Publishing and the early career researcher: a guest post from The White Horse Press

We’re very excited to be partnering with The White Horse Press for the next Environmental History Workshop in 2019. Below, Dr Sarah Johnson, partner at WHP, shares some advice and guidance for early career researchers looking to publish their work.


390779_284519654916585_1886423636_nAt The White Horse Press we are always interested to observe, support and encourage the progress of early career researchers. We are proud to have been involved in the British environmental history community almost from its inception – we began our flagship journal Environment and History in 1995 under the founding editorship of that giant of British environmental history, Richard Grove; and we have attended ESEH conferences from the beginning. We hope to establish an ongoing relationship with Environmental History Workshop. All our publications are linked to the broad theme – some might say the overarching theme of everything! – ‘environment and society’; and my own academic background was a Ph.D. on responses to landscape in 18th c. Pacific exploration accounts. One thing scholars can be sure of when publishing with the White Horse Press is that we understand both the discipline and the academy. I’m confident that almost all our authors would attest that this makes a real difference to the publishing experience. We are (very) small, friendly and personal, but also long-standingly respected in the field and nimble – we have adopted as fast as many of the bigger players new publishing tools such as online submission systems, digital ‘print on demand’ and online first publication of journal articles, whilst resolutely holding onto our humanity (often required in the face of these technical ‘miracles’).

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Leona Skelton’s, Tyne after Tyne, recently published with WHP

But a publisher is nothing without authors. We are aware of the difficult current environment for researchers, especially early career researchers, seeking publication. We know that achieving publications in journals or with publishers that are on approved lists – whether for Impact Factor or some other metric – is essential for promotion, funding applications and such hoop-jumping exercises as the REF: we try our very best to make decisions and see through publication speedily; and to support our authors as best we can in meeting the demands of bean counters and promotion boards. For example, we offer Open Access options, as these are often demanded by institutions or funding bodies, but passionately believe that good scholars should not be excluded from publication because they cannot pay page fees. With monographs and edited collections, we aim to make decisions on proposals within a few weeks and to publish within six months of the final MS being submitted, and whilst we will never come near the marketing abilities of the biggest players, our innovative print-on-demand publication model (the books look identical to those with traditional print runs) means that our books are widely available through booksellers and wholesalers worldwide and need never go out of print. POD also reduces print run costs so we can afford to publish works that are unlikely to become bestsellers without undue risk – this definitely works to the advantage of less well-known scholars.

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The latest issue of Environment and History

In both our book and journal publishing we try always to be flexible and supportive, and many authors over the years have become friends. Early career researchers with whom we have worked have often come to us highly recommended by senior figures we know of old. Mentoring is more than ever important in the academic environment, and developing networks with more established colleagues is vitally important – not in terms of slavish devotion but because, in my experience, senior environmental historians are some of the nicest people one could hope to meet and endlessly supportive of those rising in the field. Don’t be scared to approach those you admire. Don’t regard the publishing journey as a competition – share your ideas with others ‘ahead of’ ‘alongside’ or ‘behind’ you on the career path and you will often be rewarded. Writing book reviews is an excellent way to ‘score’ publications and – I probably shouldn’t say this! – to endear yourself to editors and publishers who struggle to find willing reviewers. In this, as in all things, be kind but honest. Think of the reviews you would like to receive yourself. Think of the peer reviews of your first journal submission that made you cry, and resolve to choose a different way. Learn early, and hold onto, the difference between fair criticism and attack. And remember that too when you receive peer reviews – take the good advice from them and pass by anything toxic graciously. Personally, I read and often solicit peer reviews for our journals, I make judgments about book proposals and consult with our editors about journal articles. I get to know and form opinions about names and behaviours. My best advice to anyone working in a relatively small field like environmental history is that taking the time to be nice WILL be noticed.


