Today’s guest post is by Bryan C. Rindfleisch, an assistant professor of history at Marquette University.
It was July 4, 2016. I found myself sitting on the curb at the intersection of Duke of Gloucester and Henry Streets, at one of the entrances to Colonial Williamsburg. I watched as families, big and small, dashed into air-conditioned stores and restaurants. In contrast, reenactors in eighteenth-century attire strolled to their destinations, creating an eclectic mix of old and new, 1776 and 2016. I then heard the sound of the noon cannon roar down the street, heralding the day’s festivities to celebrate independence. “Only in Williamsburg,” I thought to myself. I had to admit, though, I enjoyed it thoroughly. But I was not simply here to enjoy the scenery, I had a purpose. If anyone looked my way, they would have seen me shuffle through my coffee-stained notes, brimming with excitement and anticipation, as well as sweating from head to toe. I was intent, because tomorrow was an important day, filled with both promise and anxiety. It would be Day 1 of the Omohundro Institute’s Lapidus Scholars’ Workshop.
Melodramatics aside, the Scholars’ Workshop is the experience of a lifetime. Who could not “nerd out” if they were sitting at the same table as Karin Wulf, Joshua Piker, Brett Rushforth, Paul Mapp, and Nadine Zimmerli, let alone have their work critiqued, challenged, and enriched by these giants in the field of early American history? More importantly, I befriended five incredible human beings – my colleagues at the workshop – Megan Cherry (North Carolina State), Neal Dugre (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Don Johnson (North Dakota State), Mairin Odle (University of Alabama), and Melissah Pawlikowski (Ohio State University). Over the course of two weeks, we shared criticisms and insights into one another’s work, and bonded over sleepless lights in the Ludwell apartments, Euro Cup 2016, Hamilton, and our genuine interest in each other’s projects. If you had asked me on July 4 if I ever expected to leave Williamsburg with new friends, a radically revised introduction to my book manuscript, and a renewed vigor and passion for early America, my answer would have been “no.”
The Scholars’ Workshop is a two-week, intensive seminar where six junior scholars submit a work-in-progress – often a journal article or book chapter – and meet with the editors and staff of the Omohundro Institute to reshape that submission. It is challenging, if not humbling, to have one’s work torn apart before their very eyes for an agonizing ninety minutes. And not just once, but twice … yet my colleagues and I agreed that the chance to share and talk with one another about our work, and to sort through its remains and piece it all back together, was invaluable. It is hard to be an early Americanist in Houston, Milwaukee, Tuscaloosa, or Fargo, where student interests, university and library resources, and departmental specializations emphasize anything but early America. But as a participant in the Scholars’ Workshop, we had an incalculable amount of support and resources dedicated to what we love and do. In other words, the workshop is an immersive experience in which we lived and breathed the history of early America each and every day. And my favorite part? Learning more about the projects of my colleagues, which ranged from the ideological intricacies of Leisler’s Rebellion to the lives of ordinary people in cities under British occupation during the Revolutionary War.
In addition to workshopping our articles and chapters, we were given an insider’s look at the nuts and bolts of the Omohundro Institute. Joshua Piker and Brett Rushforth shared with us the logistics and labors, as well as the difficulties and rewards, of publishing the William & Mary Quarterly. Unless you are a part of that world, you have no idea how much work goes into a single article or book review, particularly for those pieces that are not published in the journal. Something that impressed me about the Institute was that the editors and staff care a great deal about each and every submission to the Quarterly. It does not matter if your article or review is accepted for publication, “revise and resubmit,” or “rejected,” you get equal attention as well as the advice and feedback from the best in our field – not to mention Reader’s Reports – for free.
On the flip side, Paul Mapp and Nadine Zimmerli ushered us into the realm of book publishing, and walked us through the painstaking process of transforming the book submission into a finished product. Again, our eyes were opened to the passion and care that these editors bring to each project. They spend on average two years shaping an author’s book for publication with the Institute, and their labors run the gamut from coordinating the logistics for each stage of publication, reading and then re-reading the author’s work, fine-tuning the big ideas and minute details, and more.
To top it all off, Meg Musselwhite and Virginia Chew – managing editors for the Quarterly and Institute books – blew us away with the labor-intensive process of copy-editing and source-checking each article and book published by the Omohundro (all of which is done in-house!). In fact, Meg, Virginia, and their editorial apprentices copy-edited and source-checked each of our submissions, which was simply – for lack of a better word – awesome. Most university and trade presses outsource this kind of labor, or do not bother in the first place. This, then, is the ethos of the Omohundro Institute. They care about the quality of work that they publish, they are passionate about the subject material, they are compelled to provide constructive feedback to authors, and they are advocates for a very particular way of publishing in the academic world. Needless to say, by the end of the workshop, I was drinking the kool-aid.
So what’s the big takeaway? First of all, I feel reinvigorated. Following the workshop, I dived immediately back into my project, processing and incorporating the criticisms and insights of my colleagues and Institute editors. I am also encouraged. At the same time that my work was eviscerated during the seminar, everyone was there to build it back up again. The purpose of the Scholars’ Workshop is to inspire and improve, to mold what we will one day contribute to the field. Further, I am grateful and humbled. The value of the friendships that I came away with is infinite, the knowledge I gained going forth to publish my manuscript is invaluable, and the experience of working with the Institute editors and staff will last a lifetime. Finally, I am heartened. I love what I do, and my time at the Omohundro reaffirmed that.
The OI is grateful to Sid and Ruth Lapidus for their support of this program. More information about the Scholars’ Workshop, including application details for 2017, is available via the Lapidus Initiative.