HSS Publications during the Pandemic

To our friends and colleagues in the history of science community:

Like all of you over the last several weeks, we at the HSS Editorial office have resigned ourselves to the fact that we do indeed live in interesting times. We are reasonably certain that, as you adjusted to the new realities of teaching, working, and living through this pandemic, you did not devote much time wondering when you would hear from us. Nevertheless, we’d like to take a moment to address how these extraordinary circumstances will affect the Society’s publications and those of you who make them possible, through your writing, editing, reviewing, and patronage.

As historians, we naturally look to our present circumstances with an eye towards what elements of them will survive into subsequent generations’ retelling of them. Will the articles in Volume 211, Issue 3 of Isis—which we note for the benefit of our distant successors should be reserved for the centennial of these events—be able to appreciate the emotional range many of us are now experiencing on a daily basis? The absurdities of ten teleconference neophytes on a Zoom call coexist from moment to moment with desperate fears for our loved ones and our students and our professional futures. We are lonely, and then we are grateful, and then we are cynical, and then we are bored. We grant ourselves imaginary degrees in epidemiology. We cautiously revise our estimates of when it might all be behind us.

But we don’t, for the most part, rush to finish our book reviews.

Perhaps, like us, you very briefly entertained the idea that working from home—away from the distractions of your normal routine, whether it be in a classroom or a library or an administrative setting—would be invigorating in some way. Perhaps under other circumstances it might have been. Suffice it to say that most of us are finding no such silver lining. To that end, we’d like to be clear about a few points.

First and foremost—and this is true in all times—our publications exist solely because of a thousand acts of individual generosity on the part of you, our colleagues. This is, of course, not a secret, but it is a debt that we freely acknowledge. A career’s worth of person-hours, very few of them ours, go into every issue of Isis. We will continue to publish, and we have no reason to think any of our publications will be delayed. But if you are one of our anonymous referees, or Advisory Editors, or contributors, or book reviewers, or if you play any of the other contributory roles that our publications rely on, we recognize that your ability to perform those tasks may be affected. 

As usual, we will send e-mail reminders when those tasks are due. If you know that you will no longer be able to fulfill an assignment you’d previously accepted, we understand, and ask only that you let us know that as soon as possible. Similarly, if you need more time than you otherwise would, please let us know. If you can identify a point in the future when you expect you’ll be able to complete it, that too is useful. We may reassign reviews based on that information. Please be assured that no judgment is implied if we do. Our obligation is to our authors and readers, but your own well-being, and that of your communities, must always come first for you.

That said, we would be professionally remiss as editors if we did not use this space to beg other favors. First of all, if ever there were a time when volunteers to serve as article referees, or book review authors, or contributors to our Newsletter were especially wanted, it’s now. We’re not particularly worried that scholarship in the history of science will somehow grind to a halt and leave us with nothing to publish (though we have noticed a sudden downtick in article submissions for Isis) but we are keenly aware of how many people besides an author it takes to turn a submission into a finished article. We are careful always to match articles and books with qualified reviewers, a standard we are confident we can continue to uphold. But we’re always looking for volunteers who are eager to be a part of the process. It’s work, but it’s the work we’ve collectively chosen. Please reach out, if you can.

We are genuinely grateful to be a part of such a generous and collegial community of scholars. Until we can express our gratitude for your work in a less socially distant fashion, please accept our best wishes for your health. Stay in touch.


Matthew Lavine
Editor, History of Science Society

Alexandra Hui
Editor, History of Science Society