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January 1996 Issue
January 1996, 86(1), pp. iv-vi.
Paul F. Starrs
Merritt Holloway, a longtime friend and my cowboy mentor, once reminisced about the intricacies of his grandfather's work as a stagecoach driver on the Kingsbury Grade. That tortuous route, which in four miles rises 3,000 feet above the floor of the Carson Valley at the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada, was the stuff of nineteenth-century transcontinental travel legend, and driving a stage up and down the road several times a week was assuredly not for the faint of heart.
What impressed me most were Merritt's descriptions of passing the horses' reins, as the lead driver transferred the lines to the person who was riding shotgun, perched to the driver's right. Each of the driver's hands held not one but six to ten reins, intricately laced among his fingers, so that the bridle of every horse was under the constant control of a separate pair of leads. Passing the reins was an undertaking of formidable delicacy, for to drop even one of them was to inflict a crisis.
Taking over the editorship of a journal, especially one with such venerable traditions as the Geographical Review, involves no less an act of balancing, style, mastering mechanics, quick learning, and awareness of both the immediate terrain and the lay of an eventual destination. Let us all hope that the view ahead for the journal is no less spectacular than it must have been from an elevated seat on a mountain-crossing stagecoach. Douglas R. McManis, who edited this journal with unique grace since 1978, has now passed the reins. Would that I could claim his control and judgment have passed to me with those reins . . . but some things are harvested only with time.
The American Geographical Society has sustained the Geographical Review and its predecessors since 1851, thereby posting an unrivaled longevity in addressing American geographical concerns. Rather like Kilroy, the journal has had a penchant for popping up in unexpected places, first on the spot, with ways of transport that may seem a little mysterious. For almost every major subfield in geography the Geographical Review has published important and often pioneering work. Journals change, as do editors, but the audience of the Geographical Review has made clear its support for longstanding geographical traditions. This issue of the journal sports a new cover, a more refined typeface and design, and minor modifications in reference styles, endnotes, and essay materials, but the only consistent request heard from the hustings is for the timely release of a larger number of articles, book reviews, and notes that embody a kind of scholarship which remains magnetically attractive to many geographers. If that is what an editor of the Geographical Review has to provide, then readers may look forward to more such.
By way of greeting and exhortation, let me add a few thoughts about future editorial directions and the larger realm of geography itself. As I assure any potential author, my role as editor of the Geographical Review--and that of Martin Lewis, who joins me as associate editor--is not, in the rather wonderful phrasing of John Le Carré, "to turn every colour into gray" but quite the opposite: to make every submission the best possible piece of geographical writing, ably supported by illustrations, data, and an agreeable presentation. In this respect the Geographical Review is not like many other journals--it is a place where far-reaching ideas must be backed by excellence in presentation. Sadly, given the nature of our academic upbringing, not everyone is trained to produce such excellence--but that is what editors are for. As Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post noted succinctly in his memoirs, "Editors edit." We do not meddle; we assist.
With exacting standards, a wide readership, and its judicious mixture of work by first-time authors and geography's centurions, the Geographical Review remains a great place--the best, in my considered opinion--to publish field- or archive-based geographical articles. Manuscripts are read by the best referees possible, assisting an author by sharpening ideas along with prose, photographs, and perspective. Each essay is edited with a strong sense of language and possibility. While sympathetic to the needs of reaching the international audience of a learned society in accessible language, the Geographical Review can handle diverse essays and topics. It is certainly the most international of geographical journals in the United States, and it is American geography's voice abroad. In places like Hong Kong, Barcelona, Mexico City, Nancy, and Utrecht, provosts, deans, and university chancellors have told me so, with near reverence.
There is much contemporary and notable work that the Geographical Review can address. The books reviewed ought to be the books that are of significance to geography, that geographers ought to know about, or that offer something fresh and challenging. The reviews of these books can be a small kind of perfect art, a decisive literary form, and reviewers are encouraged not only to evaluate a book but also develop its context, so the message reaches an audience far larger than the specialized scholarly oracles of the arcane. Martin Lewis and I share a taste for reviews that are memorable and on point. An elegant and precise review of a modest book is generally much more useful than an aimless or mediocre essay on a good or great book. The longer "Geographical Record Notes," like the "Geographical Reviews," are generally solicited by the editors, but if you know of a book you are certain should be reviewed or have a record-note topic you wish to pursue, please contact us. "Geographical Field Notes," a developing category of submissions (see pp. 115-116 in this issue), may be submitted after consultation.
As a discipline, geography is evolving, and I expect the Geographical Review to keep pace. It has done so in the past, setting new directions in humanistic, scientific, professional, and theoretical geography. The past is not always a sure indication of what will come, but the past of the Geographical Review would be any editor's pride and joy. Why that is the case should be more evident in the months ahead, as a searchable index to past issues comes up on the Geographical Review's Internet site. The site (URL http://www.geography.unr.edu) will also include abstracts and selected illustrations from current and future articles. This is a prime time for exploring technological frontiers. I expect to see new kinds of essays, better and clearer illustrations, and still more streamlined submission procedures in the years ahead. When you have something to contribute, look to the "Instructions to Authors" at the end of this volume (and on the Web page) or make contact by letter or e-mail.
As I conclude, a word about antecedents and respect. This issue of the Geographical Review, my inaugural, is dedicated for entirely personal reasons to James J. Parsons, my teacher and friend at the University of California at Berkeley, and a consumate geographer. The finest field worker I've ever traveled with, and a genius when it comes to the turn of a phrase, Jim has contributed a remarkable number of articles, record notes, and reviews to this journal. Devoted to geography in its many forms, welcoming the fresh approach, his enthusiasm has been a gift to students at every level of study. If Jim's career is not easily matched, he has given many geographers incentive to try.
And so in hand now you have the Geographical Review. Enjoy it, relish what its authors have to say, but do keep in mind that it is supported by its subscribers. If you are not already a subscriber, please become one. Reading the Geographical Review is an intellectually tactile experience: as a subscriber, the first few issues may arrive and seem intriguing but not yet hefty; they occupy only a small space. But as the span of issues on the shelf builds, I would be most surprised if your experience does not match my own: a long run of the Geographical Review close at hand means never again lacking good reading, good thoughts, and good geography.
DR. STARRS is an associate professor of geography at the University of Nevada, and Editor of the Geographical Review.