The Journal of the History of Philosophy, one of the leading history of philosophy journals, has announced that it will no longer be accepting submissions on “early modern philosophy up to but not including Kant,” owing to a “healthy increase in submissions” that has affected the quarterly journal’s ability to publish accepted articles in a timely manner.
No explanation was offered as to why excluding a historical era was a method of choice for handling too many submissions.
Nor was an explanation offered for the choice to exclude early modern specifically. Presumably the journal’s editors feel that relatively too much is being published, or will soon be published, on that era. (Readers can peruse the contents of recent issues here.)
No end date for the moratorium on early modern papers accompanied the announcement.
In a post on the journal’s announcement, Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) notes that the moratorium on early modern comes at a noteworthy cost:
As Sam Rickless reminded me on facebook, early modern is the sub-field in the history of philosophy where the recovery of female philosophers has become a collective endeavor: with edited volumes, monographs, and special issues.
As an aside, some of us have been puzzled why this buzz has not spilled over more into the pages of JHP! Houston you have a problem with your editorial policies! (Honestly: Synthese has published more papers on Margaret Cavendish than JHP during the last few years! Let that sink in for a second.)
This is not a matter of political correctness. The recovery is creating (see Shapiro) excitement in the field over methodological standards, new-found arguments, and it is widening our understanding of the historical dialectic (including rebounding back on how we understand canonical figures and topics). It is, thus, outrageous that young and often female scholars (who are at the forefront of this recovery) are being penalized by this ill-conceived editorial policy. Early modern also has become the field where efforts at recovering the (often non-European) criticism of philosophical contributions to western imperialism and slavery has been put on the research agenda (see Chris Meyns’ recent reminder).
That’s to say, the flagship journal in the history of philosophy is deliberately cutting itself off from one of the most fertile scholarly areas in the history of philosophy today. And it does so in a way that generates status quo bias, and harms junior scholars who could be shaping the field for the better.
The other part of the announcement, that the journal is “suspending all new *revise and resubmits*, meaning that papers receiving R&Rs from our referees will be simply rejected,” is also notable. This effectively gives anonymous reviewers unrestrained, unsupervised veto power over the contents of a journal. That is quite a relinquishment of editorial responsibility! Does any other journal have such a policy in place?
The journal’s announcement is here.
UPDATE: JHP editor Jack Zupko (University of Alberta) writes in to explain the reasoning behind the policy changes and provide further detail:
The JHP is committed to publishing the best scholarship in the history of western philosophy, providing equitable coverage of its main historical periods: pre-modern (ancient and medieval), early modern, modern, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We are also committed to publishing the articles we accept in a timely fashion, which for us means within one year of final acceptance.
The suspension of new *Revise and Resubmits* was likewise instituted to deal with a more general backlog of accepted articles; I anticipate it will be removed in the next few months. Temporary suspension of submissions is something JHP and other journal editors use from time to time to keep our venues current. It is not something we like to do, but it does allow us to balance the different values a scholarly journal seeks to express, in view as well of the economic challenges academic publishers face in a post-print world.
UPDATE 2 (1/10/18): Former JHP editor, Steven Nadler (Wisconsin), sent along his replies to Eric Schliesser’s post on the topic:
As the most recent former editor of the Journal of the History of Philosophy, let me respond to Eric Schliesser’s post. First of all, it is incorrect that JHP has ever allowed what he calls initial screenings and “desk rejects” to be handled by graduate students, and I am glad to see that he has corrected this part of the initial post. All decisions about whether or not to send a paper out to referees has always been handled by the editor, in consultation with the managing editor who (a) has always had a completed PhD in some field in the history of philosophy, and (b) typically gave a first reading to papers in his/her area of specialization, primarily to weed out papers that either (a) have nothing to do with the history of philosophy, (b) are so badly written that they have no chance of being accepted, or (c) in some other way do not even come close to the JHP‘s standards in that field (e.g., there are no citations of secondary literature on a well-trod topic). Papers in areas other than that of the managing editor were given their initial screening by the editor. Moreover, the editor always gave a second look at papers screened by the managing editor. In addition, it was not unusual for the editor to ask a member of the editorial board to give an initial screening to a paper in which neither the editor nor the managing editor felt they had sufficient competence. Schliesser wrongly accuses the JHP of “explicitly discriminating” against a field within the history of philosophy before actually consulting with anyone associated with the journal to find out the facts. He implies that the JHP has a particular bias against early modern, when the actual facts suggest just the opposite: the JHP is overwhelmed with papers in early modern and publishes more articles in that field than any other, and herein lies the problem: the growing queue of papers in that area means a significantly longer lag time before publication, which in turn does no service to early career scholars who need a quicker time to publication.
Thus, I am just not seeing the problems regarding initial screening and editorial policies that Schliesser describes. We do not give “biased, outdated and moronic referees control over the journal”; we are very careful about choosing referees for papers (although I will say that the very hardest part of being editor is finding willing and responsible referees, including simply getting them to respond to requests), and the editor uses his/her judgment over how to treat their reports. I have my own concerns about “triple blind” refereeing, since a well-informed editor is least likely to send a paper out to an author’s dissertation director, current departmental colleague, or collaborator.
As for the foreseeable effects of JHP editorial policies and “harm to junior scholars”: I was not involved in the decision to very temporarily suspend submissions, but, as I noted, it seems that the ever increasing lag time to publication, given the length of the queue, would have a more serious effect on younger early modern scholars than a short suspension of submissions in that field.
I can only speak about my own term as editor, but we received very few submissions on women philosophers, in the early modern period or any period. And this was a source of concern to me and to the members of the JHP Board. So yes, I absolutely agree with Schliesser that we need to see more articles (and more submissions) on women philosophers. But I do not see this as bearing any relation to JHP‘s editorial policies. In a soon-to-appear issue, we are publishing an article by Christia Mercer on inclusiveness and new methodologies in early modern scholarship. And this summer the theme of JHP‘s “Master Class” (for which we put up a substantial sum of funding) is an early modern woman philosopher. In sum, the headline of Schliesser’s post seems to me unnecessarily accusatory and incendiary and just plain false, and even harmful in that it will certainly not help JHP increase submissions on women philosophers.