe that I “altered” any “trajectory.” The journal reflects dynamics of our field. I support many of these directions.
E.G.: Can you, please, name some specific issues or sections that were initiated during your tenure?
M.D.S.: I can name following:
1) More actively and regularly than in the past working with scholars in the field to develop clusters of articles around themes or topics. These have become a regular feature of the journal;
2) Creating a new rubric of longer featured reviews. In September 2006, the Editorial Board helped craft and approve a statement that appeared in the Summer 2007 issue: “Beginning with this issue of Slavic Review, we are introducing a new rubric of ‘featured reviews.’ Along with review essays on multiple related books, featured reviews will highlight books that the editor, in consultation with the editorial board, has identified as likely to be of interest to a wide range of our readers across geographic and disciplinary boundaries. These might be books seen to have particular theoretical, methodological, or comparative importance or scholarly books that are stimulating interest and argument outside academia by engaging perhaps controversial questions of public concern”;
3) Welcoming, when appropriate and when the quality was high (judged by external review), “critical review essay” on key topics is broad interest (sometimes under the rubric “discussion” or “controversy”);
4) Internationalizing the editorial board with members from Europe, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union.
E.G.: Thank you, Mark, for the interview and for your inspirational work in Humanities and Slavic studies.
Mark D. Steinberg, Professor, Department of History, University of Illinois, former Head Editor of Slavic Review