So there I was, a newly-minted Ph.D. enjoying my (all too brief) summer of freedom in 2009 from major academic responsibilities. There must be some sort of scholarly pheromone signal that gets emitted in cases like these, some chemical signature that senior scholars are attuned to that reads ‘I am young and enthusiastic and am not currently crushed by the burden of a thousand obligations’. I was about to meet the Swarm of Encyclopedists.
It started innocently enough, actually even before I had submitted, when Elizabeth Jeffreys (who had been my MPhil degree supervisor) offered me the authorship of an article on the Armenians to go into an encyclopedia that she was helping to edit. As it happened, this didn’t intrude again on my consciousness until the following year–I was duly signed up as author, but my email address was entered incorrectly in a database so I was blissfully ignorant of what exactly I had committed to until I began to get mysterious messages in 2010 from a project I hadn’t really even heard of, demanding to know where my contribution was.
Lesson learned: you can almost always get a deadline extended in these large collaborative projects. After all, what alternatives do the editors have, really?
The second lure came quite literally the evening following my DPhil defense, when Tim Greenwood (who had been my MPhil thesis supervisor) got in touch to tell me about a project on Christian-Muslim relations being run out of Birmingham by David Parker, and that I would seem to be the perfect person to write an entry on Matthew of Edessa and his Chronicle. Flush with victory and endorphins, of course I accepted within the hour. Technically speaking this was a ‘bibliographical history’ rather than an ‘encyclopedia’, but the approach to writing my piece was very similar, and it was more or less the ideal moment for me to summarize everything I knew about Matthew.
For a little bit of doctoral R&R, academic style, I flew off a few days later to Los Angeles for the 2009 conference of the Society of Armenian Studies. There in the sunshine I must have been positively telegraphing my relaxation and lack of obligations, because Theo van Lint (who had only just ceased being my DPhil supervisor) brought up the subject of a number of encyclopedia articles on Armenian authors that he had promised and was simply not going to have a chance to do. By this time I was beginning to get a little surprised at the number of encyclopedia articles floating around in the academic ether looking for an authorly home, and I was not so naïve as to accept the unworkable deadline that he had, but subject to reasonability I said okay. He assured me that he would send me the details soon.
Around that time, through one of the mailing lists to which I had subscribed in the last month or so of my D.Phil., I got wind of the Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle (EMC). The general editor, Graeme Dunphy, was looking for contributors to take on some of the orphan articles in this project. Matthew of Edessa was on the list, and I was already writing something similar for the Christian-Muslim Relations project, so I wrote to volunteer.
And then everything happened at once. Theo wrote to me with his list, which turned out to be for precisely this EMC project. The project manager at Brill, Ernest Suyver, who knew me from my work on another Brill project, wrote to me to ask if I would consider taking on several of the Armenian articles. Before I could answer either of these, Graeme wrote back to me, offering me not only the article on Matthew of Edessa that I’d asked for–not only the entire set of Armenian articles that both Theo and Ernest had sent in my direction–but the job of section editor for all Armenian and Syriac chronicles! The previous section editor had evidently disappeared from the project and it seems that only someone as young and unburdened as me had any hope of pulling off the organization and project management they needed on the exceedingly short timescale they had, or of being unwise enough to believe it could be done.
But I was at least learning enough by then to expect that any appeal to more senior scholars than myself was likely to be met with “Sorry, I have too much work already” and an unspoken coda of “…and encyclopedia articles are not exactly a priority for me right now.” There was the rare exception of course, but I turned pretty quickly to my own cohort of almost- or just-doctored scholars to farm out the articles I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) write myself. So I suppose by that time even I was beginning to detect the “yes I can” signals coming from the early-career scholars around me. Naturally the articles were not all done on time–it was a pretty ludicrous time frame I was given, after all–but equally naturally, delays in the larger project meant that my part was completed by the time it really needed to be. And so in my first year as a postdoc I had a credit on the editorial team of a big encyclopedia project, and a short-paper-length article, co-authored with Philip Wood, giving an overview of Eastern Christian historiography as a whole. I remain kind of proud of that little piece.
Lesson learned: your authors can almost always get you to agree to a deadline extension in these large collaborative projects. After all, what alternative do you have as editor, short of finding another author, who will need more time anyway, and pissing off the first one by withdrawing the commission?
The only trouble with these articles is that it’s awfully hard to know how to express them in the tickyboxes of a typical publications database like KU Leuven’s Lirias. Does each of the fifteen entries I wrote get its own line? Should I list the editorship separately, or the longer article on historiography? It’s a little conundrum for the CV.
Nevertheless I’m glad I got the opportunity to do the EMC project, definitely. And here’s another little secret–if I am able to make the time, I kind of like writing encyclopedia articles. It’s a nice way to get to grips with a subject, to cut straight to the essence of “What does the reader–and what do I–really need to know in these 250 words?” This might be why, when yet another project manager for yet another encyclopedia project found me about a year ago, I didn’t say no, and so this list will have an addition in the future. After that, though, I might finally have to call a halt.
I have written to Wiley-Blackwell to ask about their author self-archiving policies; I have a PDF offprint but am evidently not allowed to make it public, frustratingly enough. I will update the Lirias record if that changes. Brill has a surprisingly humane policy that allows me to link freely to the offprints of my own contributions in an edited collection, so I have done that here. I don’t seem to have an offprint for all the articles I wrote, though, so will need to rectify that.
Andrews, T. and P. Wood. (2012). Historiography of the Christian East. In: Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle, general editor G. Dunphy. Leiden: Brill.
(Additional articles on Agatʿangełos, Aristakēs Lastivertcʿi, Ełišē, Kʿartʿlis Cxovreba, Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, Mattʿēos Uṙhayecʿi, Movsēs Dasxurancʿi, Pʿawstos Buzand, Smbat Sparapet, Stepʿanos Asołik, Syriac Short Chronicles (with J. J. van Ginkel), Tʿovma Arcruni, Yovhannēs Drasxanakertcʿi.