Reaching out beyond the ivory tower

Here is a first review of my new book on Yuri Gagarin. http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2109/1

The publication is read by space enthusiasts and engineers and managers in the space business. I like the fact– which was partly my hope in publishing this book — that the book would reach non-academics as well as the usual academic market of 300 or so libraries and various interested historians and specialists. Just a few weeks ago I gave a talk on my book to the Boeing Defense and Space Systems group in Seal Beach California. The audience consisted of executives and managers in Boeing’s space and defense operations. Many had visited Russia to work with their counterparts in the Russian space business. They provided a unique, non-academic perspective on my topic — yet they were also receptive to many of the same problems that professional Russian historians grapple with in their work: issues of identity, cause and effect, the politics of gender, class, and race, etc.

Given the budgetary and political attacks on liberal arts in general — which we are feeling far more intensely in California perhaps than anywhere else in the country — making the case for the relevance of our research is essential. That includes drawing non-academics into our often-cloistered world — something, at least potentially, that online venues such as the Russian History Blog (as well as the work of many other academic bloggers like Sean Guillory) can help to solve.

As a kind of footnote to this post, I wrestled with the problem of choosing a publisher for my Gagarin book. Many friends and colleagues thought that I should try to pitch the Gagarin book to a trade rather than academic publisher — or perhaps to a publisher like Oxford or Harvard which has both a trade and academic arm. Eventually I went the traditional academic route, choosing Northern Illinois University Press. I did so for a number of reasons. First, because of the pressures of going up for tenure and because they had published my first book in 2005 on the painters of Palekh, I knew that the press would support me and commit itself to getting the book out in a timely fashion (I’ve heard horror stories from colleagues with other academic presses who sit forever on manuscripts). Second, the people at Northern Illinois have been trying, given their limited resources, to market their books in new ways, including offering them as e-books. Finally, I chose an academic publisher because I am an academic and in the end what matters most for the next step up (going to full professor and thus getting the pay raise I will never get otherwise) is the response from my fellow professional historians. Of course, as fellow blogger Steve Barnes pointed out in a previous post, academic journals often take more than a year (one review of my first book in 2005 came out in 2009!) to solicit and publish reviews of new academic books.

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