For what it’s worth, I’d offer a few further common sense pointers to early career researchers seeking publication, especially in journals:

  • Write with a journal in mind and respecting its norms – effective targeting of articles so that they meet a journal’s key focus will reap rewards. No overworked editor likes to read a paper that’s clearly a reject from a perhaps higher-ranked competitor or one in a subtly different field! Read and try to adhere to the journal’s stylesheet – on the rare occasions when I copyedit an article with all its references in order, I basically want to marry the author. I will probably publish their book on that basis alone. Whilst being ambitious, consider whether a lower ‘ranked’ but well fitting journal with a faster turnaround time to publication might be a better option. Familiarise yourself with the stats and feel free to ask questions informally before submission.
  • Take feedback on board and, when undertaking revisions do so promptly and making clear how you’ve addressed feedback and which parts you respectfully disagree with (this is allowed!). During the submission, revision and publication process, don’t be afraid to ask – rather than stewing for months, only to discover in the end that an only-human-after-all editor or publisher has lost or forgotten something, make a polite enquiry. But don’t be avid – ten minutes after submission is not the right time; or accusatory if latter scenario turns out to be the case!
  • As touched on above, don’t feel victimised by peer reviews. Try to take the good, ignore the bad and only complain (but never feel afraid to) if you decide – perhaps after talking to others – that you really have been badly treated.
  • If you have the opportunity to attend writing / publication workshops, do. And talk to your colleagues about the nuts and bolts of publishing, as well as your actual research. Try to find out their experiences with different journals and presses – the good and bad aspects, and perhaps any personal contacts they can share.
  • And always wear sunscreen.

Authors and publishers are mutually constitutive. I’d like to conclude this blog by asking what (other than always-elusive riches and glory!) we can do for you? The White Horse Press is proudly independent and free-thinking; we have no intention of being absorbed by a large conglomerate. Can we make a difference, while also making a living?

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Utilizing social capital and community conformity to survive short- and long-term change

In our fourth Virtual EHW blog post, Nik Petek offers us an interdisciplinary insight into how communities dealt with environmental stress in East Africa:

While pop culture would make us think that climate change will bring a dystopian future of dispersed groups fighting for survival, past responses by different communities to severe events highlight instances of cooperation and the formation of new identities.

Social capital and community conformity are two of many social forces that shape community responses to both short- and long-term climatic and environmental changes, but they played a particularly important role in the past 200-300 years among East African adaptive strategies and production systems.

Social capital refers to non-material capital that is apparent through social interactions and socially defined gains, including reputation, authority, etc. Community conformity refers to how closely members follow the norms set out by the community. These two forces have helped weather environmental and climatic stresses, which include common droughts, and became especially apparent after a multi-decadal, sub-continental drought from the late 18th to the early 19th century that re-shaped the social landscape of East Africa. They also help bridge the region’s diverse environmental mosaic that promotes production specialisation, such as cattle pastoralism, and help in the formation of distinct identities. The importance of these forces will be shown through the case study of the Ilchamus, a community that lives around Lake Baringo in Kenya’s eastern Rift Valley.

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Lake Baringo, Kenya © Nik Petek

Many parts of East Africa have spatially unequally distributed rains, severe droughts, and seasonally and oftentimes unpredictably available wild resources. To decrease the risk of destitution and the vulnerability to such climatic events, communities invest in social capital to extend their networks and expand their security net within and beyond the immediate community, thus ensuring their social survival by becoming an integral node in a network. This is done by building relationships with other households through marriage, engaging in trade, and being known as a reliable partner. By investing in social capital, people gain access to resources beyond their immediate/personal control and in different environments. Access to other resources and communities is also required in well-off years, as any one area is unlikely to be able to produce all or enough of the required items to fulfil dietary desires and social obligations.

Conformity builds trust between community members by creating commonalities and creating a sense of belonging, making members more willing to cooperate and share resources. In 19th century Kenya, people would commonly aggregate and the success of communities depended on the cooperation of households in production or trade endeavours. Conformity, enforced through the threat of ostracism and the authority of elders, would facilitate the utilisation of ‘economies of scale’, where bigger communities were more efficient users and producers of resources. Social capital and conformity reduced risks and vulnerabilities by allowing destitute people to migrate and resettle, marry off their offspring in times of need, and borrow from acquaintances. Restricted sharing (that is sharing with conditions) and pooling of resources were modelled as two very successful strategies for mitigating droughts.

