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Someday, perhaps someday soon, The Very Last Edited Collection of Essays will roll off a university press.

For years historians have been told that There Will Be No More, because they don’t make money. When one goes to a small conference, the organizers always say, “we would like to get an edited collection out of this, but the publishers we’ve spoken to say they aren’t doing them anymore.”

For a long time, putting out an edited collection was a good way of defining a new subfield – of saying, not only am I toiling in these weeds, but so also are a dozen other promising scholars. Or of redefining an existing subfield, of saying, brave new work is still happening here. Or, very occasionally, they essay a redefinition of the field itself. Or of course they collect the short works of a major historian.

I have a number of these collections on my shelves. The ones I reach for, repeatedly, are few, and almost always of the last kind – the collected short works: Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style, Brinkley’s Liberalism and its Discontents, Haskell’s Objectivity is not Neutrality.

Despite the long era of warning that There Will Be No More, a thinning stream of them still trickles off the presses. When it stops, I suspect it will be the first kind of book to stop – before the dissertation monograph.

When they came for the edited collection, I said nothing …


9780809094776 jpgIn the spring and summer of 1900, bands of ordinary Chinese began to spread across northern China, protesting against and attacking the representatives of an imperial world that was remaking their country in the name of modernity and progress. The so-called “Boxers” were mostly leaderless and connected only by their shared desire to resist and rebel.

The empires fought back. Caught in the middle was the tottering Qing Dynasty of China, led uneasily by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who had dominated Chinese politics for half a century. Watching was the rest of the world, caught by the daily reports from journalists embedded with the western forces.

I wrote a book about that summer of 1900. Writing a book takes a while. There are numerous way stations. There’s the research and the writing, the research that results from the writing, the rewriting, the editing, the rewriting that results from the editing, and the re-editing. For most of that time, the project is essentially mine and mine alone, though I did share some of that process on this blog. Only towards the end of the project do I turn things over, to the editors, to the publisher, to Amazon, to the reviewers, and, most importantly, to the public. They make of the book what they can, what they want to, and what they will. By that final stage, it is more the reader’s book than mine.

So, I am now in that latter stage. The book–The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China— comes out in March of next year, but, with all the oddities of timing in the publishing world, the first review has already arrived, from Publishers Weekly:

Silbey’s concise, lively account of an early experiment in multilateral intervention analyzes the imperialist motivations that led a mixed army of eight Western nations into a brief but bloody military expedition to suppress the Boxer movement, which spread across the plains of northern China in 1900, lashing out at the foreign powers that had carved the country into spheres of influence as the Qing dynasty wheezed toward its decline

I like Publishers Weekly.

Among the many things we don’t teach our graduate students — not just here but anywhere that I can think of — is how to referee a manuscript. There are many reasons why this skill isn’t taught: methods aren’t universal, time is short, most people suck at it. There are others, too, I’m sure. That said, this is a really useful guide. Useful enough that I’m just going to paste it in its entirety below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s nice that when one’s book is seven years old, it’s still on the top of some people’s minds (and lists). I’d like for there to be a tenth anniversary edition, come to that. Come on, stay in print!

What’s your choice? Mine is Richard Powers, Gain. What a terrific book about American capitalism. And how often do you get to say that? (Go on, nominate JR.) Also full of neat wordplay and eminently readable. Plus, Powers has an excellent and timely sense of what it means to slide into the Best Healthcare System in the World™.

Your turn.

So, Yale UP is, for the moment at least, publishing a book about the controversy surrounding the in/famous Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. But the press has refused to print the cartoons themselves — or any of the other images of Muhammad that the author included with her manuscript. I don’t find myself in an especially high dudgeon about this. Which is to say, I don’t think the terrorists have won, or that the press is guilty of anything so heinous as pre-9/11 thinking. But it seems like Yale’s move was either to publish the book with the relevant images — I’m assuming that images, though not precisely which ones, were part of the original contract between author and publisher — or not publish it at all. Regardless, it’s an odd and somewhat unsettling story.

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