The historian-editor: a rare species in great demand

Whom does a textbook publisher get to edit a history text? Usually someone who majored in English. And whom does the textbook publisher get to check accuracy and logic in a history book? Generally it is someone with a master's degree or a doctorate in history.

Why don't textbook publishers use historians trained to be editors?

The answer is obvious there aren't very many.

But there soon will be more, and they will be coming from an imaginative and rigorou program being established here at Arizona State University.

Noel J. Stowe and Beth Luey are putting the program together. Beth Luey has done a great deal of editing for university presses, textbook publishers, and professional journals. She loves to edit, she says, and loves particularly the puzzle-solving aspect of editing calling for logical presentation of material. She did both her graduate and undergraduate work in history.

Dr. Stowe, director of graduate studies in the department of history here, loves history. And he loves the fact that even though there are a decreasing number of teaching positions open to history scholars, the students keep coming, keep wanting to learn good solid history.

Dr. Stowe and history department chairmen in colleges and universities around the world (I found similar concern, for example, expressed at Oxford University a year ago) recognize that they cannot keep preparing their students solely for a career in teaching. Yes, a few graduates will find positions, but this percentage decreases yearly.

Therefore, some other career opportunities need to be opened up for serious students of history, and to hear Dr. Stowe and Beth Luey talk, it's the most natural thing in the world for their university to combine training in editing skills with graduate courses in history.

To add the training in editing and research, Arizna State is giving nothing up. Students will have to complete all the requirements for an MA and take two courses in editing and publishing skills, as well as devote a summer to interning with a publishing house of some sort.

Before asking the university to go along with this course offering, the program developers checked with textbook publishers, university presses, and scholarly journals. Would they be willing to have an intern?

The response, as can be readily imagined, was overwhelmingly favorable. They not only want the interns, but are already asking for the graduates.

The application for admission to this program, which begins next spring term, has a delightful note that tickled this 10th-grade typing student:

Question 4. "Please indicate whether or not you are also applying for the editing training offered by the department. If you are, describe your competency as a typist."

Excuse me for digressing, but my thought goes instantly to the typing habits of some of the more skilled male editors (on this newspaper) I have known.

I see one who cradles the machine in one arm and does his typing with one fast-as-lightning finger on the other hand. Another uses two fingers on each hand, sometimes crossing over like a young pianist at a recital. Yet another uses all 10 fingers, but starts the stroke a good five or six inches above the keys, using a manual typewriter that lighter fingers cannot move at all.

But typing aside, it seems a grand goal -- the production of historians with editing skills.

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