Editor Spotlight: Jeffrey McNairn

April 14, 2014

The Editor Spotlight is a monthly feature which introduces readers to the forces behind our journals. Based on their own experience, editors answer questions which provide insight into their background, responsibilities, and the process of editing an academic journal.

Our Editor Spotlight for the month of April will be Jeffrey McNairn, co-editor of Canadian Historical Review (CHR).

Jeffrey McNairn

Co-editor of Canadian Historical Review


1. As the co-editor of Canadian Historical Review, what are your main roles and responsibilities?
Our main responsibility is to publish some of the best scholarship in every field of Canadian history and to ensure what we publish is as thoughtful and polished as we can help make it. We are constantly looking for quality submissions, experimenting with new features, and working with our contributors, peer reviewers, and the Press to enhance and promote Canadian historical scholarship.

The co-editors read and evaluate each submission, guide the best through peer-review and the editorial process, suggest revisions at multiple stages, and help put each issue together: everything from correcting proofs to setting the table of contents to choosing a cover image. We also work closely with our Editorial Board on questions concerning the general direction of the journal.

It’s a lot of responsibility and work, but it’s also a tremendous privilege and a unique vantage point from which to view our profession and the production and dissemination of the scholarship that helps define it.

2. What are your current research interests?
My own work is on the first half of the nineteenth century. I used to call myself an intellectual historian, but I’ve published on topics that might just as easily be labeled economic, political, and legal history. I think the Canadian Historical Review reflects a similar fluidity in disciplinary categories and themes. Lots of what we publish is more about answering a question than adhering to particular labels.

I’m particularly interested in the history of liberalism and how ideas, interests, values, and emotions interacted in the past. My two current projects concern how the law regulated individual economic failure, especially imprisonment for debt and early notions of bankruptcy, and how collective public goods, especially roads, were financed and regulated. Anyone else living in Toronto will be familiar with debates about how to pay for improved transit!

3. How would you describe your journal’s mission and editorial objectives?
One of the great things about the Canadian Historical Review is how catholic its mission truly is. It strives to speak to historians and history students at different career stages, from different backgrounds and regions, with different research interests, and skilled in different methodologies. If we can find ways to publish good scholarship that reflects that diversity while promoting academic exchange across those differences, we are doing our job.

4. What are the qualities you look for in an article and how do you maintain quality?
One of the things you quickly learn in this job is that despite all the diversity in the profession and the range of topics and approaches, there is actually considerable agreement about what makes sound scholarship and a good article. Will our readers learn something they didn’t know or be forced to rethink something they thought they already knew? Those are the two key questions.

The journal is entirely dependent on the submissions it attracts and the good will, voluntary labour, and expertise of its peer reviewers. We want peer reviewers who aren’t just gatekeepers, crucial though that role is, but people who will engage with us and the authors in a scholarly conversation about how to make each submission as good as it can be and as accessible to as many readers as possible.

5. What are some of the main changes that the journal has seen over its lifespan?
The Canadian Historical Review has been published since 1920. The history of the journal is the history of the writing and teaching of Canadian history and of the historical profession more generally. While we are all reading, writing, and teaching about the past, we do so in the present. Our pages reflect this. It’s what defines us as a scholarly community.

For the past couple of years we have published a series, ‘Life in History,’ where retired scholars reflect on their careers and the profession; we recently published a bibliography of the nearly 40 articles that have appeared in the CHR on World War One and made each open access; and we will follow up later this year with a forum on Canadian historians and the war to mark the centenary, one of a series of special features and scholarly forums in our pages. At the same time, new peer-reviewed scholarship, the review of the latest books in Canadian history, and a bibliography of recent publications and theses in the field remain the staple of the CHR.

And we have the best covers of any academic journal published in the country. Thanks UTP!


Cover of Canadian Historical Review 95.1. Contains a photo of a man playing at a piano.

Among the western nations that have played a substantive role in the making of twentieth-century history, Canada enjoys the questionable distinction of being perhaps the least known. Yet there are good reasons for everyone – Canadians included – to know more about Canada’s history. Good reasons that are apparent to regular readers of the Canadian Historical Review. The CHR offers an analysis of the ideas, people, and events that have molded Canadian society and its institutions into their present state. Canada’s past is examined from a vast and multicultural perspective to provide a thorough assessment of all influences. As a source for authoritative scholarship, giving the sort of in-depth background necessary for understanding the course of daily events – both for Canadians themselves and for others with an interest in the nation’s affairs – the CHR is without rival. The Canadian Historical Review provides comprehensive reviews of books to interest all levels of Canadian historians. Each issue also offers an extensive bibliography of recently published historical writings (including CD and video media) in all areas of Canadian history, conveniently arranged by subject.

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