Gordon Wood’s essay, “History in Context,” published in The Weekly Standard in February 2015, whirled up a Twitterstorm. His thoughts on twenty-first-century historians’ scholarship were provocative, and many took umbrage at many of his points. One of Wood’s perhaps overlooked arguments was his statement on the William and Mary Quarterly. “The William and Mary Quarterly,” Wood argued, “now publishes articles on mestizos in 16th-century colonial Peru, patriarchal rule in post-revolutionary Montreal, the early life of Toussaint Louverture, and slaves in 16th-century Castile. The journal no longer concentrates exclusively on the origins of the United States. Without some kind of historical GPS, it is in danger of losing its way.” Was Wood’s assessment—or, perhaps more astutely, diagnosis—correct? Has the William and Mary Quarterly lost its way? To answer this question, let’s build upon yesterday’s post and crunch some numbers.
The digital library JSTOR offers its users statistics on journals’ “Most Accessed” and “Most Cited” articles. By using the available data for the William and Mary Quarterly, we can make a rough evaluation of how appealing and relevant its content is. Of course, limitations to this kind of test are obvious: articles published within the past few years might have fewer readers than those that have been up for an extended period of time. Reading lists for summer course might differ from fall or spring courses, too. Nevertheless, the findings, all of which are publicly available, are interesting.
As of September 4, 2015, the top five William and Mary Quarterly articles for the past three months were:
- Pekka Hämäläinen, “The Politics of Grass: European Expansion, Ecological Change, and Indigenous Power in the Southwest Borderlands,” Vol. 67, No. 2 (April 2010): 173-208. Accessed 462 times.
- John S. Goodwin, “The Goodwin Families in America,” Vol. 6, No. 2 (Oct., 1897): 1–58 Accessed 456 times.
- Neal Salisbury, “The Indians’ Old World: Native Americans and the Coming of Europeans,” Third Series, Vol. 53, No. 3 Indians and Others in Early America (July 1996): 435–458. Accessed 437 times.
- Robin Blackburn, “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution,” Third Series, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Oct., 2006): 643–674. Accessed 414 times.
- Jennifer L. Morgan, “ ‘Some Could Suckle over Their Soldier’: Male Travelers, Female Bodies, and the Gendering of Racial Ideology, 1500–1770,” Third Series, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan., 1997): 167–192. Accessed 338 times.
As per the figures on September 4, 2015, the “Most Accessed” articles over the past three years were:
- Daniel Richter, “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience,” Third Series, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 1983): 528–559. Accessed 4817 times.
- Salisbury, “The Indians’ Old World: Native Americans and the Coming of Europeans.” Accessed 4040 times.
- David Eltis, “The Volume and Structure of the Transatlantic Slave Trade: A Reassessment,” Third Series, Vol. 58, No. 1, New Perspectives on the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Jan., 2001): 17–46. Accessed 3901 times.
- Morgan, “ ‘Some Could Suckle over Their Shoulder.’” Accessed 3490 times.
- Margo Burns and Bernard Rosenthal, “Examination of the Records of the Salem Witch Trials,” Third Series, Vol. 65, No. 3 (July 2008): 401–422. Accessed 3421 times.
What does this mean? The first list shows that a significant number of people read the Quarterly each month. And in this instance, people have been reading articles on different types of history—gender, ecology, family history, the Age of Revolutions, and Native Americans—throughout the summer. This may be reflective of ongoing research, or the numbers may indicate what is being read on summer courses.
The second list offers us a more reflective insight into the field of early American history. Some of the same articles appear. In this instance, Salisbury’s and Morgan’s articles. Overall, though, the longer lists shows that the Quarterly’s readers are especially interested in Native Americans, slavery, and gender—aspects of the field that Gordon Wood criticized in The Weekly Standard.
Wood alleged that the Quarterly needed GPS to guide its editors back to what he thought the journal should publish—articles focusing on the origins of the United States. If the Quarterly followed Wood’s guidance, however, it would have grave implications. Moving away from its current scholarly mission—“representing the broadest chronologies, geographies, and themes currently explored by scholars of early North America—treating multiple populations and language groups; spanning the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries; and ranging across the continent and around the Atlantic world”—would narrow its reach. Its “Most Accessed” would likely not include many of the above-listed articles. And by putting a scholarly noose around the journal’s editorial team, as well as its peer reviewers, its readership and relevance to a field would diminish. As fellow Juntoist Michael D. Hattem noted over two years ago, in June 2013, early Americanists are working in a field with an expanding spatial and temporal reach. If one of the preeminent journals was restricted to examining the origins of the U.S., it would push junior and senior scholars towards other journals, to the detriment of the field.
The William and Mary Quarterly’s editors should keep doing what they are doing. Wood’s GPS system is not required. The journal is not losing its way. Far from it, in fact. It has evolved over time, following the development and advancement of the field, and it is continuing to do so. Indeed, the journal’s current editor, Joshua Piker, recognizes how important it is for the Quarterly to continue contributing to and engaging with historiographical discourse. Recently, a “special joint issue” was announced between the Quarterly and the Journal of the Early Republic. Each journal’s issue will pick up and explore themes and topics that were the focus of conferences in Philadelphia, Boston, and San Marino, all of which were covered at The Junto. With that issue of the Quarterly, which will hopefully appear in late 2017, it will continue to represent and champion ongoing scholarly debates.