Contingent is our idea for a nonprofit online magazine driven by people’s desire to understand the past and, inevitably, themselves. We have a threefold mission which can be broken down into the magazine’s creators, content, and audience:
Our creators will largely be historians working outside the tenure-track professoriate—those hired on a course-by-course or year-to-year basis, working in public history, or not working in a history-related field at all
Our content will be ethically produced, rigorous, and accessible to the public
Our audience will be those who have a deep love for and interest in the past but are often not catered to
We hope to challenge people’s assumptions about what historians, historical writing, and lovers of history look like. We’ll do this through a variety of genres, from features to book reviews to photo essays to comics.
The magazine will tap into a pool of severely underused talent: the thousands of historians who have been left adrift by the collapse of the academic job market.
These historians have lots of stories that they want to share with the public. But the outlets that will usually publish them (paywalled academic journals) aren’t accessible to the public, while the outlets that are accessible to the public often won’t publish them. Frequently in the latter case, and nearly always in the former, the historian isn’t paid. Contingent will be somewhere they can tell these stories, and will pay all its writers and contributors.
We believe there is a hunger among the larger public for well-done, accessible history beyond the Trumpocentric hot take. Unfortunately, history-related stories from mainstream journalism outlets are sometimes poorly sourced and argued (or just lift a professional historian’s work wholesale), while good work done by professional historians is often inaccessible to the public thanks to the dysfunction and paywalls of academia. We hope to help bridge this gap between historians and the public, and provide something of real value which neither the 24-hour news cycle nor traditional academia have the structural incentive to provide.
Our name refers in part to the historical concept of contingency—the idea that any single historical event is dependent on a multitude of causes. In other words, there is no single thing that can explain a historical event, and therefore no way for historians to ask every possible question about the past. There is always more digging to do.
The name is also an allusion to the growing percentage of professional historians who are contingent workers as opposed to full-time, long-term employees. Over the past few decades, and especially since the 2008 recession, colleges and universities have increasingly adjunctified their faculty, since it is cheaper to pay two part-time people to teach two classes each than to pay one full-time person to teach four classes.
Non-tenure-track faculty, including adjunct faculty as well as “visiting” professors who are usually contracted to teach for one year, provide a disproportionate share of the teaching in US colleges, upward of 70%. In short, even while there is increasing demand for the work historians do, their work is being increasingly devalued. We want to show what is possible when their work is properly valued.
Help them get started with a donation. Click here to donate.
I am really excited to see this project develop. I know that a lot of it stems from Erin Bartram’s experience in the academy, as told in Episode 37 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. Here is my daughter, an undergraduate history and psychology major, listening to that episode:
I am really glad to hear that Englewood Review of Booksis growing and making a concerted effort to bring John Wilson aboard full-time. Here is a letter from editor Christopher Smith and several other scholars, including historian Mark Noll:
As you might be aware, John has been employed with us at The Englewood Review of Books as Contributing Editor for the last six months. We have been delighted to have John on staff, and his work is already bearing fruit: He has identified excellent books to feature that would not otherwise have been on our radar; he found new reviewers to write for us (including Philip Jenkins); and he has thoughtfully written columns for our recent issues. John’s role with us is minimal at the present, but we would like to employ him in a greater capacity (ideally full-time) beginning as soon as possible in the coming year.
As friends and co-workers of The Englewood Review, we are delighted to announce that we are entering an exciting season of building capacity, extending our readership, and moving toward fiscal sustainability. The strategy we are developing will unfold over the next five years, and will include a new and more mobile-friendly website, publicity efforts to broaden our readership in churches and in academic settings, and partnerships with institutions that share our mission of cultivating the timely habits of reading and conversation.
Given that these plans will take some time to develop, and given that we don’t want to wait until they come fully to fruition to expand the scope of John’s work with us, we are initiating a fundraising effort to cover the interim cost of John Wilson’s employment. We plan to raise $250,000, which would cover the cost of about three years of John’s employment with us. We have set up a restricted fund devoted solely to compensating John for his work with us. These funds will not be used for any other initiatives of The Englewood Review of Books. We know that you share our deep gratitude for the important work that John did over his two decades as editor of Books & Culture, and for his significant contributions to cultivating the breadth and depth of the Christian mind in recent years. And so, we invite you to celebrate John with us by contributing to this fund that will support his work over the next few years. This fund is hosted by Englewood Community Development Corporation, the parent organization of The Englewood Review of Books, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and any donations will be documented as tax deductible. (Specifically, any donations dated on or before December 31, 2018 can be claimed as deductions on your 2018 taxes.) Contributions are welcome from individuals and institutions who desire to honor John’s work and help advance the mission of The Englewood Review of Books.