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Sunlight on Lake Baringo © Nik Petek

The Ilchamus represent a case study where conformity and social capital played a key role in the formation of the community as it is known today. The community started forming during the early 19th century sub-continental drought, which brought together a diverse group of migrants to Lake Baringo. These hunter-gatherers switched to a farming-centred economy after the drought and invested heavily into an irrigation system throughout the 19th century to gain access to livestock, for which grain was commonly exchanged. Livestock, especially cattle, is the lubricant to social and economic transactions, such as marriage, and a necessity to fulfil social obligations. By shifting to an agricultural economy, the community ensured their social survival and built a network, which continued to attract destitute pastoralist throughout the century, while making them a preferred trade partner for both pastoralists and trading caravans. Moreover, the strong pressure exerted by community conformity is exemplified by the fact that Ilchamus and new immigrants either contributed to the agricultural economy and accepted the authority of the elder council or risked being ostracised and forced into destitution. There is also no variation in architecture and the material culture between individuals.

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Boating on Lake Baringo © Nik Petek

The switch from an agricultural to a pastoral economy in the early 20th century brought about by a single warrior generation shows further importance of community conformity and belonging, eventually leading to the formation of an Ilchamus identity. This process, however, was triggered by, among other things, the lack of cattle in the region and the need to fulfil marriage obligations and thus socially survive. As colonial powers eroded the authority of the elder council and the pressure for conformity was reduced, the use of resources became more individualised and resources previously seen as common are now owned, leading to new environmental responses and means of utilization.

Many communities today in the developing world will invest into a specialised economy based on the production of a few items, making them vulnerable to many disturbances. By investing into social capital and building strong, interdependent relationships with other communities, they might be able to reduce the risks they are exposed to and build stronger communities and economies.

You can read more on the topic of community conformity and social capital in Chapter 7 of the book Archaeological Perspectives on Risk and Community Resilience in the Baringo Lowlands, Kenya.

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Nik Petek is a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at the Uppsala University, writing a thesis on the historical ecology of the Lake Baringo Basin in Kenya, and on pastoralism in East Africa. You can find Nik’s University profile here, and his LinkedIn here.

Thinking beyond nature: what comes after landscape?

There’s something out there hiding in the landscape.

Or rather, there are things that landscape is hiding. As Dr Lisa Blackmore and her co-editors and co-authors demonstrate in Natura: Environmental Aesthetics After Landscape, landscape is a way of seeing and knowing that is heavy with the weight of history. Bound up with histories of colonialism, capital and modernity, the concept of landscape conceals and distorts how we see and know the environment. In fourteen essays, Natura explores how new bio- and eco-artistic perspectives are reshaping landscape and finding new ways of thinking beyond it.

We were really looking forward to hearing more about some of the ideas in Natura in Lisa’s paper on the aesthetics of hydropower at EHW: Intersections in September. However, as Lisa can no longer make it we’re very happy to share a post on the book instead, reblogged from Coleccíon Cisneros:

Natura: Environmental Aesthetics After Landscape

Natura book cover

Featuring a wide range of critical, literary, and visual forms of essayism, this new book asks whether there can be an environmental aesthetics after the demise of landscape. In this question, “environmental aesthetics” is but a placeholder term, a stand-in for the place left vacant by what, at least since Kant, has been known in Western aesthetics as the question of natural beauty and of its abyss and foundation: the sublime. The landscape-form emerged in the fifteenth century—simultaneously with the beginnings of European colonial expansion—as an imperial apparatus and as the very condition of knowing, from the detached vantage point of an unseen and disembodied beholder, an object-world to be surveyed, classified, and evaluated. Landscape sublimated, in visual pleasure, the loss of an embodied, use-oriented relation with the land, at the same time as it underwrote its transformation into landed capital, into real estate. Landscape, then, has been a key apparatus for both capitalism and colonialism, not least because its constitutive openness—signified in images by the horizon that invites the viewer to venture out beyond its confines—held a promise of infinite accumulation. [Read more…]

Recreation for Preservation (The Rambling Route)

In the third of our Intersections blog posts, Jamie Hinrichs (University of St. Andrews) discusses walking as both a subject and a method in environmental history. 

Walking is not as pedestrian as it seems, especially when it is made the subject of environmental history.  Actually, it was this presumed unremarkable and timeless nature of walking that immediately drew me in.  Walking, just like nature, often gets left out of history.

While walking is often relegated to the background of history, it is certainly embedded in the foreground of many rural landscapes.  When travelling on foot through rural Britain it is hard to ignore the way in which the land has been marked by footpaths, stiles, kissing gates, sign-posted rights-of-way, or invisible rights to roam.  If the rural landscapes of today are managed for – indeed imprinted by – walking, it’s worth investigating how and when it came to be so.

