Dana B. Shoaf is the editor of both America’s Civil War and Civil War Times, and he faces a big task. First, and foremost, it’s a big challenge to find sufficient quality content to fill 12 issues per year of two different magazines. Second, the two magazines have slightly different focuses.
The biggest challenge he faces is finding material that will appeal to the masses but which maintains some scholarly credibility. Dana recently gave a talk on the subject. From yesterday’s issue of the Hagerstown Herald Mail newspaper:
Historian: Articles should appeal to masses
By ERIN CUNNINGHAM
APRIL 20, 2009
HAGERSTOWN â€” What do Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Sex Pistols have to do with the Civil War?
Not much, but to Dana Shoaf, editor of the Civil War Times and Americaâ€™s Civil War magazines, their stories are connected to the history magazine business.
Shoaf told an audience of about 30 Monday at Hagerstown Community Collegeâ€™s Kepler Theater that the brothers who created the Mr. Olympia contest â€” which Schwarzenegger won seven times â€” bought the publishing group that owns Civil War Times and other magazines three years ago after selling their weight-lifting magazines for $250 million.
Shoaf also told the crowd gathered Monday for HCCâ€™s annual Kreykenbohm lecture series that the touring philosophy of the Sex Pistols, an English punk rock band that formed in the 1970s, held some lessons for what he said was the need for history magazines to reach a broader audience.
The Sex Pistols began touring in dive bars in the deep South that typically catered to a country-western crowd, instead of their usual punk bars. The Southern audiences often threw bottles at the band.
Shoaf said the bandâ€™s philosophy was, â€œYou must go where you need to to convert the masses.â€
That is what Shoaf argued for during his talk Monday, titled, â€œWhen Worlds Collide: The Problems of Academics and Popular Civil War Magazines.â€
â€œThe problem with academic historians is they are not reaching a wide popular audience,â€ Shoaf said.
He said there is a need for factual, well-researched historical articles that are moderately priced and appeal to the masses.
Shoaf said that in his business, people often are reluctant to read social history because they think it is boring. They want articles about battles, but Shoaf said they like social history if they arenâ€™t aware thatâ€™s what they are reading.
He gave an example of an article on the depiction of Abraham Lincolnâ€™s face by the press.
â€œAt first it was unflattering, but over time, as the war went on, the depictions became more realistic as people gained more respect for him,â€ Shoaf said. â€œThatâ€™s social history.â€
Shoaf has taught American history at HCC and Northern Virginia Community College, worked for Time Life as a writer and researcher, and published a number of articles and book reviews about the Civil War, according to Joan Johnson, HCCâ€™s chair of English and Humanities. Shoaf also is a board member of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.
Dana’s point, I think, is well taken. A few years before the magazine group was sold to the Weiders, the prior owner, Primedia, tried out a very well-respected scholarly journal called Columbiad, but nobody bought it, and it quickly died. It was the closest thing to a purely academic journal available generally. North & South magazine tries to cross into both realms, as it offers a mass appeal presentation, but includes more scholarly pieces and includes footnotes with its articles. North & South, however, is very poorly run and only appears sporadically any more. Thus, Dana’s publications are the only ones available regularly, and while he does a great job with them, I do wish that they included footnotes. I think it would lend a little more credibility, but management steadfastly refuses to include them.
This is, of course, nitpicking. Dana does a great job, and I don’t envy him the task of running two mass-market magazines at once. Keep up the good work, Dana.Scridb filter