Please join us in celebrating John Wilson in this way.
In 1979, the progressive/democratic socialist magazine In These Timesran an anti-abortion essay. It was written by Elizabeth Moore, a Catholic right-to-life advocate, and Karen Mulhauser, a leader of NARAL.
In February 1979, In These Times published the debate, “Pro and Con: Does free abortion hurt the poor and minorities?” The then-newspaper was flooded with letters to the editor from a who’s who of feminists objecting to both the framing of the debate and its participants—Elizabeth Moore, a Catholic right-to-life advocate, and Karen Mulhauser, a leader of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).
The editorial decision-making process is lost to history, but this much we know: The Catholic Left held sway with ITT in the 1970s. A July 1977 editorial called for “serious dialogue with sincere ‘right-to-life’ advocates [who oppose abortion] out of genuine religious or moral concern for the sanctity of life.” ITT ran pieces by Juli Loesch, a major force in the Catholic “consistent life” movement, which wedded anti-nuclear, antiwar and anti-abortion politics. Loesch and other Catholic feminists were eventually pushed out of anti-abortion leadership by patriarchal evangelicals, who kept the Catholic leftists’ direct action tactics of clinic pickets and harassment, which escalated into murder.
Whatever happens next, the networks [John Wilson forged at B&C] will continue to hum with the give-and-take of faithful discourse, overlapping with the cloud of witnesses found in the mastheads of the Reformed Journal and other deceased publications. If the evangelical mind is a multi-generational argument, the seminar has only just begun. This conversation is Books & Culture‘s true legacy for evangelical intellectual life.
John Wilson was editor of Books & Culture from its first issue (Sept/Oct 1995) to its last (Nov/Dec 2016). He received a B.A. from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1970 and an M.A. from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1975. His reviews and essays appear in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, First Things, National Review, Commonweal, The Christian Century, and other publications. He and his wife, Wendy, are members of Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton; they have four children.
The Englewood Review of Books(ERB) was founded in early 2008 at Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, as a tribute to the intertwined practices of reading and conversation that had shaped that congregation for over a decade prior to the launch of the ERB. Although it began as an online-only publication, an extension of the church’s bookstore, a separate subscription-only quarterly print magazine (with reviews and other articles that are not available online) was launched in November 2010 [ Subscription Info ]. C. Christopher Smith, a member of the church, was the founding editor and continues as the editor-in-chief. The mission of the ERB is to promote reading broadly and talking about what we are reading, as vital and transformative practices of the Christian tradition. In 2016, Smith published the bookReading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish (IVP Books), which emerged from his reflections on the aims and mission of the ERB. The ERB’s community of readers and writers, although vastlyChristian, represents a wide swath of the Christian tradition, and the ERB continues to be driven by the hope that civil conversations about books and other sorts of reading will guide us out of the present age of fragmentation and toward a deeper and more substantial Christian unity.
As Contributing Editor, John will write a column for The Englewood Review‘s quarterly magazine, which will begin in the ERB’s Ordinary Time (Fall) 2018 issue. Drawing upon his deep well of experience with B&C, John will also help curate the selection of books that the ERB covers. The Contributing Editor role will begin as a part-time position and John will work remotely from his home in Wheaton, but both parties are optimistic that John’s work with the ERB will be able to expand over time.
Check out T.A. Frank‘s piece at The Washington Post on conservative magazines. He discusses what role magazines like Commentary, National Review, the American Conservative, First Things, National Affairs, The National Interest, American Affairs, and Modern Age play in the age of Trump.
Here is a taste:
As much as their contributors may differ in opinion or even dislike one another, what unites these magazines — and distinguishes them from right-wing outlets like Breitbart — is an almost quaint belief in debate as an instrument of enlightenment rather than as a mere tool of political warfare. “There’s an argument on part of the right that the left is utterly remorseless and we need to be like that,” says Lowry. “That’s the way you lose your soul and you have no standards.”
