What’s in a Review?
9th June 2014
Once our work has been published what we academics then look for is for it to be reviewed. This is most often in academic journals (the things we try to get students to read as well as books!) but it can be on occasion in magazines or even newspapers. My most recent book, Landscapes of Protest in the Scottish Highlands after 1914, has now received two quite nice reviews, and I’m quite chuffed about that! In this posting, however, I want to reflect less on basking in that glory (which I am of course!) but on what a review might mean to a researcher. In this case those two things are different.
The first review was in the academic journal The Journal of Historical Geography, whilst the second was in the newspaper The West Highland Free Press. I am a historical geographer, and the JHG is the leading journal in that field and a most important human geography journal more generally. These things matter. To get a favourable review in that journal is a very good thing, not because I will suddenly sell lots of books and make a fortune (as if!) but because it gets your name ‘out there’ and can lead to other things. This positive impact is only enhanced by the fact that the book was reviewed by an extremely well-respected colleague from the University of Hertfordshire. This is all good stuff. BUT…….
I’m far more excited by the review in the West Highland Free Press!!! On the face of it this should be less exciting. The book doesn’t get much of a mention and the WHFP is a newspaper that very few fellow academics will have heard of, let alone read! So why then? Because the WHFP has always been a radical and campaigning paper. It pushes the agenda of the Gaelic community in the Highlands and campaigns around issues such as land, language and population decline. These are precisely the issues which underlie my book. In addition, people in the Highlands are deeply interested in their history and so is their newspaper. I wrote this book with at least half an eye on the general public, believing quite passionately that not enough had been said about the post-1914 period in the Highlands and that it needed to be said and needed to be read! Finally, the research upon which this book is based began life as my PhD research many years ago. That research was undertaken in Edinburgh. To arrive in that wonderful city, to visit a local newsagent and to pick up and read a newspaper that talked about the kind of issues I was researching was a wonderful feeling and a total validation of what I was doing.
To be reviewed in the West Highland Free Press makes me feel as if I’ve arrived and that I belong to a community I hugely respect and which has given me some wonderful experiences.
So…. What’s in a review? The very stuff that drives an academic forward.