Who will play the largest role shaping the discipline of history in the United States in the next few years? It could be a medievalist or a Mughalist, a historian of museums or of Marxism. But it will probably be the next editor of the American Historical Review.
Right now the AHA and the History Department of Indiana University (IU) are conducting a joint search for that person. Indiana has hosted the AHR since 1973, and the next editor will join the history faculty at IU.
More than anyone else, the editor of the AHR sets the intellectual tone for the discipline by presiding over the team that produces the most widely read history journal in existence, the one with—by far—the highest impact factor. Professional history, like most enduring human enterprises, has its fashions. In recent decades we’ve seen total history, cliometric history, subaltern history, the cultural turn (and many others) make their marks. What will be the next innovation that grabs the imaginations of historians around the world? No one knows. No single historian will decide. It will be a case of the wisdom of crowds. But journal editors have more say in the matter than most.
As the digital age unfolds (or perhaps I should say scrolls on), the AHR like other scholarly journals will have to figure out how best to serve its readership in an environment where information is gathered, analyzed, and presented in new ways. What will the look and feel of history journals be like in 10 years? Again, no one knows and no single historian gets to decide. Journal editors—and publishers—face important decisions, and the voice of the editor of the AHR will carry a long way in the ongoing discussion.