SEL celebrates Voyager Award

At the 2015 Modern Language Association Convention, the journal SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 won the Voyager Award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ). The award recognizes an outstanding journal in any discipline covering the time period between 1500 and 1800.

SEL Editor Logan Browning took some time recently to participate in a Q&A about the award.

JHUP: Congratulations on the Voyager Award. What does it mean for your peers to recognize SEL like this?

Logan Browning

Logan Browning

Logan Browning: That the award comes from fellow editors of learned journals makes it especially significant. Each judge for the CELJ knows intimately how much work goes into producing a professional, respected scholarly or learned journal year after year: the difficult balancing act necessary between diligently honoring the standards of your predecessors—in our case the founders and developers of the journal here at Rice University—and remaining constantly alert for ways to improve and innovate and avoid stagnation. It’s tough in ways that only fellow editors understand fully.

I’ve always joked with my family and many friends that they shouldn’t worry, that I won’t be sending them gift subscriptions to SEL as birthday or holiday presents because I realize that our audience for each issue is somewhat specialized. But I go on to say that, just as you would want your medical doctors to have read certain journals covering their  specialties, we hope that scholars working in the fields we cover consider SEL essential reading. Judging our success in that regard is also something that only peers, those working toward the same goal, can accomplish effectively.

JHUP: With issues covering four distinct time periods, how satisfying is it to win an award covering largely the same time period?

LB: One of the persistent challenges for SEL is maintaining the same degree of excellence in each of our four issues: making sure that one issue doesn’t gather all the attention and respect while another struggles. We want the specialists most focused on each of our issues to accord us the same high level of distinction. I think this award certifies that we’re doing a pretty good job of meeting that challenge.

JHUP: How has the addition of editors for specific time periods helped the journal in recent years?

sel.55.2_frontLB: Adding Joseph Campana as our Editor for 1500-1659 to work on our Winter and Spring issues and Alexander Regier as our Editor for 1660-1900 to work on our Summer and Autumn issues has been wonderfully helpful in a great many ways. They gives us in-house expertise across all four of our issue concentrations, the insight of two highly respected scholars whose visibility in their fields has helped to bring in a large number of new contributors and advisors from all levels of the profession. And each has generated numerous ideas for new exciting projects. Two of those ideas are already bearing fruit: Joe’s idea that more attention should be paid to allegory’s place in early modern drama has led to the publication of a cluster of essays in our Spring 2015 issue under the title “Staging Allegory,” and Alexander’s idea to highlight essays emerging from a year-long seminar at Rice on “Exchanges and Temporalities” is responsible for our decision to publish two special issues, Summer and Autumn 2016, devoted to that topic. We are thinking these special issues will help us learn more about possible ways to recalibrate our standard division of issue focus at SEL, but stay tuned for more on that subject.

I am immensely proud of having had the idea of adding two in-house editors, especially as it has thus far worked out so well for the journal to have Joe and Alexander on board. But I do have to acknowledge that I first thought of the possibility when I was reading correspondence in the SEL archives to write a short history of SEL for our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2010 and 2011. I discovered then that Carroll Camden, the founding editor of SEL, had originally hoped to have an editor in place for each issue, but the idea never quite panned out. But it showed me, that in this and so many other ways, his first outlines for the journal in the late 1950s were inspired. So much of what we do today at SEL has been in place from the very beginning.

JHUP: This is the second CELJ honor in recent years with Bob Patten winning the Distinguished Editor honor in 2013. How gratifying is it to receive these kinds of recognition?

LB: Both have been gratifying to receive, but in different ways. Bob’s award acknowledged, among other achievements, the fact that no one has had more influence on the continued success of SEL and its comparative security in the very insecure world of scholarly publishing than he. Despite the respect I have for Carroll Camden as founder, as well as for others such as Ed Doughtie, also journal editor at a key time, I would argue without any doubt that Bob’s work with SEL for more than thirty of his forty years at Rice makes him the most significant figure in our history. Almost every day, I think of some way that Bob’s prescience and persistence make my working life easier. Without him, SEL almost certainly wouldn’t exist today. He found fiscal support in unlikely places, organized our wonderful Diana Hobby Fellows editorial program for Rice graduate students in English, set up arrangements with Johns Hopkins University Press and Project MUSE that continue to pay off for us today, secured the digital archiving of our issues from the first volume on with JSTOR, and maintained an absolutely stellar editorial board of advisors from around the English-speaking world. He also left a superb example of selfless scholarship and professionalism.

JHUP: What kind of effect do awards have on the people who put in the extra time required to put out an outstanding journal?

LB: Immeasurable. And I’m not trying to be hyperbolic here. I think virtually everyone who works in scholarly publishing knows that you aren’t going to become a celebrity in this world. Even of those who may publish a blockbuster book, or lead discussions on highly topical issues, only a very small number will ever be “trending” or merit attention outside a small coterie of professionals with similar interests. So when a journal like ours receives some recognition, e.g., wins a Voyager award, it feels and, I think, is immensely significant. Consequently, it’s extremely important to point out that such a rare honor truly is a collaborative effort; that lots of dedicated persons have contributed to the qualities that earned the award. It’s not just the publishers and executive editors, the editors, and the editorial board, but (to give only a partial list) the associate editors and business managers of the last twenty-five years such as Becky Byron (currently), Kay McStay, K Krueger McDonald, and Sally Hubbard; the Hobby Editorial Fellows; the scholarly essay contributors; our omnibus review authors; the specialist manuscript evaluators; our readers, especially those who remain loyal subscribers; the superb staff members at JHUP; and of course our benefactors, particularly the Hobby Family Foundation and the School of Humanities at Rice. It’s been a great honor to accept the Voyager Award on behalf of everyone who has helped to make SEL the distinguished journal that it is.