As the Weekly Standard’s Labash sees it, disinterest — at a time when media outlets on the right “constantly applaud Trump like trained chimps, congratulating themselves that they’re part of some new revolutionary vanguard” — is the new subversion. “You want to be a revolutionary on the right?” asks Labash. “Tell the truth. Call honest balls and strikes. That’s become pretty revolutionary behavior in these hopelessly tribal times.”
With so many Americans today engaged in partisan war, any publication with a commitment to honesty in argument becomes a potential peacemaker. It also becomes an indispensable forum for working out which ideas merit a fight in the first place. This is what, in their best moments, the conservative magazines are now doing. None will realistically exercise much immediate influence on this White House. But perhaps what matters more is whether they’ll manage to influence the political discussion writ large. Ultimately, that won’t be up to Donald Trump but to those, of any political stripe, who have preserved enough modesty and curiosity to allow their views to be unsettled. Serious conservative magazines will matter a lot, if we want them to.
During Q & A following the first plenary session of the State of the Evangelical Mind conference last week, I asked the audience: “What does it say about the state of the ‘evangelical mind’ if evangelicals cannot come up with enough money to support Books & Culture?”
Books & Culture was a Christian review of books edited by John Wilson and published by Christianity Today. As I noted in an earlier post, Mark Noll’s plenary address at the conference identified Books & Culture as one of the several signs of a thriving evangelical mind. Back in January, I wondered how evangelical intellectual life would continue to move forward after Books & Culture. My blog post called attention to Missouri State sociologist John Schmalzbauer’s piece at Comment magazine titled “The Life and Death of Evangelicalism’s Little Magazine.” Noll referenced both Schmalzbauer’s piece and my blog post in his address in Indianapolis.
John Wilson was honored during the conference for his work on Books & Culture. Indiana Wesleyan University, one of the conference sponsors, gave Wilson library bound copies of every issue of the periodical. It was a very meaningful gift, but someone is going to have to lug those books home! 🙂
Rachel Maxson, a librarian and instructor in the honors college at John Brown University, put the demise of Books & Culture in context. She began her talk by describing the conference as a “funeral”–a time to “grieve together” over the end of this important periodical. Maxson pointed to 2007 as the beginning of the end for print periodicals such as Books & Culture. In that year, Apple released the first iPhone, Amazon introduced the Kindle, the bottom of the housing market dropped out, and Harold Myra retired as the CEO of Christianity Today after thirty-two years at the organization. Traditional print publication took a serious hit from the iPhone and the Kindle. The tough economy made it difficult for periodicals such as Books & Culture to raise funds. And following Myra’s retirement, Christianity Today changed in a way that was not entirely clear from Maxson’s presentation.
After diagnosing what happened to Books & Culture, Maxson offered some general observations:
It is too soon to say that “print is dead.” Maxson pointed to a survey that found that 92% of college students would rather have a print textbook.
Evangelicals interested in promoting Christian thinking need to be more creative in their funding models.
Evangelical public scholars and public intellectuals must be rewarded for their work when they “go up” for tenure and promotion.
Evangelicals need to do a better job of creating “clearing houses” so that Christians know how to find good stuff on the Internet.
These are all excellent points that resonate with the work we do here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. While we are a very small operation, we are slowly advancing our grassroots crowd-sourcing efforts to keep this little corner of Christian intellectual culture up and running. (Now might be a good time to think about investing in what we do here). In terms of tenure and promotion, I think Christian colleges have always been places where writing for the public has been rewarded. I also hope that The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog has been a clearing house to help you navigate the Web in a more thoughtful and responsible manner.
Stay tuned for most posts on the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference.
Rupert Murdoch now owns a 73% share of National Geographicmagazine and television. The New York Times reports: Since 1888, the National Geographic Society has stood for science, discovery and storytelling. Its yellow-bordered magazine has served as the ultimate stage for award-winning photography, depicting the wonders of the world, and the group has supported pursuits as diverse as the underwater explorations of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Jane Goodall’s study of chimpanzees in Tanzania. Now, the nonprofit organization plans to continue that mission, backed by the Murdoch media empire. In a deal announced on Wednesday and valued at $725 million, the National Geographic Society and21st Century Foxare creating a for-profit joint venture that encompasses the National Geographic Channels cable television group along with National Geographic’s other properties. That includes its magazine and other print publications, studios, digital media, maps, children’s media, travel, licensing and e-commerce. Read the rest here.
