From time to time, a characteristic dust storm blows up around BMCR’s usually well-watered and shady home. We publish a review and a colleague elsewhere writes to ask “HOW COULD YOU!?!?” The gravamen of the concern is the tone and tenor of the review. We strongly encourage and publish responses to reviews as the best way to bring daylight to such concerns, but we understand that readers are often reluctant to engage in such conversation publicly.
It may, therefore, be timely to repeat what our basic procedures are. We maintain a veil of confidentiality, to avoid pressure and logrolling, and so never discuss the particulars of the vetting of a review. But the process can be explained.
First, we invite publishers to send books for review. When they arrive, we ask the forty-five members of our editorial board to assist us in selecting reviewers. Books not placed for review by that process are opened up to volunteers in the monthly books-received list. This volunteer assignment has been highly successful and produces reviews that we have not been able to distinguish in quality from those assigned in a more patronage-ly way. Each submitted review is then vetted by at least one member of the editorial board for content and style, and light copy-editing is done; the most senior editor also reads each review at that point. Concerns are raised, reviews are corrected, revised, recast, and/or scrapped at that point. When they pass that hurdle, they are placed on the website and sent to our 8000 or so subscribers. This gauntlet is one that was run in the last twelve months by 479 reviews, engendering 23 responses. Nobody gets paid except the Assistant Editor, but reviewers get the books for free and unplaced books go to the Bryn Mawr College Library. The modest costs of operation are subvened by the sales of Bryn Mawr Commentaries, now marking 25 years in the classroom. We are the second-oldest on-line humanities journal in history. We benefit to an astonishing degree from the generosity, learning, and assistance of a community of colleagues, whose respect we are proud to merit and to whom we have only gratitude (and free books) to offer in return.
When an author wishes to respond, we allow him or her to do so; the reviewer is then allowed to respond as well. Discussion past that point is encouraged to step outside into the alley. Responses by other parties are encouraged, especially when a third party has expertise that seems germane and interesting. We observe, and are sometimes heeded when we do, that generosity of spirit and attention to the facts are the hallmarks of successful responses.