H. Floris Cohen, ISIS Editor
One hundred years ago, Germany invaded Belgium and George Sarton, together with his wife, his daughter, and his fledgling journal Isis left his home town of Ghent. He went to England first and then settled in the United States for good. Today, as you are reading these words, the journal that Sarton edited for forty years is, likewise on board ship, crossing the Atlantic in the opposite direction. Its destination is not Belgium but the Netherlands—the northern one of the two nations that inhabit what is widely known as the Low Countries.
In the first week of my editorship, which started on July 1, we have been setting up shop at the new Isis office at Utrecht University. Our office occupies two adjacent rooms, which in turn adjoin the two rooms that house the Descartes Center for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities—Isis’ host institution for the next five years. Our office is located at the center of the heart of the city of Utrecht. I need only look out of my office on to the street to see the limes, the very frontier of the Roman Empire, now engraved in metal in the sidewalk. I need only lift my gaze to watch the Dom Tower, completed in 1382 and 112 meters high (367 feet). I need only walk for perhaps half a minute to the large University Hall where Descartes’ teachings were officially banned in 1642 and where, in 1713, the Peace was concluded that ended the Europe-wide War of the Spanish Succession. Deep history, in short, is all around us at the Dom Square, where on the first of July the moving van made its appearance.
To get to this point where my brand-new office staff and I are actually unloading what Bernie Lightman, Ian Slater, and the other helpful officers at York University had been packing a couple of weeks earlier, a great deal of preparation has obviously been necessary. Hardly any of the preparatory steps that I shall be listing below would have been possible but for my predecessor’s firm decision to contribute all he possibly could to a seamless transition. Bernie, I have said it before, I shall keep saying it on future occasions, and I insist on saying it here all over again: Thank you so much for preparing me for the job in every conceivable manner, with kindness, alertness, and in a truly cooperative spirit! You have set an example that I can only hope to emulate five years from now.
Take, first, all those instructive conversations that I had the pleasure of conducting in the course of the November 2013 annual meeting in Boston. After two days of intensive sessions with the HSS Executive Committee I met with the Isis Advisory Editorial Board over the annual dinner; I attended the annual session of the Committee on Publications and talked with each of its members individually; I attended the annual Council meeting; I met with Joan Vandegrift, our manuscript editor, and with Tess Mullen, who sees to all Isis matters at the Journals Division of the University of Chicago Press. I also made the acquaintance of Andrea Rusnock, the editor of Osiris, and of Stephen Weldon, the editor of the Current Bibliography.
Right after the Boston annual meeting the two new book review editors, Prof. Eric Jorink and Dr. Ad Maas, joined me on a one-and-a-half-day visit to the York office. By mid-May the new managing editor, Desiree Capel MA MSc, experienced the same hospitality and the same willingness to share with us the tricks of the trade.
I have further arranged for a group of youngsters to gather around the journal. In view of Sarton’s near-obsession with Egyptian deities, I have given the group the name of Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. At present the group counts a dozen members, mostly students in the MA program of history and philosophy of the sciences and the humanities that is being run by the Descartes Center, but also with some former students of ours who are now PhD students at other universities in the Low Countries. In late April, as part of our preparation, we jointly discussed good and not-so-good ways to review scholarly books in the history of science, using an actual example. Our three office assistants come from this group. The new Isis staff and I intend to meet with Horus on a regular basis so as to give these promising youngsters a real-world idea of what is involved in running a leading scholarly journal (something I am at present still rather curious about, myself!). And of course the Horus membership list will be refreshed from time to time as present members pursue their careers, be it inside or outside the history of science.
And because Isis is an international journal, I have traveled to Berlin to discuss with Jürgen Renn and others at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science what, from their perspective, the coming of Isis to Europe for five years may mean for history of science in Europe. I intend to make similar trips in the near future.
Way back in September last year, on the occasion of the International Congress in Manchester, Bernie Lightman and I had an extended conversation. During our talk he offered to involve me in his decision-making process after receipt of pertinent referee reports. As a result, I have between then and now read about thirty manuscripts and have thought hard about what seemed to me the best decision in each case—accept, reject, or revise and resubmit and, in the latter case, how.
Once an article has been accepted, all revisions are done, and the issue in which the article will appear has been assembled and submitted to Joan Vandegrift, it takes six more months for the article actually to appear. She needs three months to edit all of the articles and book reviews that go into a single Isis issue. Upon receipt of the edited copy, the University of Chicago Press needs another three months to turn definitive texts, pictures, and all the rest into a printed journal issue and its electronic equivalent.
Consequently, the issues that you will be receiving in September and in December have been prepared wholly by Bernie and his staff, even though from the September issue onward the masthead will be listing our new editorial staff and addresses (Trans 10 / 3512 JK Utrecht / Netherlands; ISISJournal@uu.nl). Even the March 2015 issue has, luckily, been prepared by Bernie in its entirety. Isis is a bit like the proverbial oil tanker—those things that I shall be wanting to alter, or to give a new emphasis to, will not begin to become manifest until next year in the June issue.
As for such changes, please do not expect anything really and truly major. You will be finding partly novel guidelines for prospective authors. If you are thinking of becoming one, you will soon be facing an author-friendly electronic submission system. You will also encounter in due time several more-substantive changes and innovations as we move along—as of this writing (early June) I still have a little time left to cut several knots of partly my own making.
Please do not take any of these changes as criticism of what my predecessor and his staff have done—I am sure that we receive Isis out of their well-proven hands in as healthy a state as I could possibly wish for, with every issue arriving right on time, and with much useful and instructive content for all HSS members. If the same can be said five years down the line, my prime task will be fulfilled. Even so, obviously, I shall seek to fill my editorship in accordance with what I slowly but surely begin to regard as Isis’ priorities over the years 2014–2019. I will write more about these priorities in future contributions that I intend to make to the Newsletter under the same title “From the HSS Editorial Office.”