We give you the scuttlebutt on academic journals—aiding you in selecting the right journal for publication—in reviews that are sometimes snarky, sometimes lengthy, always helpful. Written by Princeton University graduate students and Wendy Laura Belcher.
For those interested in publishing articles that contribute to current debates within American historiography.
The Journal of American History (JAH) is published four times a year by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians (OAH). According the journal’s website, it is “the leading scholarly publication and journal of record in the field of American history.”
Although articles in the JAH are generally not interdisciplinary, they cover a range of subfields within American history, including Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American history, women’s history, political history, economic and labor history, legal history, environmental history, and intersections thereof.
Some articles deal with foreign affairs or borderlands, but these articles are in the minority.
In recent years, the vast majority of articles published in the JAH have covered American history after the American Revolution, with very few articles on colonial history.
There have been quite a few articles on Native American history over the past five years.
Although most articles focus on a relatively short period of time, in the past few years there have also been a few articles that cover one topic over a long stretch of American history (ex. Steven Ruggles and Diana L. Magnuson, “Census Technologies, Politics, and Institutional Change, 1790-2020,” The Journal of American History 107, no. 1 (2020): 19-51.)
Articles are almost always single-authored, but in the past five years I noticed three articles that were co-authored.
Most use exclusively qualitative historical methods. Many articles have subheadings, but not all of them
The lengths of the introductions vary and are anywhere from 3-8 pages. Most seem to be in the 4-6 page range (inclusive of footnotes). Most of the articles in the JAH open with a short anecdote told from the perspective of a historical figure. Of the articles I saw that didn’t do this, a few were of a biographical nature more broadly, so they were still structured around a particular person even if they didn’t use an anecdote from their experiences as the hook.
Although the JAH requires authors to submit abstracts with their articles, the JAH does not appear to publish abstracts in the journal (!). Instead, authors have to rely on their introductions to succinctly state their arguments. Accordingly, some authors end their introduction with a paragraph that sketches out how the rest of the article will proceed and that could stand in for an abstract.
After the hook, articles in the JAH generally spend several paragraphs providing an overview of the relevant literature while simultaneously demonstrating how the author’s argument and claim of significance relate to the literature. Articles that are more theoretical than others and/or that deal with legal history might spend more space on this task than others do.
Authors in the JAH tend to introduce their arguments by page 4. Some authors place the argument right after their hook and before they begin discussing relevant literature in the field, so that it appears fairly early on in the article and is easy to find. Other authors take time to explain a current paradigm within the historiography before they introduce their argument; this helps them show how their argument fits in with or against a prevailing framework in their field. (The argument almost never appears in the first paragraph, since so many authors open their articles with a historical anecdote.) Sometimes the argument appears before the claim of significance, but sometimes after.
I found that most authors stated their argument clearly in one place, even if they elaborated on it at a later point in their introduction. However, I thought that it was actually fairly difficult to find the argument in some articles, especially if the author included a detailed literature review that picked apart current paradigms within their field. In these instances, the argument wasn’t always clearly stated, but the claim of significance was easier to find.
In some of the articles published in the JAH, the argument critiques a dominant understanding within the literature, arguing that the way historians have interpreted a particular phenomenon actually obscures something important or doesn’t hold up in a particular case. Other articles have more straightforward arguments that don’t work against current understandings but expand them to a new area that historians haven’t given a lot of attention to yet. Authors in the JAH tended to make their claim of significance by page 3. Some authors placed it before the argument and some authors placed it after. In many cases, the claim of significance was actually stated more clearly and was easier to find than the argument.
In many articles published in the JAH, the author claims that their findings are significant either because they go against something that is widely accepted within the historiography or because they don’t fit into any of the conflicting camps that currently shape debate within the historiography (ex. Dylan Penningroth’s article “Everyday Use: A History of Civil Rights in Black Churches”). Other authors claim that their article is significant because it adds to a scholarly conversation on a particular phenomenon/process by bringing in a new thing that people can look at in order to study that phenomenon/process (ex. Esther Cyna, “Schooling the Kleptocracy: Racism and School Finance in Rural North Carolina, 1900–2018”). Other authors claim that their article is significant because it has relevance to something that people are particularly concerned about in the present day (ex. Kim Phillips-Fein, “‘A Fight between Two Systems of Thought’: Gerald B. Winrod and the Kansas Senate Race of 1938”). The vast majority of articles in the JAH use qualitative methods exclusively. Authors typically draw evidence from a range of secondary and primary sources, including government documents, correspondence, newspaper articles, and other archival sources. Some articles also incorporate oral histories. Less frequently, authors might conduct samples to gather quantitative data; one author drew conclusions about Black court usage between 1872 and 1962 by sampling 25 cases per decade per county in Illinois, Virginia, Mississippi, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia (Dylan C. Penningroth, “Everyday Use: A History of Civil Rights in Black Churches,” The Journal of American History 107, no. 4 (2021): 871–898.) Sometimes authors based their article around a particular set of unusual archival documents; for example, one author wrote about Black domestic workers during the Great Depression by analyzing 92 essays written by undergraduates at a small white women’s college between 1928 and 1940 (Catherine A Stewart, “Household Accounts: Black Domestic Workers in Southern White Spaces during the Great Depression,” The Journal of American History 108, no. 3 (2021): 492–520).
In the acknowledgments footnote at the beginning of the article, several authors thanked participants at one or more conferences or workshops, showing that they had presented their paper while it was in progress and benefited from feedback from multiple other researchers.
In addition to peer-reviewed articles, in the past five years each issue of the JAH has also published several dozen book reviews, up to six digital history reviews, up to eight movie reviews, and up to four public history reviews (often of museum exhibitions). The digital history reviews were somewhat surprising to me, since I don’t know that there are many other scholarly publications where historians can receive reviews for digital history projects. The digital history reviews go back ten years, and before that they were called “web site reviews.”
The Louis Pelzer Memorial Award, the JAH’s prize for the best article written by a graduate student, has separate submission requirements from other articles submitted to the JAH. Students need to submit their articles for consideration for the award, and the winner will then have their article published in the journal. That is, the award is pre-publication students submit to the prize in order to be considered for publication in the journal, not the other way around. It is not clear if good articles that do not win the prize are nevertheless considered for publication in the journal.
Word count: 14,000 words or less. “The JAH rarely publishes regular research articles that are less than 10,000 words.” The actual wordcount, based on an average of the wordcount for the articles published in the September 2021 and December 2021 issues, was 11,946 words. Articles in the JAH are typically between 20 and 30 pages long.
Issues per year: 4
Articles per year: 13-19
Current issue: Vol. 109, June 2022
Citation style: Chicago Manual of Style 17th ed note and bib style
Typical number of citations per article: 40 or less
Typical number of footnotes per article: 70 or less
Authors: Mostly junior faculty
Abstract length (if required): 500 (!) words or less
Upcoming special issues: It does not say it has any upcoming special issues, but every year the March issue includes a themed “Textbooks and Teaching” section. The JAH puts out a call for papers on the relevant theme the preceding spring, and submissions are due over the summer.
Relevant editors: Stephen D. Andrews is the Interim Executive Editor
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Open Access? No
Online? Both online and in print
Impact factor: SJR impact factor of .5 to 1
Submission method: By email (still)
Bibliography (articles in the journal consulted for this review):