Roundtable Publishing about American Places

AHA Session 62
Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Bayside Ballroom C (Sheraton New Orleans)
Bryant Simon, Temple University
Rand Dotson, Louisiana State University Press
Niels A. Hooper, University of California Press
Michael J. McGandy, Cornell University Press
Stephen M. Wrinn, University Press of Kentucky
Susan Ferber, Oxford University Press

Session Abstract

History books vary considerably in their approach to scale—be they international, national, regional, comparative, local, or a combination—but lives and stories can be given particularly fine grained attention when works are specifically rooted in place, be in urban, suburban, rural, or regional.   This includes but is not limited to the genre of microhistory, which tends to focus on a specific incident in a place.   For readers, these works are among the most narratively satisfying and therefore among the most likely to cross over to non-specialists.

This roundtable aims to address the promise and unique challenges of editing and publishing of such works.  For university presses, publishing works of regional trade interest is often an explicit part of their mission and a significant part of their lists.  The focus on place can be a plus as well as a minus in writing and promotion.  For example, a book that provides close analysis of local factors and actors can easily be challenged as being representative of only an exceptional place, while offering broader and more universal analysis based on a single case study can leave authors open to critique for not studying multiple examples and giving their works more solid grounding.  When such books are published, they can often be very appealing to regional media, while being passed over by national media for not being wide enough in scope.  Publicity, sales, and marketing departments can capitalize on the local but also need to think creatively to get media and account buyers to pay attention to works that, on the surface, appear to have circumscribed spatial parameters and a limited, place-based readership.  Although some places have built and retained a robust regional market, works about places that are not widely beloved as tourist attractions face a different set of challenges.

A group of editors, moderated by a historian who has written numerous works about space and place, intend to reflect on editing and publishing about American places.  They will discuss the practice of publishing such works and what that means for readership, hopefully giving authors a better sense of how to handle the inherent virtues and vices of this approach.

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