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Robert Lemon is an urban and social researcher and documentary filmmaker. His films include Transfusión (2014), a series of vignettes on the cultural implications of taco trucks. He recently answered some questions about his new book The Taco Truck: How Mexican Street Food is Transforming the American City.

Q: The Taco Truck examines the relationship between taco trucks and the urban environments that they traverse. What led you to explore this topic?

A: I first encountered taco trucks when I was working for the City of Columbus in 2004. There were numerous complaints about the trucks popping up in neighborhoods. I started speaking with the owners, and I was fascinated by their backgrounds, the diverse cuisines they offered, and how they were creating Latino social nodes within the city.

Q: In your book, you use the term “taco truck space” to describe the unique way that taco trucks can inhabit an urban landscape. What defines this space?

A: I define “taco truck space” as an evolving cultural and culinary environment in which influences of local life continually converge with economic, political, and social forces at myriad scales. These spaces are shaped by and, in turn, express the uneven flows of capital between the United States and Mexico as well as immigration patterns and foodways from Mexico.

Q: You researched the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, and Columbus, Ohio. What can differences in the way that city officials and urban planners respond to taco trucks tell us about those cities?

A: Different community groups all have their take on taco trucks. Their perspectives shape urban policy and, therefore, what sorts of street food practices are deemed acceptable or forbidden. Because taco trucks are lighting rods of controversy, each city has community groups that argue both positively and negatively about their presence. By looking at cultural conflicts from city to city, I can better decipher the diverse ways cities operate socially and politically.

Q: Readers might be surprised to learn that taco trucks have been around in the U.S. at least since the 1970s. What has contributed to their resilience, even as national rhetoric on immigration has fluctuated?

A: The United States is and will always be a country of immigrants. And the United States relies heavily on low wage immigrant labor. Taco trucks have endured because they serve a vital purpose, as they are necessary to feed inexpensive cuisine to a large immigrant working class. As long as underprivileged people keep coming to the U.S. from poorer regions of the world, they will continue to look for cheap eats along city streets.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel?

A: Taco trucks are vital social nodes for the Mexican immigrant working population and not just trendy spots to encounter traditional Mexican cuisines. Taco trucks have personal and deeply emotional meanings to many immigrants searching for memories of their homeland through food. These aspects of the truck cannot be disregarded. These are social spaces that foster conviviality and help comfort immigrants separated from their families, and eating at a taco truck helps immigrants experientially reconnect with loved ones still in Mexico.

Q: When you visit a taco truck, what is your go-to order?

A: Whatever the truck’s regional specialty is. I particularly like Jalisco style, carnitas tacos, and tacos rojos Potosinos.

The post Q&A with Robert Lemon, author of “The Taco Truck: How Mexican Street Food Is Transforming the American City” appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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The University of Illinois Press is seeking a bright, organized, motivated assistant acquisitions editor to join our team.

This person will work closely with the Press’s acquisitions staff in supporting the development and acquisition of a robust list of general interest and scholarly titles in a range of humanities and social science disciplines. They will provide skilled administrative support in managing the cultivation of prospective authors, the development and evaluation of manuscripts, and project management entailed in guiding new book projects through all aspects of the publication process.  The successful candidate will be adept at tracking, prioritizing, and processing multiple time-sensitive projects, working independently, and communicating clearly and diplomatically with authors and colleagues.  They will be proficient in appropriate word processing and database programs. They will be a creative problem solver and open to challenges. The assistant acquisitions editor takes appropriate actions to support a diverse workforce and participates in the Press’s efforts to create a respectful, inclusive, and welcoming work environment. Some travel required.