Heather Haveman is Professor of Sociology at the University of California–Berkeley. This interview is based on her new book, Magazines and the Making of America: Modernization, Community, and Print Culture, 1741-1860 (Princeton University Press, 2015) JF: What led you to write Magazines and the Making of America? HH: I struggled with the title. It was hard to encapsulate the main argument of the book and to signal to potential readers why they might be interested in it, because the audience I am hoping for is broad –social/cultural/economic historians, organizational/economic/historical/cultural sociologists, & media scholars. I asked several colleagues for suggestions. The final title is a combination of my own words plus suggestions from Cristina Mora and Claude Fischer, both of whom have written historical sociology books. JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Magazines and the Making of America? HH: Sorry, but it takes 3 sentences. Over the first 120 years of their history, magazines connected people: this “old” new media literally mediated between people, facilitating frequent interactions between them even when they were far apart and would otherwise never meet face to face, thus creating many distinct communities whose members had common interests, values, principles, ideas, and identities. These included communities of faith (religion), purpose (social reform), and practice (commerce and specialized occupations). Different communities often intersected, which fostered the pluralistic integration that was central to American public culture in this era & helped make an America that was distinct from European societies: magazines both pushed American society toward a common center and pulled it apart into many distinct subgroups. JF: Why do we need to read Magazines and the Making of America? HH: You never HAVE to read anything. But I hope people do read it because it’s different from most histories of magazines, in that it covers all magazines that I could find any trace of in the first 120 years of the industry’s history, rather than focusing on a short time period, a limited sector of the industry, or particular publishing communities, as previous histories have done. I provide a picture of the coevolution of the industry and American society at 30,000 feet, rather than close up and on the ground. Having data on (virtually — you can never be sure) every magazine allows me to draw conclusions that are more truly representative of the industry as a whole than can be drawn from the samples usually studied, which typically include the most prominent magazines. JF:When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (or in your case a sociologist who does history)? HH: I have an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Toronto, where I focused mostly on medieval and early modern Europe. (So researching the early history of what became the United States was quite an education.) I have always believed that general theories of social life, such as those developed and tested in sociology, need to be sensitive to history — to particular eras in time and particular locations in physical and social space. My magazine project, which includes several journal articles in addition to the book, is my most complete effort to do that. JF: What is your next project? HH: I’m studying several contemporary phenomena — Chinese firms in the late 20th & early 21st century, the emerging cannabis market in several American states, the careers of American law professors – as well as one study that is historical, on American wineries in the post-prohibition era (1940 onward). These are all collaborative, with current and past graduate students. JF: Thanks Heather!
We have written before about Local: A Quarterly of People and Places. The recent issue focuses on Asbury Park, New Jersey. It seems the editors have played down the Springsteen angle on the cover (going instead with Southside Johnny), but I can’t imagine an issue on Asbury Park without some mention (an article or two) on the Boss.
The pledges have apparently been rolling in, but Books & Culture still needs $76,000 to survive. (See our previous post here). I received this e-mail today from editor John Wilson: First, I’d like to thank you for being a loyal reader of Books & Culture. Over the last two months or so, we have been seeking to raise $250K in pledges for 2014 to keep B&C in publication. This is part of a long-range strategy (we are not looking at next year only), but to move forward we must raise this support
As I’m writing—on Friday evening, September 6—we are still $76K short of our goal . . . and our deadline is next Monday, September 9. Failure to reach this goal will force us to cease publication going into 2014. I want to extend my sincere thanks if you have already pledged a gift to Books & Culture for 2014. Every dollar really does matter, and the emails, tweets, and calls of support have meant a great deal.If you want to help keep B&C going in 2014 and beyond, please consider making a pledge; for more information, visit this page: http://www.booksandculture.com/donate.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a short piece on B&C‘s financial woes at Religion News Service.
In 2007 the esteemed popular history magazine American Heritage could not find a buyer and thus suspended operationsafter fifty-three years of publication. It was revived a year later when Edwin S. Grosvenor, a popular historian with experience in the magazine industry, bought the company.
