The role of Editor-in-Chief (EiC) is demanding to say the least. It requires juggling many balls at the same time and that’s before you take into account the day job! In this new series we interview various EiCs/Editors who work on Major Reference Works (MRWs) and Handbooks to get an insight into their role of being at the helm of such voluminous titles that require enormous effort and take years to compile.
In this interview, we explore how Editors collaborate to broaden their horizons on Victorian women writers and embark on creating a MRW designed to promote the richness and diversity of women’s intellectual contribution to nineteenth-century culture.
Lesa: My research is very interdisciplinary and I have always been invested in excavating women’s intellectual history. The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Victorian Women’s Writing gave me an opportunity to profile and promote the richness and diversity of women’s intellectual contribution to nineteenth-century culture, not just in terms of conventional literary studies, but across as wide a range of intellectual disciplines as possible. Emily and I had worked together on an edited collection on Elizabeth Gaskell’s works, so this was a fantastic opportunity to work together again.
Emily: My work on Victorian women writers, as well as my previous experience working with Lesa, made me very excited to take on the project when she invited me to be a co-editor. I knew that being an editor on this project would also give me the chance to learn more about Victorian women writers outside of the literary realm, broadening my own horizons as well as allowing me a role in the creation of a work that will allow other readers to broaden theirs.
It is rare to be able to bring so many scholars and topics together under one banner. There may be encyclopedia and biography entries on many of the women featured, but this project meant that we could curate women’s writing in a different way. It reshapes the understanding of what constitutes writing as well as challenging preconceived ideas on the limitations placed on women in the nineteenth century. The very existence of this MRW proves that women had powerful and distinct voices and impact across a vast range of fields, themes and topics. Being able to include among the contributors the voices of scholars at every stage of their academic career also meant that we captured a diversity in scholarship in the present as well as in the nineteenth century.
Most of the work on the encyclopedia occurred on weekends and evenings as both Emily and I have day jobs that don’t have a research component. Being an editor requires multiple skills, from being able to network with the right people and create a vision for the project that encourages people to contribute. From writing emails to people asking them to contribute or give suggestions for people and/or entries, to following up late entries (!), reviewing entries as they come in, and working with the production team, it has been a lot of work! The project began with defining the section areas and coming up with entries until those sections. These lists grew as entries came in and we were able to expand out the scope.
Springer has supplied the production team, including the fantastic Meteor platform for us to work through with submissions. It has automated so many things such as reminders that has made the workload significantly more bearable.
Lesa: Being able to curate ideas in order to shape a new understanding of intellectual and women’s history. It is an honour to be able to draw so many scholars together as contributors and be at the centre of developing such a profound work.
Emily: Seeing the encyclopedia come together with the contributions of so many people who were so willing to share their expertise with us and with its readers was inspiring. The way in which some of the entries sparked ideas for other entries, and the ways in which we could suddenly see intersections and interplay between the entries, was something I really enjoyed. I imagine readers of the encyclopedia finding those connections as they read and coming away with a greater depth of understanding.
Finding contributors for some of the entries was very challenging. There are still some entries we wish we could have included. We just kept asking people for recommendations. In general, people were extremely eager to contribute.
Emily: Springer Nature allowed us the opportunity to edit this work in the first place by providing the means by which it is published online and in hard copy. Entries have been made available online as they are completed, which has been great for both us and the contributors as we can see and share them more immediately. Springer’s production team helped us immensely with the final details, and their Meteor interface and newsletter were great tools to communicate with contributors and to keep us editors updated on progress. I very much appreciated the pie charts that showed where the entries were in production, and watching the “published” section grow!
Lesa: Use your networks, trust in the project. It was very daunting at the beginning, and we really couldn’t believe it when we got to the word count, but it will happen. Take one bite at a time and don’t give up!
Emily: Have a solid plan for where you want the project to go, but also allow it to be a bit fluid, as good changes might happen to it.
Dr Lesa Scholl
Dr Lesa Scholl (Editor-in-Chief) is Dean of Queen’s College, University of Melbourne, and Honorary Professor in the College of Humanities, University of Exeter. She has published extensively in nineteenth-century British literature and history, as well as women’s studies.
Dr Emily Morris
Dr Emily Morris (Co-Editor) teaches Victorian and Romantic Literature as well as Women’s Writing courses at St. Thomas More College and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. Her research interests centre on Victorian women, and she has published on Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte M. Yonge.