Deadline to apply: 7/22/2019

See the full job posting here:

https://jobs.illinois.edu/academic-job-board/job-details?jobID=117057&job=assistant-acquisitions-editor-university-press-117057

The post Come Join Our Team! We’re Hiring an Assistant Acquisitions Editor appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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Karen E. Whedbee is an associate professor in the media studies program in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University. She has published widely on topics related to free speech, communication ethics, and the history of participatory democracy. Among her recent works is “Preservation, Restoration, and Accessibility of Popular Culture Materials” in A Companion to Popular Culture (ed. Gary Burns, Wiley Blackwell, 2016). She recently shared her thoughts on her article, “Reverend Billy Goes to Main Street: Free Speech, Trespassing, and Activist Documentary Film” from the Journal of Film and Video.

On a daily basis, many of us find ourselves struggling to negotiate the boundary between private and public space. Digital technology has made audiovisual recording of personal interactions ubiquitous. Social media has made the distribution of these recordings instantaneous. Thus, the danger of violating privacy can be serious. But what is at issue in the twenty-first century is not just a matter of personal privacy and individual property rights. Matters that are of genuine public interest and concern are equally endangered, as they have frequently been relocated onto private property. The “No Trespassing” sign can be used by powerful government officials and corporate interests as a kind of non-governmental censorship that silences legitimate public argument and limits public accountability in the marketplace of ideas.

As a university professor, I teach students who aspire to work as public advocates, filmmakers, journalists, and social media marketing specialists. It should come as no surprise that we spend many classes exploring the tensions between privacy and publicity. Over the years, I’ve collected many case studies that illustrate the kinds of problems that media professionals are likely to face.

For example, the springboard for this article is What Would Jesus Buy? In this 2007 documentary, director Rob Van Alkemade and his crew followed Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on a road trip from New York City to California. Along the journey, the reverend provides a master class in political activism and the art of trespass. I supplement the insights provided by Reverend Billy with an examination of several other documentary films including Josh Fox’s Gasland, Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc., and Elizabeth Barrett’s Stranger with a Camera. These classic documentaries help to clarify the legal and ethical hazards that face media professionals who have found themselves straddling the boundary between private and public space.

The post Karen E. Whedbee on “Reverend Billy Goes to Main Street: Free Speech, Trespassing, and Activist Documentary Film” appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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Jake Johnson is an assistant professor of musicology in the Wanda L. Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University. He recently answered some questions about his new book, Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

A lot of scholars are brilliant at deciphering how music works—its mechanics, its history and influence on other pieces of music, etc. I wanted with this book to shift the focus and ask what kind of work music does for a community. Musicals have always been a fascination for me, particularly how far-reaching they are despite their close association with New York City. I grew up in a small town in rural Oklahoma, far from New York (geographically and in other ways!), but the community and schools regularly put on musicals and growing up I of course watched them on VHS tape. I wondered if this was a similar experience for others. Years later I became fascinated by how significant musical theater seemed to be for the Mormon communities I knew and I wanted to better understand why—why, of all things, musicals? In writing this book, I discovered that this may be a story about Mormons, but it was also a story about America and what it means to claim a way of belonging here. So, although Mormons are the focus of this book for specific reasons, this community stands in for any number of other communities that have used or continue to use theater to chart a path of acceptance and belonging.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

There are a number of immediate influencers, including my dear faculty mentors at UCLA and the University of Chicago and my many scholarly interlocutors in between. But this project in particular is personal. I couldn’t have written this book without some challenging and beautiful moments with religion, work, and life that I have shared with my wife. Her fingerprints are all over this project.

Q: How did you conduct research for your book?

My process was both historical and ethnographic. I did a good deal of digging in archives at Brigham Young University and the LDS Church History Library, but most of my ideas for the book came from chatting over the years with every Mormon I knew. I wanted this book to be both a gift and a challenge to a community I knew well but didn’t feel I could or should speak on behalf of.

