Tooting the Horn

Well, as I had feared, the busy business of the academic year has thwarted my plans to make regular posts here every other week. I am disappointed by this turn of events, if not altogether surprised. But never fear! I have become inspired lately, thanks to chats with colleagues, following other peoples’ blogs, and the almost-final meeting of one of the committees I’ve been working on this year, to get back to the blog. Recalling its purpose–to keep me writing–I have decided to care a bit less about the subject of writing. So, rather than fret about not having time to think about scholarship and therefore not write much, I’m just going to put out this small post. It’s weeks overdue at this point, but it strikes me as completely in keeping with the professional purpose of the blog.

This is out:Image

If you follow the link embedded in the image, you will be taken to the webpage where you can learn a bit about this book and even order a copy. The volume itself, Discover and Distinction in the Early Middle Ages: Studies in Honor of John J. Contreni, is the product of six years (!) worth of effort. For those who are interested in stories about how things come to be, I can share with you the highlights of this journey.

To start with, there is a tradition in humanities fields for the former students and friends of an influential scholar to come together and create a Festschrift in that scholar’s honor. As you can tell by the term itself, the Festschrift custom seems to come to us from the German academic system; I’ll translate it roughly as “celebratory writing/publication”. Well, in 2007, my friend Steven A. Stofferahn, whom I met in grad school, and I came up with the idea to produce a Festschrift for our doctoral advisor, John J. Contreni. We got some ideas from John himself about what he would consider a good volume of collected studies, and then we set ourselves to the task of recruiting contributors. By and large, the response from people we invited was along the lines of, “Of course I’ll be happy to write something for John!” When it was all said and done, we had accumulated promises from fourteen scholars from different countries, plus the two of us, for a total of sixteen essays. Contributors from the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, France, and Germany, from very established leaders in our field to quite junior scholars just starting their careers, lined up to participate. Steve and I were to be co-editors, so we divvied up responsibilities and set to work.

I organized a series of sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies that met during May of 2008. We had three sessions featuring eight speakers and a response from John himself. The papers that these folks delivered became the kernels for their essays in the volume. The other half of our contributors were unable to participate at Kalamazoo that year, so they set to work things they had been meaning to write, or on aspects of larger projects ongoing, that would make a good tribute for John. We had a very good timetable set, with essays due at the end of summer 2008 so that they could be edited (by Steve and me) and sent along to the press for vetting and so forth. We had hoped for a publication date of 2010, knowing full well that it would probably not happen.

But things were moving along quite swiftly, and all the horror stories we had heard from people who had edited similar collections seemed like fairly tales meant to discourage young scholars from undertaking a Festschrift. I am still very proud to say that our contributors by a large were able to meet the deadlines, and that the refereeing process once the collected essays were out of our hands went fairly smoothly. We weren’t really going to make our pie-in-the-sky publication date in 2010, but that was fine. A Festschrift usually appears at about the time the honoree retires, so we weren’t in a big rush.

Things started to get a bit harried as 2009–a successful year in the progress of the volume, no doubt–became 2010, and then 2010 became 2011. At that point, the active working on the project on our end as editors was mostly past. We had to face delays caused by an elusive copy-editor and other forms of logjam at the press, as well as one of our contributors facing a tough professional situation and become hard to keep track of and contact. We kept in touch with the managing editor, whose support we had throughout the entire process, and whom we happily thank for her efforts. We probably lost about a year because of the slow-down. But 2011 turned to 2012, and things were looking up. It takes a good bit of time to actually make a real-life book, and at the beginning of 2012 we were at the stage of page proofs. By the end of the next year (which was last year, if you follow me), we had a nice set of handsome, nicely bound, real-life books!

All told, from the moment I sent the first email to Steve about planning this whole thing in April 2006, to the volume’s appearance as a physical book in December 2013, it took seven and a half years to execute. But really, we didn’t get started in earnest until spring 2007. That’s still a long time, and I wish it could have been shorter. But it really was a good experience, a far cry from some of the bad times I hear other people have had, and we are quite proud of the book. So, give that webpage a look (go ahead and follow this link) and buy yourself a copy. Best $60 you’ll spend all day, I guarantee.

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