Interview: Dr. Lesley Gordon, Civil War History

10 07 2010

Dr. Lesley Gordon (left, at Gettysburg) recently took over the editor’s reins at the long running quarterly journal Civil War History.  She graciously agreed to an interview for Bull Runnings.

BR:  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

LG:  I received my B.A. from the College of William and Mary, and my M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.  I am presently Professor of History at the University of Akron where I teach courses in the Civil War and Reconstruction, U.S. Military History and the Early Republic.   My publications include General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and their Wives (Oxford University Press, 2001),Inside the Confederate Nation: Essays in Honor of Emory M. Thomas (Louisiana State University Press, 2005); and This Terrible War: The Civil War and its Aftermath (Longman, 2003), as well as several articles and book reviews. I am currently in the final stages of completing The 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers in War and Memory to be published by Louisiana State University Press.

BR:  Some readers may be unfamiliar with Civil War History (CWH).  Can you fill them in?

LGCWH was founded in 1955, its first issue edited by Clyde C. Walton, and included contributions by Douglas Southall Freeman and T. Harry Williams.  When CWH began it was largely a popular publication oriented toward general readers with a heavy emphasis on battles and leaders.  Bud Robertson started to shift the journal’s direction toward a more scholarly bent, adding book reviews and an extended bibliography, and he solicited articles by academics.  Editors Robert Dykstra, John Hubbell and William Blair continued that tradition, each increasing the quarterly’s audience and prominence and broadening its coverage to economic, political and social topics.   Today CWH stands as the leading scholarly journal in the field of the American Civil War era.

BR:  How did you become editor of CWH?

LG:  Kent State University Press issued a call for applications earlier this year and I submitted my proposal in April.  I was notified a few weeks later by the director Will Underwood that I had been selected.

BR:  What are the particular challenges facing CWH?

LG: I think any print journal today faces challenges of dwindling institutional resources and fewer readers.  In addition, William Blair has founded his own competing Journal of the Civil War Era published by the University of North Carolina Press.  So certainly CWH needs to stay relevant, competitive, and appealing in order to retain subscribers, and also find new readers.

BR:  How do you plan on addressing those challenges, particularly that of attracting new readers?

LG:  CWH will continue to publish high quality academic scholarship, book reviews, and historiographical essays.  It will always welcome traditional military history, but I am also seeking out fresh approaches in cultural, social and comparative studies that delve in pioneering directions and utilize new methodologies.  The field of Civil War History has expanded considerably since the journal’s founding in 1955; I like to think we can reflect that fact in the journal’s content.

In addition, I do think the journal needs to have a greater digital presence including a better, more interactive webpage, Facebook page and Twitter account.   All of these are things we will be exploring in the coming year.  Officially, my first issue as editor begins with Vol. 57 (March 2011).

I am not doing any of this alone.  I am assisted by my Associate Editor, Kevin Adams (Kent State University), Book Review Editor, Brian C. Miller (Emporia State University), and a dynamic Board of Editors, which includes Catherine Clinton, Michael Fellman, J. Matthew Gallman, Susan-Mary Grant, Chandra Manning, Kenneth Noe, Anne Sarah Rubin, Brooks Simpson, Daniel Sutherland, and Brian S. Wills.

BR:  So what can readers – and potential readers – expect to see in future issues of CWH?

LG:  I plan to have a yearly “historians’ forum” with different scholars, museum curators, National Park Service Historians, even bloggers, addressing specific issues and topics.  The upcoming Sesquicentennial offers a great opportunity to focus on the anniversaries of battles and other events, with fresh perspectives and renewed interest.   I also plan to invite guest editors to assemble their own array of authors and articles centered on a theme of their choosing.  In addition, there will be photographic and documentary essays to vary the content of the journal.  We have also given the journal a new look: each issue will have a photograph or illustration on the cover that ideally will match one of the articles featured.

Overall, I would like to find ways to expand the journal’s audience to encompass the larger general public that remains keenly interested in the war.  And I hope that some of these new features and contributors will help us to achieve that goal.

While the challenges are not insignificant, it looks like the journal is in good hands.  Good luck, Dr. Gordon.

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