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

The story was clear to me from the beginning, but the depth and theological significance of musical theater in Mormonism was a surprise. One aspect that I find the most fascinating is how every day and common many of our experiences with theatricality are. In Mormonism, this gets articulated most prominently in what I call the vicarious voice—or the practice of speaking on behalf of someone else. Pretending to be someone you are not is of course rife with falsity, but if we are being honest with ourselves, those experiences of pretend—of playing a role, reading a part, advocating for a child, reciting the Lord’s Prayer—are often what invite us into a world or experience more real than the one we typically inhabit. So, theater doesn’t only happen on a stage with footlights. We are deeply and often passionately implicated in pretend, and I think the Mormon example is a compelling representation of what probably is a common experience for most people.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

I hope my work glimpses for readers how significant musical theater is in the lives of everyday people and among a variety of communities. In reading this book, I suspect some will reflect on the place of theater in their own lives. I think it’s important to think hard about the work theatricality does for us, and why and in what moments of our lives we rely on theater’s pretense to access something we know to be more truthful but may be much harder to find on its own—like God, or community, or a sense of purpose in the world. My feeling is that most of us employ musical theater or its equivalent to invite ourselves into a world that might never exist materially but can be readily enjoyed vicariously. Of course, imagining a friendlier or more accepting or honest world is not the same thing as living in one. I hope this book is an invitation to see the work of theater for what it is but also to draw the best of our imaginings into the real world.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

                Musicals matter.

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

I’m a promiscuous reader. Right now, I’m reading Terry Eagleton’s Culture and the Death of God, which is some of the most evocative and incandescent writing I’ve encountered. In the car, I am an NPR junkie. At home, my wife and I are almost always listening to Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson or Nina Simone and show tunes are usually streaming out of our daughters’ rooms. At work, I have a soft spot for Sondheim. Other more recent obsessions include The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek. I love anything by the Coen brothers, and for me there simply will never be enough Anthony Bourdain.

The post Q&A with Jake Johnson, author of Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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Call For Papers

Jazz and Culture: Special Issue on Geri Allen
Issue – Fall 2020
Deadlines:

Abstracts 300-500 words: July 15th, 2019
Full Manuscripts: September 1, 2019

The journal Jazz and Culture seeks proposals and submissions for a special issue on the music and legacy of pianist Geri Allen. We invite scholars, writers, and artists to submit proposals for the issue, slated for release in Fall 2020.

Geri Allen (b. 6/12/1957, Pontiac, Michigan) is among the most powerful voices in jazz and black music to emerge in the second half of the twentieth century. She received her initial musical education in Detroit with Marcus Belgrave, followed by a jazz studies degree from Howard University and a master’s degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh. As a pianist, Allen’s approach was stunningly virtuosic and staggeringly unique, and by her mid-20s she had become one of the most sought-after pianists in improvised music. Her work drew on a wide range of influences including straight-ahead jazz, the avant garde, black popular music, and the rich musical traditions of her native Detroit. In addition to her position as among the most influential instrumental voices of her generation, Allen was a highly successful and innovative educator, teaching at the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh, where she served as Director of Jazz Studies up until her untimely passing in 2017.

In light of Allen’s widespread influence and prominence, the journal will consider pieces in all formats for this special issue. While priority will be given to our standard editorial focuses on scholarly research articles and oral histories (both ~10,000 words), we are open to also discussing other types of contributions, including transcriptions and analyses, personal remembrances, and other types of pieces. All methodological approaches are welcome.

 Jazz and Culture is an annual, peer-reviewed publication devoted to publishing cutting-edge research on jazz from multiple perspectives. The journal is the continuation of the International Jazz Archives Journal, a publication founded in 1993 on the principle that both scholars and musicians offer invaluable contributions to scholarly inquiry. Drawing upon recent trends in music scholarship, the journal further seeks to interrogate a range of issues connecting music, race, class, gender, and other realms of social practice.

To propose a piece, please send a proposal of 300-500 words in either .pdf or .doc format to: Pittjazz@pitt.edu. For full consideration, please submit initial proposals by July 15, 2019, and be prepared to provide full manuscripts by September 1.

For questions email: Editor-In-Chief Michael Heller at Michael.Heller@pitt.edu.

