Response to McVay's Review: Analysis and Readership of Scholarship Discussion/May 1998


>From Theresa Kaminski tkaminski@uwsp.edu 01 May 1998

I think Kimberley Weathers brought up an interesting topic for discussion. Is it necessary to exclude analysis in order for a historical work to attract a wide readership? It does seem that marketability is a great concern for university presses so this is a serious issue. But what does this mean for scholarly standards with academia?

Last year I loaned Susan Ware's biography of Amelia Earhart to a friend of mine, a professional woman with a college degree who loves to read a wide variety of books. When she returned it I asked her what she thought of it and she said that she really liked it, especially the parts about Earhart's life, but that she skipped over the "other stuff," Ware's analysis of the connection between Earhart's life and feminism.

Although this was a singular reaction, I still think about it a lot, as I am attempting to write a publishable book.

From Lara Kozak larak@tomco.net 04 May 1998

Perhaps there is a way to include the analysis but in more story-like integrated fashion-analysis speak can be a turn off sometimes-especially in the context of an interesting story.

From Joan R. Gundersen gunderj@numen.elon.edu 04 May 1998

I recently was involved in writing a synthetic history of women in the American Revolution with a strict page limit of 250 pages. While making readability the key, my intent was to integrate historical questions and debates into the text. Some of this discussion also appears in the introduction, the bibliographic essay and the endnotes, placements which allow the reader to make a decision as to how much they want to delve into those areas. The response so far from readers (non-historians) and historians has been generally favorable. The real trick is achieving balance between "story-telling" and commentary/analysis AND putting the analysis in plain English so that you don't have to be among the "initiated" to understand the issue.

From J.H.Raichyk MRaichyk@aol.com 06 May 1998

About Analysis/Readership and publishing, when we were working on our latest, _Token Woman_, we considered your dilemma and took the advice of many home educators and librarians that the key to acceptance, and even moreso to conveying complex concepts, is a good story.

We've somewhat confined our *message* to the Afterword and some to the Prologue. In the main body of the story, though, we had *techy* parts to integrate into the _Token Woman_ story. A mentoring opportunity (which is the book's purpose) would be impotent without displaying for the mentoree the beauty of the materiel.

However, our approach to incorporation was based on storytellers' tricks...like a novelist's descriptions, a reader can dwell or skim as suits the level of their interest, the depth of their skills and their available time.

The key is the story. It controls tempo, method, flow, giving you a *literature-based* world where the reader sees the forest, with glimpses of trees... the techy-in-context.

We did, and you probably will, encounter the advice that incorporating the techy into the story is an error of novices and nerds but that's * old textbook* style wisdom to separate the pleasurable from the informative...that logic produces pedantic pablum and vacuous gloss as the reader's choices when their goal is accessibility without going away hungry.

We need to escape the old rules that literature goes here and math goes there, that we study geography in this 50 minutes and science in that 45...life and learning are not like that.

In the history arena, I'd shudder to visualize reading about those pre-WWII right-wing women without knowing that the sole sources of data had been FBI/CIA files... how skewed an image would the reader get being unable to *adjust* for the fact that this was their enemies' view of them?

In medical stories without references cited specifically (including who funded the research and the journal?) how can readers make sense of what they might need?

At any rate, those were (and are) our views on incorporation of the techy and message parts of what we publish. Best wishes with your writing projects.