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March 17, 2012, 10:29 am

Someday, perhaps someday soon, The Very Last Edited Collection of Essays will roll off a university press.

For years historians have been told that There Will Be No More, because they don’t make money. When one goes to a small conference, the organizers always say, “we would like to get an edited collection out of this, but the publishers we’ve spoken to say they aren’t doing them anymore.”

For a long time, putting out an edited collection was a good way of defining a new subfield – of saying, not only am I toiling in these weeds, but so also are a dozen other promising scholars. Or of redefining an existing subfield, of saying, brave new work is still happening here. Or, very occasionally, they essay a redefinition of the field itself. Or of course they collect the short works of a major historian.

I have a number of these collections on my shelves. The ones I reach for, repeatedly, are few, and almost always of the last kind – the collected short works: Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style, Brinkley’s Liberalism and its Discontents, Haskell’s Objectivity is not Neutrality.

Despite the long era of warning that There Will Be No More, a thinning stream of them still trickles off the presses. When it stops, I suspect it will be the first kind of book to stop – before the dissertation monograph.

When they came for the edited collection, I said nothing …

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