The post Jazz and Culture Call for Papers appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky is a doctoral student in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. He recently shared his thoughts with us on his article, “A Linguistic Method of Deception: The Difference Between Killing Humanely and a Humane Killing”  from the Journal of Animal Ethics.

Suppose you’re at a supermarket. Walking through the aisles, you look to your right and see an unrecognizable dead animal packaged in plastic with a sticker carelessly slapped on the front that says, ‘humane’. Seeing this word, what comes to mind? It strikes me that most people will think about the means by which the animal was killed. Was it painless? How quickly did the animal die? Here, the concern is whether an animal is killed humanely.

However, this isn’t the only way to think about the application of the concept ‘humane’ when it comes to the death of factory farmed animals. We can question whether or not the animal ought to have died in the first place. In this sense, we are concerned with a humane killing. And this is how we tend to think about ending the life of companion animals – we consider whether a beloved family dog has had her best days before making a decision as to whether she should be euthanized. If she has not lived her best days, we judge it to be inhumane to have her put down. We consider more than just a pain-free death.

So, why is this distinction important? It matters given our commitment to living well. If the meat-eating industry is able to utilize moralized concepts in a way that invites us to make judgments about the method of killing animals, all the while ignoring whether such animals ought to be killed, then this can confuse our ethical sensibilities. We will become
disposed to make immoral decisions owing to the intentionally obscured moral concepts that guide our action. We will judge the eating of meat to be permissible only if an animal has been killed humanely, and not whether it was humanely killed.

The post Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky On “The Difference Between Killing Humanely and a Humane Killing” appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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In this blog post we are featuring Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky’s summary of his article, “A Linguistic Method of Deception: The Difference Between Killing Humanely and a Humane Killing“, in the Journal of Animal Ethics 9.1. 

Suppose you’re at a supermarket. Walking through the aisles, you look to your right and see an unrecognizable dead animal packaged in plastic with a sticker carelessly slapped on the front that says, ‘humane’. Seeing this word, what comes to mind? It strikes me that most people will think about the means by which the animal was killed. Was it painless? How quickly did the animal die? Here, the concern is whether an animal is killed humanely.

However, this isn’t the only way to think about the application of the concept ‘humane’ when it comes to the death of factory farmed animals. We can question whether or not the animal ought to have died in the first place. In this sense, we are concerned with a humane killing. And this is how we tend to think about ending the life of companion animals – we consider whether a beloved family dog has had her best days before making a decision as to whether she should be euthanized. If she has not lived her best days, we judge it to be inhumane to have her put down. We consider more than just a pain-free death.

So, why is this distinction important? It matters given our commitment to living well. If the meat-eating industry is able to utilize moralized concepts in a way that invites us to make judgments about the method of killing animals, all the while ignoring whether such animals ought to be killed, then this can confuse our ethical sensibilities. We will become disposed to make immoral decisions owing to the intentionally obscured moral concepts that guide our action. We will judge the eating of meat to be permissible only if an animal has been killed humanely, and not whether it was humanely killed.

The post Paul-Mikhail Catapang Podosky Comments on Journal of Animal Ethics Article appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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Susan Potter is lecturer in film studies at the University of Sydney. She recently answered some questions about her new book, Queer Timing: The Emergence of Lesbian Sexuality in Early Cinema.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

When I started on this project I wanted to consider lesbian representation in early film as a progressive project of historical recovery, but I had a limited idea of what exactly that might entail. For starters, I had assumed that I understood what lesbian representation meant. But when I looked at some of the extant films in the archive—which can initially seem quite alien to us modern viewers—and then the rich scholarship in early cinema studies since the late 70s, as well as the array of histories of sexuality undertaken since Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, Volume 1, I soon realized that I was asking the wrong kinds of questions and making certain assumptions that I needed to revisit. That’s by way of a preface to saying that my interest is less in discovering previously hidden lesbian representations than in tracking the historical and uneven emergence in early cinema of an intelligible sexual category, identity and subjectivity. The book tries to model a historiographical approach to some aspects of this incredibly complex story which isn’t just of interest to so-called sexual minorities or, as I prefer to say, following Robyn Wiegman, the sexually minoritized. A counter-history of the emergence of lesbian representation and spectatorship is inevitably a partial history of a more privileged, yet historically less visible, sexual identity and discourse, a seemingly timeless heterosexuality.

