Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Jumping the good ship Endeavour



As of 1 January 2010, I will no longer be the editor-in-chief of Endeavour, a quarterly history of science journal. This is of some sadness to me as it is a publication that has given me a lot of joy over the last eight years.

By my reckoning my first issue was June 2002, since when I have seen through 31 issues, each carrying an average of 6.5 articles, each of which comprised of about three illustrations around 3250 words. That’s more than 200 articles and almost as many authors, 600 illustrations and 650,000 words.

At the beginning and end of my stint in charge, I oversaw the publication of these articles with minimal assistance – editing, copyediting the text and sourcing images myself. In the halcyon middle years, however, I had the pleasure of working with the excellent and invincible Arthur Wadsworth. Whilst I’ve always been a fan of Endeavour, Arthur was possibly more enthusiastic about the enterprise than me and potential authors would frequently assume he was the editor. It’s been a struggle without him and now, as Endeavour floats towards its next incarnation as a peer-reviewed academic history of science journal, I’ve decided it’s time to jump ship. It needs an academic editor not a journalist and writer like me.

Poring over back issues of the journal that I've seen to press, there are many highlights, most of which Arthur was involved with. I’ve produced here a shortlist of articles all of which have a lovely structure, are beautifully written and are strikingly illustrated.

I particularly liked the structure of Janet Browne and Sharon Messenger’s Victorian spectacle: Julia Pastrana, the bearded and hairy female. The authors looked at the public reaction to the “freak” Pastrana as she toured exhibition halls before, during and after the “Darwinian moment” of 1859. This allowed them to consider how thinking changed in the light of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. In Relics, replicas and commemorations, Soraya de Chadarevian marked the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA in a completely original way – tracing the story of one of the metal base pairs used in original Watson-Crick model from its conception and manufacture to its neglect and ultimate apotheosis. There is another coming in my last issue - December 2009 - by D. Graham Burnett with a really fresh take on the apparent analogy Darwin set up between artificial and natural selection. Burnett argues, extremely persuasively I think, that it isn’t an analogy at all.

There were several authors who could really write, for whom I had to do virtually no editing at all. For example: Mary Anne Andrei wrote with consummate ease about The accidental conservationist: William T. Hornaday, the Smithsonian bison expeditions and the US National Zoo; John C. Waller created a wonderfully accomplished article on Parents and children: ideas of heredity in the 19th century; James Delbourgo’s Underwater-works: voyages and visions of the submarine was a treat from beginning to end; and all 30 articles delivered by Patricia Fara were pretty much word-perfect.

Endeavour
was rather special for the room it gave to illustrations. In recent years, the budget for sourcing images has been tightening and I wouldn’t be surprised if the stream of illustrations gradually dries up in the coming years. But while it lasted, there were plenty of visually arresting pieces. Robert A. Jones’ article ‘How many female scientists do you know?’ had some super stills from British films from the 1950s and 1960s that had some of the earliest portrayals of female scientists. In Sherlock Holmes: scientific detective, Laura J. Snyder reproduced some lovely cover images and engravings from Arthur Conan Doyle’s books. And Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen brought us some marvellous unpublished satirical cartoons as he went In search of the sea monster.

I have a longlist of articles that's too long to list, but looking down it exposes my bias for the history of biology and more specifically the history of natural history. If I’d been a better editor, I would have resisted indulging my own interests. Then Endeavour might have had more history of chemistry, physics, technology and medicine. I expect the new editor – whoever it is – will be able to put this right. I just hope they also manage to maintain the journal's relative readability.

Moving on, sad as it is, now frees me up to concentrate on writing Political Animal and then, I hope, other books. But I am determined to stay in close contact with the history of science community I have got to know and like so well. I have met many hundred super people and enjoyed working with all of them.

6 comments:

  1. Wow - that is sad news! Having been on deck for a good part of your tenure with Endeavour I can certainly say that it is the end of an era. You might think you could have been a better Editor, but what you did in the job was nothing short of exceptional. It's hard to imagine Endeavour without you!

    But this is also an ending that is full of hope: the transition of Endeavour from a current science quarterly to an academic history of science journal was one that no-one was sure would work; and the fact that it will be going on to become a peer-reviewed academic journal in its new field is a lovely way to prove that it was a success.

