21: National Identities

Interview with David Kaplan, Editor, March 2008

Play audio (approximately 30 minutes)

right click here to download mp3 audio file

Our topic for this installment of Periodical Radio is National Identities, a quarterly scholarly journal published by Taylor & Francis. In the words of the publisher, “National Identities explores the formation and expression of national identity from antiquity to the present day. It examines the role in forging identity of cultural and political factors by examining how these have been shaped and changed over time.” 

Cultural factors include language, architecture, music, gender, religion, the media, sport, and encounters with ‘the other'. Political factors include political structures, wars, and boundaries. Each issue contains six or eight research articles and a handful of book reviews.

My guest is Dr. David Kaplan, who is one of four editors of National Identities. Dr. Kaplan is a Professor of Geography at Kent State University.

Steve: Dr. Kaplan, welcome to Periodical Radio.

Dr. Kaplan: Okay, thank you.

Steve: Let’s begin with the founding of National Identities, which began publication in 1999. What previously unmet need does the journal fill?

Dr. Kaplan: Well, it’s an interesting journal in that it falls in some ways into an area that deals on one hand with nationalism, on the other hand with ethnicity, and those two areas have been pretty well subscribed. There are some very good journals, for instance there’s Ethnic and Racial Studies, which I believe is published by Blackwell, that’s one of the preeminent journals in regard to ethnicity. There’s Nations and Nationalism, I’m not sure who the publisher is, but it’s a nice journal. In fact, it’s edited by one of the preeminent people involved in nationalism, a gentleman by the name of Anthony Smith out of England. But this seemed like a good journal to begin to fill in some of those holes that were there between those different types of journals dealing with ethnicity on one hand and nations and nationalism on the other. Now, I should say in the spirit of full disclosure that I was not part of that founding group. The journal itself was founded by a gentleman who taught at the University College, London. He still teaches there at the College of Queen Mary, a guy named Peter Catterall. He was essentially the founding editor. Initially the editorial group included four people, three of whom are still there, then an additional geographer who is out of Berkeley, and in a couple of years he stepped down and I took over from him.

Steve: I noticed that National Identities has four editors residing in four countries. How do you make the logistics of that work?

Dr. Kaplan: Well, it’s actually kind of tricky in certain ways. There’s huge time zone differences, so one thing is I’ve never actually been able . . .. Well, we had a conference call once that involved all of us. The only reason we could do that was because the person from Australia was visiting England. So he was able to come together and of course the person who’s in Germany, she’s in a pretty close time zone, so I was able to call in from the United States and be able to kind get everybody together. But if everybody’s in their home countries it really is impossible. People would have to get up in the middle of the night to have a conference call. Most of what we do is by e-mail. We have a lot of e-mail discussions back and forth between us. We have had a few meetings. Last September I went over to England and I was able to meet with Peter, who’s the gentleman from England, and also Elfie Rembold, who’s out of Germany. She came over for that, and we were able to go to the publishing company in England.

Steve: Taylor & Francis.

Dr. Kaplan: Taylor & Francis, that’s it.

Steve: David, how did you come to be one of the editors?

Dr. Kaplan: I started off when the journal was founded, I was a book review editor. There are two book review editors and four editors. I started doing that, and then Peter asked me if I wanted to be a regular editor. I’m not quite sure what the motivation was, but the person who had been doing it either wasn’t doing it, or didn’t want to do it any more. So I said, “Sure, that would be interesting.” I certainly enjoyed working on the journal as a book review editor, so I thought being an editor would be kind of fun.

Steve: Let’s shift back to the content area of the journal a little bit. Could you give us a few examples of how national identity can be distinct from a nation’s political organization?

Dr. Kaplan: Oh, yeah. There’s lots and lots of examples of that. There’s a lot of stuff we do that has to do with issues related a lot of the cultural aspects of nationalism, and some of the symbolic aspects of nationalism. For example, this was a special issue that just came out last year called “Riverscapes and the Formation of National Identity.” It looked at all the different aspects by which rivers help to frame how people look at their own nation. For example, the importance of the Seine River in France, or the importance of the Jordan River in Israel. These are important aspects of how national identity is formed. We think of nations . . .one of the biggest confusions a lot of people have is confusing nation with state. Anybody who studies nationalism makes sure that they separate those two. The state is the political entity, the state is the actual founded country that has a governance, that is generally sovereign, meaning it has control over its own borders, it has control over the territory within the borders, it has control over the people who reside on that territory, and so on. So that’s one thing. That’s considered a state. A nation is actually a group of people who feel that they belong together, and that they really help to form a unity, and a country of some sort. A nation is sort of a cultural idea, a state is more of a political idea. Very often when people look at states, at countries, they’ll say “Oh, they’re nations,” but they’re really not, they’re just states. In fact, somebody’s estimated there are as many as 5,000 nations in the world today, in the sense of people who feel they belong together as a single country, and that they owe that country a certain degree of loyalty.