Q: Who were your biggest influences?

This seems like this is an opportunity to write an acknowledgement, however brief and inadequate, that supplements the genre of the book acknowledgement. If I think about the work I keep returning to and being inspired by that would include the books and essays written by Miriam Hansen, Valerie Traub, Arnold Davidson, David Halperin, Patricia White, Heather Love, Annamarie Jagose, Lauren Berlant and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Such a high-powered cluster of film historians, historians of sexuality, and queer theorists attests to the ways in which one’s own scholarly work is enabled by that of others, and to my interest in developing a supple critical-historiographical practice alive to the opacity and ephemerality of the archive as evidence of historical formations and experience. Others whose work has influenced and helped my own, as well as providing models of historical scholarship and theoretical rigor, include Christine Gledhill, Constance Balides, Mark Lynn Anderson, Linda Williams, Catherine Russell, and Jennifer Bean. As this second but not secondary list indicates, the book seeks to offer a contribution to the rich field of feminist film history.

Q: How did you conduct research for your book?

In some ways this book is more concerned with film historiography even while it also offers a partial counter-history of the emergence of lesbian sexuality in early cinema. I’ve undertaken research in person and online in some wonderful archives and libraries—from the BFI National Archive in London to the Media History Digital Library collections—but the aim was never to track down lost or unidentified films in the archive. Otherwise, I’ve been engaged in watching films closely, and reading the literature, not only in film studies but also cognate fields such as performance and visual culture studies, as well as Anglophone and European histories of sexuality. I look forward to future work that can take this further and build on that of other colleagues, such as Laura Horak’s recent book Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-dressed Women and the Legitimation of American Cinema (Rutgers).

Q: What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching and writing your book?

The most interesting discovery for me was the Rudolph Valentino archive and what I call Valentino’s lesbianism. The appearance of Valentino in a book dedicated to lesbian representability might seem unexpected or even antithetical to everything I’ve just said about what this book is about. Yet if you look at some of the Valentino artefacts—films, fan magazines, and newspaper articles—one can detect a historical female spectatorship shaped by both identifications with and desires for the feminized matinee idol. These spectatorial relations are often associated with Valentino’s negation of cross-sex desire, whether through his on-screen relationships with mannish or asexual female figures, or his off-screen relationships with well-known sapphists. The spectatorial possibilities that accrue to Valentino are suggestive of the unpredictable but also generative possibilities of the Hollywood star system by which the seeming impossibility of desire between women might register in more diffuse terms as a kind of recognizable queer affect or structure of feeling. The book argues that these and other elements of Valentino’s contradictory image comprise a more obscure fantasmatic supporting female same-sex desire and a new kind of sexual identity that could be shared by women and men.

Q: What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?

It’s hard to predict how a book will be received and what individual readers will take away from it. I do hope that it will make readers think more about how it is that certain figures represented on screen are understood as sexual in the first place, and then in terms of a specific sexual category. Such seemingly easy interpretations are the culmination of an array of sexual knowledges, practices of viewing and reading, and aesthetic forms that extend well beyond cinema itself. In one sense what the book argues is that the sexual intelligibility of such figures has a longer history when seen in the context of late nineteenth-century cultures of performance and visuality, and their intersections with new scientific and medical discourses and practices of reading the body. In other words, the recognition of specific figures as lesbian is only the most visible but belated effect of modern sexuality. I have to mention one other ‘myth’ that the book seeks to dispel: that one can undertake a history of the emergence of lesbian sexuality in early cinema without considering its more privileged ‘other’, heterosexuality. One of my claims is that the visibility of lesbian figures in early cinema by the late 1920s masks the historicity of heterosexuality as modern sexual discourse and identity formation.