    I also have fond memories of our time working on Endeavour: it was certainly the most happiness I have ever taken from a professional experience. I would agree that all the articles you chose were special, but I think my favourites might be a bit different - I will review the old journals (I still have paper copies in the living room) and come back with my top picks in the next few days...

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  2. Good luck with future directions Henry.
    Pleasure to have worked with you on,

    "Bravo Emma! Music in the life and work of Charles Darwin" http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.endeavour.2009.01.005

    atb,j.

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  3. @JF Derry. Thanks Julian. I was trying not to give away quite how many Darwin-related articles I'd commissioned over the years :)

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  4. Ahem - rather later than promised, I had a sit down and browsed through all the issues of Endeavour that we worked on. There were some special gems that stuck out - some were specific articles and others were individual aspects of the journal itself. In no particular order my highlights were as follows...

    All of the articles by Particia Fara were always a pleasure to work on and read: they were fantastically written and showcased some beautiful pieces of art.

    The article 'Victorian spectacle: Julia Pastrana, the bearded and hairy female' by Janet Browne and Sharon Messanger had a special significance for me: not only because it was a fantastically written article, but also because it was one of the best representations of your penchant for Victorian freakery!

    As a body of work I was immensely proud of the number of book reviews that we had in Endeavour: through the range of books we covered and the number of writers who produced them I felt we managed to showcase more dimensions of the history of science, technology and medicine than I ever thought we would be able to.

    Personally, 'Sverre Petterson and the contentious (and momentous) weather forecast for D-Day' by James Fleming was of immense significance as it was the first full article I commissioned for Endeavour. It also represented a bit of my war studies background in the journal.

    'Sherlock Holmes: scientific detective' by Laura Snyder was a super article: the first article out of the Current Trends department ever to be mentioned on the Elsevier news service and beautifully illustrated.

    'Fighting the "microbe of sporting mania": Australian science and Antarctic exploration in the early 20th century' by Peder Roberts was a piece of excellent writing that vividly showed how science could capture the public's imagination. Peder's profile of Australian cricketer Victor Trumper is also a good example, when looked at in the context of this summers Ashes cricket series between England and Australia, that some things never change!

    Doing the picture research for 'The tail end of the moth: clarifying species boundries' by Krisitn Johnson was a once in a life-time experience - I have to thank Kristin for giving me the unique opportunity to spend an evening in the British Library choosing illustrations of moth genetalia!

    Looking at issue 1 of volume 29 of Endeavour reminded me that we have our own collector's item: Elsevier were out of stock of this issue before I finished working on Endeavour! So hold on to it if you have one because there are no more in the warehouse!

    The very next issue also contained a number of favourites for me - the cover was my favourite Endeavour cover as the idea for it's design came from the opening to the Japanese anime series 'Macross' - I was thrilled when The Studio were able to recreate the effect of the reel of the film running vertically down the cover!

    Inside, 'Losing it in New Guinea: the voyage of the HMS Rattlesnake' was one of the best examples of the gorgeous pictures we got into the journal. The article itself by Jordan Goodman was also a lovely piece of writing that was born from his book about the same boat.

    In the same issue - and another part of the idea for it's cover - 'How many female scientists do you know' was such an enjoyable read and idea! Having studied films as historical documents at university I particularly enjoyed the blend of scientific and social history that Robert A. Jones presented in the article.

    And finally, I have to mention 'In search of the Sea Monster' by Kristian Hvidfeldt Nielsen, because the illustrations of the sea monster we so lovely! I was glad that I could include them in my final issue!

    Whew! (Pausing for breath now.) That is certainly a long list of highlights rather than a short list, but that just evidence of how fantastic Endeavour was to work on and what a great team I was a part of when I was there. I loved every article and every issue I worked on: and who knows, if the spirit of Endeavour lives on maybe one day we will see it's like again...

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  5. Thanks Arthur. You get the prize for the longest comment on a blog.

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  6. - blushes - And I has to edit that down because the comment box would not accept the character count of my intial submission! Note to self: must be more succinct... : )

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