writer's life

The growth of an academic article

April 26, 2015

During a delicious dinner with my pal Ted last month in Williamsburg, VA, we talked about writing. The category of academic writing in particular came up because Ted’s first book (based in part on his Ph.D. dissertation)–called Family Bonds: Free Blacks and Re-enslavement Law in Antebellum Virginia–was about to be published. He shared with me his three requests to his publisher, University of North Carolina Press, of which only one was fulfilled: the cover image is as he had always pictured it in his mind. Be sure to take a peek at the luminous lady. He shared with me that he keeps a copy of the lady with him in his wallet–how sweet!

I recalled my first, and only, academic article, titled “The Ladies of Edenton: Shades of Gray in a Black-and-White Print,” published in Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society (vol. 23, no. 2, Autumn 1998). I then told him some of the story of how the article came to be…

The seed of the article was a paper I wrote for J. A. Leo Lemay’s American Literature graduate course at the University of Delaware in Newark. In the first version, I argued the revolutionary-era print was pro-patriot. During the classroom critique, students disagreed with my thesis, saying it was anti-patriot. In my second version, I wrote about all the anti-patriot aspects of the print. My revision split the class down the middle; half agreed with the anti-patriot thesis, and the other half argued my original pro-patriot theme had merit.

After a weary sigh, I took my revision to E. McSherry “Sherry” Fowble, then Curator of Paintings and Prints at the Winterthur Museum in Winterthur, DE. She, in effect, germinated my seed of an article, giving me the encouragement to revise my piece. She recommended I write about both sides of the coin. I did so by demonstrating potential buyers could interpret the print as either pro- or anti-patriot.

Donald H. Cresswell, then co-owner (now sole owner) of the Philadelphia Print Shop in Chesnut Hill, PA, helped my paper bloom with suggestions about the larger context of revolutionary prints. I then was ready to submit my paper to Sue Rainey, the editor of Imprint.

Ms. Rainey tenuously accepted the piece but asked me to revise my thesis to the pro-patriot theme. Because she was a nineteenth-century print specialist without a background in the political and economic forces of the eighteenth century, she did not grasp the dual nature of the image. In essence, she tried to rip out my carefully grown and nurtured paper by the roots.

With another weary sigh, I politely argued against her suggestion, standing by my research on the layers of ambiguity in the Ladies of Edenton print. It helped to share that Lemay, Fowble, and Cresswell all backed me up. She finally acquiesced to publish the piece with my “layers of gray” thesis.

I take pride that the American Antiquarian Society’s Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) 2015 summer seminar, titled “Culinary Culture: The Politics of American Foodways, 1765-1900,” includes my article on the syllabus. As my Dad, a lifelong academic, put it in an email to me earlier this month, “For those of us into publishing, but not perishing…it is particularly satisfying for one of our older pieces to continue to get recognition.” Yes, indeed.

photo by Erin Michaela Sweeney
A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina print in the Winterthur Museum collections, photo by Erin Michaela Sweeney

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