Walking became my path into environmental history primarily because of the importance it has in all arenas of my life.  Walking is the principal way I immerse myself in the landscape around me (the wilder the better), an experience that awoke in me the aspiration to become a writer who, by telling their history, contributes to the preservation of landscapes.

I began my thesis with a desire to understand walking as a character in the story of rural landscape conservation in Britain.  So far, I’ve been most struck by the connections between the cultural values given to the gesture of walking, and those that are incorporated into the landscape in which the walker walks.

This is central to the research questions shaping the approach to my chapter on hill walking, the idea of which was born three years ago in the Sierra Nevada Mountains while reading by torchlight.  I was poring over My First Summer in the Sierra penned by a Scottish naturalist (born in Dunbar – a place I’d never heard of then) who became a champion of wilderness preservation.  Although this man (John Muir) died some one hundred years before I had pitched my tent in that same range of mountains he worked to protect, his reflections of experiencing the Divine while ‘sauntering’ through mountain wilderness resonated with my personal experiences.

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On the trail in the Cairngorms (Photo Jamie Hinrichs)

When I began considering my chapter topics, I grew curious as to whether the sentiments of this Scotsman in America were shared by his contemporary brethren across-the-pond.  Was this peculiar only to American mountain preservation?  If this occurred in Britain as well, how vital was walking to preservation efforts?  Was the spiritual encounter due mostly to the intrinsic characteristic of the mountain, rendering the gesture of walking a convenient mode of conveyance with no greater import?

As I’ve been working on this chapter I’ve found that I’m reading myself into my primary sources.  This might be deemed dangerous from the perspective of fostering objective historical analysis, but I do not so much mind this interjection of my present into the past, as it helps me better understand the history I’m attempting to unravel.  As with John Muir, the authors of these sources – who I fondly refer to as “My Walkers” – seem to have sought mountain rambles for the same reasons as me.  Namely, walking at alpine heights in the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries seemed to have provided a sense of spiritual renewal.  But what caused this need for rejuvenation?  And what was it about walking in mountains, specifically, that satisfied spiritual needs?  Was this all just a continuation of the Romantic adoration of mountains?  If so, could it be argued that spiritual saunters during my period were of any real significance to decisions to preserve mountains?

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On the trail in the Sierra Nevada (Photo Jamie Hinrichs)

The cultural values associated with this unremarkable and timeless gesture might tramp right into our present tactics of managing rural landscapes.  After all, environmental history need not always be a tale of entropy centred on the ways in which humans brought about environmental degradation due to ecological disregard.  Make no mistake – such narratives are vital histories that need telling.  However, environmental history may also be a tale of how anthropocentric means can bring about ecological ends, conveying the ways in which landscape preservation can be achieved through the motivation of recreation.  Indeed, walking might just be one pathway into an ecocentric future.

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Jamie Hinrichs is a PhD student at the University of St. Andrews. Her thesis is titled ‘Out for a Walk: Pedestrian Practices & British Landscape Conservation, c.1850 – 1950’, and she blogs at forest odyssey.

Find Jamie on instagram, or at her university profile.

Nature, science and the new kind of husbandry

Our second blog post is from Esben Bøgh Sørensen (Aarhus University), who discusses the intersections between agricultural practice and scientific knowledge in early modern England.

In the 1590s, Hugh Plat (1552-1608), the son of a wealthy London brewer, roamed the countryside conversing with gentlemen landowners and farmers about their best farming practices. Plat was looking for methods that were practically tested and proven the most efficient and profitable. From ‘a Yorkshire Gentleman’ he had received advice on how to use ashes to enrich the ground, while another gentleman ‘dwelling in Surrey’ had told him about his experiments with different ways of setting corn. A third gentleman, described as ‘being very industrious, and searching into the workes of nature’, had explained to him efficient ways of ploughing. Plat’s purpose was to gather information that was experimentally tested and proven to be efficient and profitable and publish it in an accessible form in order to ‘stirre vp a number of drowsie wittes to the practise thereof’. He published his findings on agrarian issues in two books, first in the second section of the 1594 book The Jewell House of Art and Nature,[1] and later in his 1600 book The New and Admirable Arte of Setting of Corne.[2]

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Front page from the 1601 edition of Hugh Plat’s The New and Admirable Arte of Setting of Corne (Source: Early English Books Online/STC 1149:19).

