By Laura Harrison |

This is the second instalment in a series about editing a special issue of the British Journal for Military History. If you missed part one, which outlines how we came to be editing a special issue and also the experience of releasing our Call for Articles, you can find it here.

The next step in the process was for my co-editor Lucie Whitmore and I to choose the papers we were going to put through to the next round in the process – peer review. We mostly used Twitter to advertise our Call for Articles, as well as the mailing list for the War Through Other Stuff Society, and the social networks associated with the BJMH. You could also send it to individual departments, or to specific mailing lists in your field – use whatever networks you have.

We then sat back and crossed our fingers that we would get some abstracts. We were looking to put between 7 and 10 articles through to the peer review stage. On the day after our deadline we had received an overwhelming 75 abstracts altogether. I feel a bit guilty calling this a problem, because it was a problem we were pretty thankful to have, but it was still an issue. We were going to have a rejection rate of about 90%, which didn’t feel great, especially when looking at the number of really strong abstracts we had.

To start the process of going through the abstracts, we each went through them separately, and ranked them as yes, maybe, and no (this turned into five categories: yes, maybe-yes, maybe, maybe-no, and no). We then set aside a full afternoon and went through each one together to see how they matched up. I strongly recommend percy pigs to help get you through this process. We booked out a seminar room so we had a big table that we could move the abstracts into different piles on. Lucie came up with some key questions that we asked about the papers we were debating over. The main one was about whether the article would be about methodology. This is the main goal for our publication, so that helped separate what was a really interesting article from what was going to further our aim at showing ‘War Through Other Stuff’ as a methodological framework. After a lot of discussion we had three groups: yes, no, and ones-that-were-no-but-we-weren’t-quite-ready-to-let-go-of-yet.

Crucial fuel at every step of the process

We then had a Skype call with our brilliant editor, Matthew Ford, who presented us with a possible solution – why don’t we do two special issues? After a bit of discussion, we jumped at the chance. It would involve some extra work, but it meant we didn’t need to let go of the ones we really loved but were currently in the no pile. We immediately had another discussion (involving more percy pigs, for medicinal reasons) and chose 20 abstracts. This time we were not only focused on methodology, but also thinking about potential themes for each issue, which the articles we chose could potentially fit into.

In addition to potential themes, throughout the process we were also considering time period, geographical reach, type of conflict, and methodology used. It is really important to have a strong concept of the aims of your issue, so that you know which papers will fit and which will not. There were a number of papers that we found really interesting, but that does not necessarily mean they were right for our aims. We also knew going into the process that we wanted a wide temporal and geographical scale if possible, so this also helped to influence our decision making.

The final step was to let everyone who sent abstracts know our decision. We obviously loved receiving all the enthusiastic responses from the people we had said yes to, but it was also really heartening to get the really polite and understanding responses from people who we couldn’t accept. It meant a lot to hear people saying they are still looking forward to reading the issue when it is published. We had been dreading this part of the process, but people were nothing but kind to us.

The next stage of the process was peer review, which will be the focus for the next instalment in this series.


Laura Harrison is the founder and a current committee member of Pubs and Publications. She is in the final year of her PhD at the University of Edinburgh. She can be found experiencing increasing levels of stress on Twitter.


Image 1: Pixabay, Image 2: Lucie Whitmore