My little book on The Edited Collection: Pasts, Present and Future will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2020, priced at £9.99. It is part of the Cambridge Elements series on Publishing and Book Culture.
In the last decade and a half, a strong and negative general theory about the edited collection has taken hold in academic life; a pervasive and tenacious set of memes that have lain largely unexamined. Edited collections are suspected to contain work of a generally lower standard than scholarly journals, due largely to a less stringent regime of quality control; they are also supposed to be incoherent as volumes, being often no more than the sum of their parts; they are (it is thought) less visible to potential readers once published.
By no means all authors would accept the critique. However, it is often understood that those who make important decisions – on hiring, promotion, tenure and funding – do view collections in this way. To publish in or edit an essay collection is to risk being penalised for the format before even a word is read.
This book is the first extended critical examination of both the perception and the reality of the edited collection of essays as a means of scholarly communication. I contend that the format has an unique role to play in the communication of research both within and outside the universities. I also argue that, although all of the elements of the general theory are real, several have been overstated and none of them are inevitable.
Chapter 2 examines its twentieth century history, and its many and changing functions in humanities publishing. Chapter 3 sets out the overall shape and the individual elements of the critique in more detail, and shows that few of them have firm basis in fact, and those that are so grounded are far from insoluble. The conclusion looks to the future, and to an idea of scholarly community, much occluded, that the edited collection affords.
Chapter One: Introduction
Robin and Lucy: a cautionary tale / The general theory summarised / The meme and its history / Defining the edited collection / Companions and handbooks / The Festschrift
Chapter 2: Pasts
Case study 1: Anglican theology in the twentieth century / Case study 2: Benjamin Britten / Case study 3: Institutional histories, and the ‘general history’ / The changed face of academic publication since c.1980: people, institutions, markets and technologies / The edited collection and new disciplines
Chapter 3: The present
Have publishers really abandoned the edited collection? / The question of quality: peer review / The role of the editor / Visibility and access, Open or otherwise / The edited collection and research assessment / Citation
Freedom and community, risk and trust: a plea for the edited collection