Today American Heritage has 120,000 subscribers, but as David Austin Walsh informs us at History Network, it has once again suspended operations. Grosvenor claims that the suspension of the print edition is temporary so that the company can “refocus its mission on education and digital history.”
Here is a taste of Walsh’s piece:
“We’re building probably the biggest system on the Internet for teaching American history,” Grosvenor told HNN. The project will feature “6,000 essays by 1,800 historians – the pieces that have been in American Heritage over the last half century, and thousands and thousands of primary documents.” Once digitized, these articles will be bundled with documents, multimedia, and suggestions for how to integrate the material into the Common Core Standards. The Helmsley Charitable Trust is one of the major funders of the Common Core. The expected launch date is in August. “Our eventual goal is five million students a year,” Grosvenor said.
“Our content is tailor-made for education,” he added. “Our marketing is focused on school districts and teachers. If we can solve their problems and provide excellent tools at little or no cost, we’re convinced we’ll get pretty quickly implemented.”
“We’ve been trying to figure out for five years how to take a print magazine and make it relevant for a digital age.” The digitization project is one of the solutions, but eventually the goal, according to Grosvenor, is to raise the funds to relaunch the print magazine. “We want to be able to offer subscribers a package: the print magazine, a digital magazine for the iPad, and access to our archives,” which will eventually go behind a paywall. “We’re 100 percent committed to our print magazine,” he insisted. Still, it’s a difficult problem as retrenchment continues across the print media landscape. “Newsweek is gone,” he said, “and Time is up for sale.” He paused. “Time Magazine.”
The Appendix is a quarterly journal of experimental and narrative history; though at times outlandish, everything in its pages is as true as the sources allow. The Appendix solicits articles from historians, writers, and artists committed to good storytelling, with an eye for the strange and a suspicion of both jargon and traditional narratives. A creature of the web, its format takes advantage of the flexibility of hypertext and modern web presentation techniques to experiment with and explore the process and method of writing history. I am a fan!
Yesterday I received in the mail the first edition of Local: A Quarterly of People and Places. The founders of Local have come up with a unique concept–a quarterly magazine that focuses on the stories of one town or community. The initial offering is devoted to the town of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.
I believe in projects like this. I firmly believe that there is dignity and worth in the stories of ordinary people from ordinary towns. Local covers these people and places brilliantly. The photography is outstanding and the human interest stories are compelling.
In this particular issue I enjoyed reading a feature on an old pillow factory that has been reclaimed by artists and local businesses. My friend Jonathan Lauer has a short piece about riding his bicycle. And there is a really cool two-page photo of a bowling alley.
I encourage you to check out Local. It reminds us that the “way of improvement” often leads “home.” In an age of digital writing, blogs, and online journalism, it is the kind of publication that you will want to read without electricity or a computer battery. It feels good in your hands.
Mark Galli and Andy Crouch are to lead the US magazine Christianity Today.
Galli was previously CT’s managing editor and author of Chaos and Grace, and God Wins. He takes on the new role of editor.
“I’m looking forward to helping the staff shape and frame content that will address the most pertinent issues for active Christians,” he said.
“And I’m really looking forward to working with Andy Crouch, who will add fresh energy and ideas into the CT mix.”
Crouch is author of Culture Making and executive producer of CT’s This Is Our City project. He joins CT as its new executive editor.
Speaking about his responsibilities, Crouch said he would be “paying attention to the big picture, and asking big questions about who are we serving, how well are we serving them, and how we earn readers’ trust”.
It is the first major leadership change at the magazine in 12 years.
Christianity Today President Harold Smith said, “This progressive ‘dyad’ of Mark and Andy will not only build upon CT’s editorial excellence but will also find new ways of delivering our award-winning content in print and through emerging online and digital formats.”
Katelyn Beaty, previously associate editor at CT magazine, will now serve as managing editor of CT, overseeing the print publication.
Beaty is the co-founder of CT’s magazine site for women, Her.meneutics, and is editorial director of This Is Our City.
She is the first woman to lead the magazine in the role of managing editor.
Previous Christianity Today editor David Neff is refocusing his attention at the global media ministry to the March 2013 launch of the first digital edition of Cristianismo Hoy, a new publication for Hispanic evangelicals.
Ted Olsen will continue serving as managing editor of news and online journalism.