Plat was a participant in the emergent scientific communities in Elizabethan London.[3] In the 1590s, when he lived just across the street from Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Plat spent his time walking the streets and gathering information on diverse sorts of inventions and experiments from all kinds of people. These people came from all types of occupations, and included physicians, apothecaries, goldsmith, gardeners, clockmarkers, and, as we have seen, farmers. Plat criticized the current state of natural knowledge in the universities. This knowledge was of a ‘theoretical speculative kind’, and scholars produced ‘volumes of imagination only’. Instead of this speculative kind, knowledge of nature should be ‘drawne from the infallible grounds of practise’, he thought. From this position, he constructed a practice of knowledge production based on hypothesis making, experimentation, observation, trail and judgement. This way of producing knowledge was, according to Plat, the best way to learn the secrets of what he called the ‘Jewel House’ of nature. Nature could be discovered only through practical and experimental knowledge production.

The use of the house metaphor by Plat is significant. It referred not to the ideals of the well-ordered and patriarchal governed domestic space. Rather, he described nature in feminized terms as a kind of unruly force, which through experimental practice could be understood, used and manipulated to delightful and profitable ends. The house of nature was not like a closed domestic space, but constituted an infinite resource. In the practice of farming, this meant perceiving land not as embedded in a complex set of social relations and customary regulations, but rather as a ‘store-house’ or a ‘cofer’ that should be unlocked by well-tested and efficient farming methods based on experimental knowledge. Plat explicitly contrasted the customary types of knowledge of traditional husbandry, with the experimental and therefore efficient and profitable kind of knowledge of what he called the ‘new kind of husbandry’.

Plat provided new criteria for distinguishing between good and bad husbandry based on the production and possession of experimental, observational and practical knowledge. Farmers practicing husbandry according to customary rules and tradition, and who were not willing to engage in experimentation and invention and implement the newest and best agricultural methods thus proven, were described as ‘ignoraunt Farmers’, ‘the common and vulgar sort of people’, the ‘simple sots’, and as ‘clownish people’. In the best case, these farmers would voluntarily follow the practice of the new kind of husbandry. If not, Plat advised to ‘take our idle Farmers by the hand’ and by ‘violence thrust them into one of his Marle-pittes’, thus revealing the often violent conflicts over the implementation of new farming systems in the early modern period.

In Plat’s mind, specific types of social relations, kinds of knowledge, ideas of nature, and use of land was connected. The customary farming systems and practices, described as the ‘general practise of this land’, were heavily condemned by Plat. According to him, certain types of social relations and farming systems stood in the way of developing a more efficient and profitable new kind of husbandry. By promoting and publishing an experimental kind of knowledge about farming, he imagined that he could inspire the supposedly lazy and idle farmers to leave their old ways of farming. He was, however, also aware that violent conflict could result.

Plat represents the intersection in the period between an emergent scientific culture in London and a new English tradition of agrarian literature promoting ideals of improvement. By the turn of the eighteenth century, a unique English culture of improvement had been established,[4] and the messy scientific communities of sixteenth century London had been institutionalized in the form of the Royal Society. Despite the many intellectual and personal overlaps, the connections between these two intellectual and cultural developments, and the ideas promoted by their intersection, remains understudied.

[1] Hugh Plat Sir, The Iewell House of Art and Nature, London: Printed by Peter Short, dwelling on Breadstreat hill, at the signe of the Star on Bredstreet hill, 1594

[2] Sir Hugh Plat, The Nevv and Admirable Arte of Setting of Corne, London: Printed by Peter Short, dwelling at the signe of the Starre on Bredstreet hill, 1600

[3] For these communities, see Deborah E. Harkness, The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution, Yale University Press, 2007

[4] See Paul Slack, The Invention of Improvement: Information and Material Progress in Seventeenth-Century England, Oxford University Press, 2015. For the connection between improvement ideals, social relations and the shaping of the English rural landscape see Richard W. Hoyle (ed.), Custom, Improvement and the Landscape in Early Modern Britain, Ashgate, 2011

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Esben Bøgh Sørensen is a PhD fellow in the Department of the History of Ideas at Aarhus University, Denmark. He was recently awarded runner-up in the Postgraduate Paper Prize awarded by the Social History Society Annual Conference.

Find Esben on twitter, academia.edu and at Aarhus University.