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Well Read

The benefits of Dartmouth’s manuscript peer-review program stack up

Shortly after she joined the Dartmouth faculty in 2004, Assistant Professor of Art History Mary Coffey was invited to participate in a review of fellow faculty member Silvia Spitta’s manuscript, Between Two Waters: Narratives of Transculturation in Latin America. “When Chris Wohlforth from the Dickey Center asked me to participate, I thought it was a brown bag lunch,” Coffey says, citing the academic forums common at most universities in which peers weigh in on a colleague’s chapter or paper over lunch. “Then I got the manuscript, and it became clear that I was committing to much more.”

coffey and bedi

Professors Mary Coffey and Sonu Bedi both had the manuscripts of their books reviewed by peers through the Dickey Center’s program. “It’s the most extensive kind of feedback you’ll get on your work in your entire career,” says Coffey. (Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

What she had committed to was a unique manuscript review program that the Dickey Center for International Understanding initiated in 2002 and which the Leslie Center for the Humanities also adopted last year. The two centers accept manuscript submissions, usually from junior faculty members, have the author select several Dartmouth colleagues and two external readers, and then invite these faculty members to participate in a manuscript review seminar.

Participants have one month to read the manuscript, after which they convene on campus with the author and collectively offer four hours of feedback. The centers cover all costs. Thirty-seven faculty members have participated in the Dickey Center program to date (a rate of about six per year), and more than 20 books have been published.

“We try to share information about this program with junior faculty as soon as they are hired because they are the ones who stand to benefit the most from successful publication of their work,” says Wohlforth, associate director of the Dickey Center, who adds that senior faculty may also apply to the program. “Publications are hard to come by, competition is high, publishers aren’t producing as many books as they used to. You want to make sure the product you’re sending out is as good as it can possibly be.”

The Leslie Center, which will convene its fourth manuscript review during winter term, started its own program when the Dickey Center began receiving a number of humanities manuscripts, which were outside the center’s international focus. Director Adrian Randolph had participated in a number of manuscript seminars as a reviewer and felt the program was also a great fit for the Leslie Center.

books

Sixteen of the more than 20 books that faculty members have published following participation in Dartmouth’s rigorous manuscript peer-review program. Begun in 2002 by the Dickey Center for International Understanding, the Leslie Center for the Humanities joined the effort last year. (Photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

“This is one of the key things a humanities center should do: create opportunities for faculty to get intense feedback on their work,” says Randolph. “This helps improve the quality of their texts and the chances of their completed manuscripts being published.”

English Professor Colleen Boggs had her manuscript, Transnationalism and American Literature: Literary Translation 1773-1892, reviewed through the Dickey Center’s program in 2004, and in February will have her new manuscript reviewed through the Leslie Center. “I found the program to be incredibly helpful,” says Boggs. “When you’re a junior faculty member you’re expected to produce the tenure book, and you’ve never written a book before. So having people help you with that and walk you through that process is really wonderful. I encourage all my junior faculty colleagues to participate. I also encourage them to be thoughtful about selecting outside readers, to think about inviting the really important people in the field.”

That’s exactly what Assistant Professor of Government Sonu Bedi did. The legal theorist invited two prominent scholars from his field, Chrandran Kukathas from the London School of Economics and Stephen J. Macedo from Princeton. Not only did the seminar provide invaluable feedback that helped clarify his arguments in Rejecting Rights, which had already been accepted for publication by Cambridge Press (it was published last April), he also got cover blurbs endorsing his book from Kukathas and Macedo.

“It was great to have these two big names read my work and to establish a professional relationship with them,” Bedi says. “This is such a great program. My friends who teach at other schools don’t have this. I think it’s a real commitment that Dartmouth does this and shows the College cares about the research of junior faculty.”

When Coffey submitted her manuscript on Mexican murals to the Dickey Center program in spring 2009, How Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums, and the Mexican State had already been accepted for publication (by Duke University Press). “I thought it was done and I really didn’t see any place to change it other than just tweaks. But after the seminar my manuscript changed dramatically,” says Coffey, who cites colleague Lisa Baldez’s suggestion to include more gender analysis as especially helpful. “The process was intense and exhausting. It’s the most extensive kind of feedback you’ll get on your work in your entire career. I think the press would’ve been satisfied with the tweaks, but now I feel like it’s a better book.”

By BONNIE BARBER

Last Updated: 1/7/10