Have you used The Essential Civil War Curriculum from Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech? Have you wondered about the process for creating those articles and resources?
JLD (Laurie) Woodruff, Executive Director and Editor for The Essential Civil War Curriculum, gives us a glimpse into the creation of these fine articles.
Every publication has its own processes. We thought it would be useful to let our historians and readers know what happens between our historians submit their material and when it is published on the Essential Civil War Curriculum website.
The Essential Civil War Curriculum is a website, housed at the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, which contains a definitive list of Civil War topics and related content that public and academic audiences wishing for a broad understanding of the Civil War should study—the core body of knowledge of the Civil War if you will. For the average person interested in the Civil War the challenge today is that there is too much information. Google any Civil War topic on the internet and the reader will be presented with thousands of hits. Whether the information is accurate, whether it’s worth looking at, whether the reader is looking for the right information, is not answered. What do those interested in the Civil War need to know to increase their knowledge and understanding of this important event in American history? The Essential Civil War Curriculum is overseen by professional Civil War historians who peer review all content and guides the reader to the important topics and sources that every student of the Civil War, amateur or professional, needs to understand. A topic in the Essential Civil War Curriculum consists of the following elements: essay, if you can read only one book, books, organizations, web resources, other sources, scholars, author’s biography, a photo or picture to illustrate the topic.
Once an historian has agreed to be the author of one of our 330 essential topics he or she receives several documents from us which provide guidance on what is required for a topic. Authors are requested to submit all of the elements of the topic at the same time, to facilitate the editing process. After submission, the material (all in MSWord) goes through four steps: initial edit, peer review by one of the professors who support the project, author review and final edit. Publication follows.
I do the initial edit. First, I read the essay straight through, valiantly struggling not to touch the keyboard and make any changes and focusing on the structure of the essay, the quality and flow of the writing, to get a sense of whether the material appears comprehensive, accurate, interesting, easy to read. If the structure is not clear I will draw up a point form outline of the essay, but this usually means that a major rework is going to be required and this is rare. The next step is to review all the footnotes for technical conformity with the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition. Usually there are a lot of corrections here and additions of publishing information to ensure that readers can find the quotations or assertions supported by the footnotes and read the sources for themselves. The third step is to read the essay through, sentence by sentence with track changes turned on. Obvious typos and grammatical errors are corrected in the text. Comments are added for suggested wording changes, additional explanations, requests for footnotes where there are original quotations but no sources cited, and anything else that has to be communicated to the author. This track changes version is saved.
Next the resources material is processed into our standard resources document. This step usually involves looking up a lot of publishing details for books, going to websites to ensure that URL links are correct, researching organizations cited, finding the provenance of pictures used to illustrate the topic and the writing of a précis of the essay. In addition, the author’s biography is put into our standard biography document. Usually pictures are in the public domain and we publish them with a full description and an acknowledgement of who owns the picture. Where pictures are not in the public domain we write the owner and ask permission to publish them.
All changes to the essay are accepted and this version is sent to the peer reviewer who will see only the clean text and any comments. The idea here is that the peer reviewer has to focus on the content of the essay, its accuracy, completeness, context and so on. The resources document is also sent at the same time. The peer reviewer returns the essay and resources documents with any comments and changes and the editor consolidates these into the original track changes version of the essay.
The track changes version of the essay and the resources document are sent to the author for his or her author review. The author is invited to accept the edits or propose changes and is asked to respond to all comments and suggestions. This is accomplished using track changes and the documents are returned to the editor.
A final edit of all the material is carried out at this point. If there are any disagreements between the editor/peer reviewers and the author, these are resolved by iterative discussion.
When the final versions of the three documents are ready the content is manually entered on the topic page of the Essential Civil War Curriculum website and PDF versions of the documents which are downloadable are attached. Also on the website, the newsletter for the month is updated, as is the printer friendly list of topics. Internally a physical file is set up with all correspondence and published materials, and electronic tracking documents are updated as well.
We send a thank you letter to the author including the MSWord and PDF versions of the three documents and the published photo or picture which illustrates the topic. We provide a link to the topic (each topic on the Essential Civil War Curriculum website has its own unique URL) and recommend citation formats in conformity with the Chicago Manual for footnotes and bibliographies. Finally, a notice of publication is placed on the Essential Civil War Curriculum Facebook page so that all of our Facebook followers receive notification that there is a new topic ready for their study.
As I read this over it does seem like a lot of work. But our authors go to a great deal of effort to produce historically sound original essays and to recommend resource materials to help our readers increase their knowledge about the Civil War. And our readers depend on the quality of the work of our authors. As editors, peer reviewers, and publishers, the least we can do is follow a robust process to ensure the highest quality product is being delivered.
With thanks to our over 250 historians who have authored the topics published so far, our sponsors Professor William C. (Jack) Davis and Professor James I. (Bud) Robertson, Jr. of Virginia Tech and our peer reviewers, Professor Paul Quigley of Virginia Tech, Professor Michael Woods of Marshall University, and Professor Joan Cashin of Ohio State.
[ECW has written about the Essential Civil War Curriculum before. Take a read.]