Q: What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?

I find this hard to say so let me suggest two basic ideas. First, that film scholars should always be thinking about and re-evaluating historiographical methods, even of the most simplest kind, in light of the pervasiveness of sexuality’s effects. Second, the erotic modalities of early cinema are different to those of the present and part of the excitement of working with the archive is to recover not an erotics or identities continuous with our own in the present, but rather other—queer—ways of being in the world enabled by early cinema that we have since forgotten.

Q: What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?

I have diverse tastes and probably don’t want to admit to everything that I read, watch or listen to for fun, but I do shamelessly love the TV show “Queer Eye,” even while I know quite well its template formula, lux branding, and US centred-ness. It is cruelly optimistic (as Lauren Berlant might say), and that optimism is tied to the possibility, however compromised, that popular culture can be a location for utopian thinking and feeling. I’m also lucky that what I watch for my work can also be incredibly fun. I recently viewed the restored version of Filibus (1915) which screened at the 5th EYE International Conference, that hosted the 10th Women and the Silent Screen. (For transparency I should mention that I’m Past President of Women and Film History International, the umbrella organization that helps facilitate the Women and the Silent Screen conferences.) A heady cross between a Tin Tin cartoon and a Nancy Drew murder mystery, Filibus is absolutely mesmerizing, the perfect amalgam of early cinema’s planar styles of mise-en-scène, delicate color palettes, and themes of crime and deception. And of course the figure of Filibus, the cross-dressing sky pirate, seems ready-made for queer appropriation.

The post Q&A with Susan Potter, author of “Queer Timing” appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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Feminist Teacher is seeking to form a new editorial collective and is soliciting applicants.  The current editorial collective is stepping down this summer but will be available for consultation.  The journal, published by the University of Illinois Press, has for 25 plus years been at the forefront of discussions about feminist pedagogy.

Scope of the journal:  Feminist Teacher is directed at audiences across disciplines and provides discussions of topics central to feminist pedagogy, including intersectionality, interdisciplinarity, changing views about the meaning of gender, and the place of feminist teaching within the academy and beyond.  FT serves as a medium in which educators can describe strategies that have worked in their classrooms, institutions, or non-traditional settings; theorize about successes or failures; discuss the current place of feminist pedagogies and teachers in classrooms and institutions; and reveal the rich variety of feminist pedagogical approaches.  The journal seeks to provide a forum for teachers in large institutions, as well as for those in small institutions and/or more isolated areas.

The journal is published three times a year, and it depends on subscriptions for its revenue.  Editors are not paid.   Applicants are encouraged to seek support from their home institutions and to check to see whether producing a journal might fit into their tenure, promotion, or other professional profiles. 

Major responsibilities include:

  • Participating in the peer review of approximately 50 manuscripts per year
  • Soliciting high-quality manuscripts from potential authors, and assisting these authors in seeing their manuscripts to publication
  • Deciding, with the other editors/collective members, which manuscripts to accept or decline. When deciding that a manuscript possibly could be accepted with revisions, working with the authors(s) to revise and resubmit
  • Working in a timely manner with the production staff at the University of Illinois Press
  • Keeping abreast (and ahead) of major trends in feminist thought and teaching, and of major trends in the academy and in academic publishing

Applicants should have expertise in feminist studies, possess editorial experience, and be able to work effectively with co-editors and with authors.  People can apply as a cohort or as individuals.

Search procedure:  Applications will be reviewed by the search committee immediately after the deadline submission date:

The application packet should include:

  • A 3-page vision statement that includes a clear articulation of what Feminist Teacher is in terms of reach, focus, strengths, and gaps, and a clear idea of possibilities for changes and growth
  • Applicant information, including name, affiliation, experience in feminist pedagogy, and other relevant information. Describe qualifications for becoming a member of the editorial collective, including ideas for encouraging new voices to join the conversation and using a feminist pedagogical lens for helping authors improve their work
  • A current CV
  • Institutional support, in terms of office space, student (or other) assistance, course release, etc. Applicants are encouraged to reach out to the appropriate office in their university
  • A brief letter of support from the applicant’s chair or dean.
  • Group applications should designate a specific person as the point-person who will work directly with the University of Illinois Press and be responsible for on-going journal administration. Specifics will be discussed in interviews.

