The American Historical Review
Book Reviewing in the AHR

Reviewing books is a primary responsibility of the AHR. Although we obviously cannot review every history book published, we do seek to be as comprehensive as possible. Our goal is to be as fair and thorough as we can in surveying and reporting on the most important contemporary historical scholarship. We realize that decisions about which books to review are inevitably judgments about what we consider to be the leading scholarship on the human past. We also recognize that notions of importance across disciplines are inherently subjective and change over time. We periodically reevaluate our procedures to ensure that our decision-making process is in accord with our best understanding of the needs and interests of the historians who are our readers.

Book reviewing in the AHR operates under certain material constraints. The sheer volume of books received is one determinant in the reviewing process. At present, the AHR receives over 3,000 books a year; we have the resources to publish at most 1,000 reviews a year (approximately 200 per issue). Moreover, the books we receive are not evenly distributed among the discipline's fields. U.S. history is by far the most heavily represented. Studies of modern European history are the next most numerous, followed by works on Asian, Latin American, medieval, ancient, Middle Eastern, and African history. Although the disparities in distribution across fields reflect the reality of scholarly publication, we try to address submission deficiencies in certain fields by actively soliciting books from publishers that might not automatically send us copies. In addition to the number and distribution of books across fields, staff constraints affect book reviewing. The book review section is managed by a reviews editor, a staff of seven graduate students, and a group of specialist consultants. They work hard to keep up with the flow of books and to apply uniform standards for reviewing across fields.

AHR staff members determine the length of a review and, once it has been submitted, edit it for style. Reviews range in size from 800 words to 1200 for a single volume and 1500 for a joint review. Featured reviews are assigned 2,000 to 3,000 words. We expect reviewers to write thoughtful and engaging critiques that explain the basic argument of a book, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and place the work in historiographical context. We prefer that they do so in a way that addresses readers outside the confines of their area of specialization. We do not dictate the content of reviews, but we do delete passages that are, in our judgment, ad hominem attacks on an author, including unsubstantiated or libelous allegations of plagiarism. However, we also accept the responsibility of publishing responsible charges of misappropriated scholarship. These must be documented with examples of parallel texts or instances of the unattributed use of other scholars' ideas and arguments.

The AHR has long followed a set of standards in selecting book reviewers. Reviewers are expected to have earned a Ph.D. or its equivalent (such as a J.D. or Th.D.). We also require a potential reviewer to have published at least one book-length monograph in order to ensure that  he or she  has  experienced the peer-review process firsthand and understands the effort involved in the production of a scholarly work. Persons acknowledged by the author or those who have in some way assisted in a book's publication are excluded as potential reviewers, as are scholars who have already reviewed the book for another journal. Membership in the American Historical Association is neither a requirement nor a guarantee of selection as a reviewer. Invitations to review are based on staff judgments about the appropriate match between book and reviewer. Should the AHR receive for review a book written by, or edited by, a member of the faculty of its host institution (at present, Indiana University), the book review editor will ask that member of the AHR's Board of Editors whose expertise best aligns with the subject of the book to select a suitable reviewer, in accordance with the AHR's standard practices and restrictions. That same member of the Board will examine the resulting book review to see that it meets AHR expectations of fairness. Editing for style, length and so forth will remain the responsibility of the AHR staff.

To be added to our database of reviewers, if you meet the above criteria, please send a CV for consideration to ahr@indiana.edu.

 

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