Q: Brian, in addition to being the William Griffin Professor of Philosophy and tutor in the College of Social Studies, you are the executive editor of the journal History and Theory. What is the purpose of the publication?
A: The purpose of the journal is to publish the best current thinking about the theory and philosophy of history. We also maintain a discussion network that provides a site for members to communicate about matters relevant to our subject area. Lastly, we seek to enhance the intellectual life at Wesleyan and the university’s visibility in the wider world of scholarship. Our audience is chiefly academics, faculty members and grad students mainly. Both those who write for us as well as our readers come from all over the world; it is truly an international journal and network. I think I can say without exaggeration that ours is the leading journal in the world in this field, and the center of discussions in it.
Q: Where is the journal printed and how does one subscribe to it?
A: The journal is owned by Wesleyan and edited by faculty here, but co-published with Wiley-Blackwell Publishers. It is published four times a year, and is available in both print and electronic form. Both libraries and individuals subscribe; they do so through Wiley-Blackwell.
Q: The journal features theme issues. What are a few of these themes/topics?
A: For almost every year since the journal began, the last issue of the volume year has been devoted to a theme. Some examples of theme issues are: Religion and History; Historians and Ethics; Evolutionary Theory and History; World History and its Critics; Chinese Historiography in Comparative Perspective; History and the Concept of Time. Some of these have been based on conferences that the journal has sponsored, and this is the case for what will be the theme issue for December 2009: “Photography and Historical Interpretation,” based on a conference that was just held at Wesleyan in early November.
Q: How old is History and Theory? Has it always been managed by Wesleyan faculty?
A: The journal will be fifty years old in 2010. George Nadel, who was not a Wesleyan faculty member, founded it in 1960, but the journal came to Wesleyan in 1965. Dick Vann of Wesleyan’s History Department was the editor from 1965 until 1993; I have been the executive editor since 1993.
Q: Why is Wesleyan an ideal university to house History and Theory?
A: The university encourages the interdisciplinary and critical scholarship that the journal practices, and the university’s history and philosophy departments are particularly strong. We also like to think that the journal contributes to the intellectual life and visibility of the university, and we are working on augmenting this aspect of things as we plan for the future. To be part of this effort has been one of the most satisfying parts of my professional career.
Q: How did you become the editor? How do you juggle time between teaching and overseeing a journal?
A: After Louis Mink died in 1983, I was asked to join the editorial team as an associate editor, which I was from 1983 until 1993. At that point Dick Vann and Dick Buel decided to be less involved in the daily running of the journal, and they, together with the Editorial Board, asked me to become executive editor. I was very happy to do so. I knew how much work is involved, but it’s very satisfying work: you shape the terms of discourse in a given field; you are in touch with the best people in the field; you help new scholars; and unlike many undertakings in academia, there is a distinct product to show at the end of the day. You also get to work with colleagues in a very collaborative venture, and it’s intellectually stimulating and fun to do. We laugh a lot at our bi-weekly meetings. I do get a course relief for being editor, but that is only a partial relief. I just work longer hours than I would otherwise, and through the entire year, too.
Q: Who else works on the publication?
A: Phil Pomper, the William Armstrong Professor of History; Gary Shaw, professor of history and professor of medieval studies; and Ethan Kleinberg, associate professor of history and letters—all of Wesleyan’s History Department—are associate editors. In addition, Julie Perkins is our administrative editor, and she makes the whole enterprise happen. We maintain an elaborate website, a discussion network and email list of almost 4,000 people, and occasionally hold conferences, in addition to publishing the journal. So there is quite a bit of work to do!
Q: How many article submissions do you receive a year, and how selective are you?
A: We receive about 120 submissions a year, and we accept about 10 percent of them. We also commission review-essays and articles as well.
Q: What is the editorial process from the time someone submits an article or essay to the time it is published?
A: A submitted article is read in-house by an editor, and reported on to the other editors at our bi-weekly editors’ meeting. We collectively discuss it, and if it seems worthy another editor reads it and we go through the whole process again. Sometimes we ask for an outsider to evaluate an essay. We continue this process until we are all satisfied that the article should be accepted for publication. If the article is not to be accepted, an editor writes a detailed report to the author explaining the basis of our decision. After the article is accepted, both Julie and I edit it before it reaches its final form. The process is therefore very collaborative, and very time-consuming. But it is also intellectually rewarding (and demanding!).
Q: What is the History and Theory discussion network?
A: It is a network of people who have self-identified as being interested in the theory and philosophy of history. The network is part of H-Net at the University of Michigan, but we moderate the discussion. We’re not altogether happy with the network, and are planning some major changes that we hope will make it livelier and intellectually more engaging, and more directly linked to the journal’s contents.
Q: In addition to editing History and Theory, are you teaching this semester? What classes? How many years have you been at Wesleyan?
A: I’m teaching one course this semester, an advanced seminar called “Transcendence and Immanence;” next semester I’m teaching a seminar in Spinoza’s Ethics, and a FYI on Existentialism, Plato, and Pragmatism. They are both new courses.
Q: Where are you from originally and where did you attend college?
A: I was raised in Los Angeles, and went to a Jesuit high school (Loyola High School) and college (Loyola-Marymount University). I then lived six years in England where I did my advanced degrees at Oxford. I then came to Wesleyan in 1971, and it hasn’t been able to get rid of me since (that’s 37 years!).
Q: Your daughter, Meghan Fay, is the assistant director of alumni and parent programs. Did you encourage her to work at Wesleyan?
A: Meghan worked for the Connecticut Professional Golf Association, but had advanced as far as she could in that organization. She decided on her own to apply to Wesleyan. She got very good advice and help from Joy Vodak in Academic Affairs, with whom I worked when I was dean, applied, and got the job. She is loving it here. It’s easy to see why: the whole office is filled with this energetic, imaginative, hard-working crew and Meghan fits right in. I couldn’t be prouder of her, and love the idea that I can see her just by walking across the lawn behind Russell House to her office in the old Spurrier house.
Q: What are your hobbies/interests?
A: I practice Tai Chi pretty seriously, and love to garden. Since 2004 I have had a house in Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy, and that’s where I go in the summer to garden and to write.