Deadline August 15, 2019.  Applications should be sent electronically to Gail_Cohee@brown.edu.

The post Feminist Teacher Seeks New Editors appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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An Uncommon Peer Review for Common Threads: a case study about expanding formats, their evaluation, and what we learned when we challenged norms.

by Alexa Colella

The scholarly communications ecosystem is one that is ever evolving. As publishers, we serve the scholarly community by collaborating with scholars to disseminate their work to a variety of audiences and with rigorous standards for quality and trust. While our processes and policies have been honed over of a long history of development and dedication, technological advances and multi-modal practices are pushing the boundaries of what research, and its outputs, looks like. In order to continue to serve scholars as we have so well for many years, we must question the way we have always done things and open our doors to new challenges and opportunities.

This was a topic of discussion at the recent National Federation for Advanced Information Sciences Roundtable (NFAIS), which opened the National Humanities Alliance Advocacy Day in Washington D.C., on March 10, 2019. In addition to discussing expanding formats in the humanities, particularly the digital humanities, and the challenges that occur when evaluating them for publication, the roundtable discussion also focused on changes in user experience and academic promotion and tenure. Two University of Illinois Press staff, Alexa Colella and Dawn Durante, presented a case study about the challenges we encountered in producing a non-traditional publication that met an immediate existing gap of scholarship in its field(s).

Palestine on the Air, by Karma Chavez, is an upcoming Open Access supplement to the Journal of Civil and Human Rights as part of the Common Threads series. This project is a collection of ten transcribed and fact-checked interviews Chavez conducted while hosting a radio show called “A Public Affair”. The ultimate approval of this project had multiple challenges from different perspectives about what was most appropriate form of peer review to the degree of oversight necessary (as a supplement to the journal, it would normally be under journal editor purview. With an added print retail component, was that still sufficient?). This project forced us to think about our processes critically when we are opening our doors to new content, formats, and projects.

Expanding formats will ultimately demand adjustments to our processes, even ones that are central to our workflows. Dawn’s research on the reception history of changes to writing technologies lends some insights into why making changes to publishing processes are difficult: “There are essentially three main transitions in the history of writing technologies: the conversion from oral history to the written record; the shift from the handwritten word to the printed word; and then our current transition from print to digital writing technologies. In each transition, the reception to new technologies has historically been mistrustful attitudes toward new innovations. Society has established processes to legitimize written documents—like signatures—to try to overcome this mistrust, and the peer review process in scholarly communities is one specialized form of legitimization tailored for the academy. Legitimizing processes are important, especially in the era of fake news, but the scholarly publishing industry should be thinking about ways to innovate more nimbly while still being rigorous.” While, today, we are able to look back on these developments and wonder “what took so long?” it is not an easy thing to challenge culture. It is especially not easy to change practices that have been put in place to ensure the reliability and maximize the impact of published work. And maybe that’s a good thing. It is both wise and brave to make incremental changes born out of real needs.

So, while the challenges we faced when piloting a project that had the potential to challenge norms in our processes, the discussions in favor of an alternative form of peer review and those in favor of convention has been the catalyst for many discussions and innovative ideas. Adapting to changes across fields and their functions ultimately requires a great deal of generative and productive conflict. The expansion of formats and in inclusion of multi-modality on a grander scale will undoubtedly spark many conversations, experiments, and even failures as we work collaboratively with scholars who are pushing their fields and research forward.

*Palestine on the Air is currently in production as an open access supplement to the Journal of Civil and Human Rights and has an estimated arrival date of November 1st 2019.

The post An Uncommon Peer Review for Common Threads – Palestine on the Air appeared first on Illinois Press Blog.

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