Steve: Boston Red Sox fans often refer to themselves as the “Red Sox Nation.”

Dr. Kaplan: [laughs] I love that term “Red Sox Nation.” [laughs] Everywhere, you always hear about “nation”, “Cincinnati Reds nation.” I think that’s just one of the uses of the term “nation,” but the political scientists and political geographers, people who study nations and nationalism and issues like that, they have a little bit more of a defined idea of what a nation is. There has been a lot of scholarly literature that talks about how nations are constructed, exactly how nations are defined. Very often it comes down to the point of what’s a grouping that one is actually willing to die for, and that’s a nation. Now I know Boston Red Sox fans are pretty adamant about their Red Sox. Growing up in Massachusetts I remember that well, but I don’t know if they’re willing to die for the Red Sox.

Steve: One of the questions I prepared was that scholarly journals are a product of academia, and academia has a culture, and a geography, and I daresay even a mythology. But they don’t really form a nation. Is the bottom line because academics aren’t willing to die for their colleges or die for their disciplines?

Dr. Kaplan: Huh, that’s interesting. So you’re saying that they’re not really a nation.

Steve: Well, I’m asking you, actually. From your perspective, would you call academia a nation?

Dr. Kaplan: No, not in the technical sense, not in the way nations are defined. One of the problems of the term “nation” is that it is over used. We confuse nations with political states. They can be the same. There are a few so-called nation-states where the political state contains the nation. Japan is often given as an example. Another one is Iceland. Very often what you have are states that really contain several nations, like Canada is an excellent example of that. You have the Canadian state, but I think the French Canadian people in Quebec, and even outside of Quebec feel very much like they’re a distinct nation. When you get beyond the political and the cultural aspects of nation and state and start talking about sports groups or groups of people of some sort or another, I think that’s when you begin to get into a very loose use of the term, just trying to talk about any grouping of people. I don’t think that’s technically accurate, although I can see where it’s coming from.

Steve: Can a nation exist without a national mythology?

Dr. Kaplan: You mean just sort of . . .

Steve: Well, do all nations have a mythology?

Dr. Kaplan: I think they do, yeah. I think a state can exist without a national mythology. You can just construct a state. But in order to have a state that also has some sense of national identity within it, which is actually very important in order to create all the different ties that help make a state cohere. I think if you don’t have a national mythology, you have to build one. In fact, it’s very interesting, because there were a number of states that were created at various times, but one of the biggest periods of time was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when all of these states kind of came out of empires and things like that. A lot of them actually tried to do the things they felt would help create more of a national identity. Czechoslovakia, for example, particularly the Czech part, didn’t really have a national language. So they sent people to create a Czech language that would help them get the sense of identity. The same thing is true even with the Zionists. There wasn’t really a modern form a Hebrew, so they had to create the modern Hebrew language. A lot nations work at creating the mythology, creating the sense of history, whether it’s accurate or not, but something people can really cling to and to help unify them through good times and bad.

Steve: I’d expect some listeners might think “Gee, the United States doesn’t have a mythology,” but what would be some examples?

Dr. Kaplan: Oh, the United States has a very rich mythology. It’s interesting, because is the United States a nation? I’d say it really is. It’s certainly a political state, but I’d say it’s also a nation. But it’s one of those nations, like a few others that aren’t based on a common ethnicity or originally a common language or common descent. If we talk about a nation such as France, France was built up over a long period of time. Of course that nation was constructed out of lots of smaller nations, smaller groups. But with the United States you had of course the indigenous peoples and the original settlers, then all these people coming from all these different countries. Does that make them a nation? Well, I think it does, but the United States is what some people call a civic nation, or almost an ideological nation, in the sense it isn’t so much the common ethnicity that binds people together, but really the common ideology, the common sense of mission. A lot of the aspects of our history help buttress that. So for example, certain ideas about liberty and freedom and independence and things like that are very, very important to the national identity of Americans.

Steve: I noticed several articles in the journal have addressed architecture and it’s relationship to national identity.

Dr. Kaplan: [laughs]

Steve: How does architecture express identity?

Dr. Kaplan: Well, I’ll tell you first of all, one of the reasons why that’s true is because you’ll notice one of the four editors is an architect. It’s interesting in that we not only have editors who represent different countries in different parts of the world, we also have editors who represent different areas. I’m a geographer, for example, so I represent that. Chris Bernan, who’s out of the School Architecture at the University of Western Australia represents the architecture. I can address that to some extent. I think different nations and cultures certainly have different architectural styles that help to represent them. To that extent, it could be something that you could talk about, a clear style that is representative of say, French Canada, or a style that’s more representative of England, or of France. I do think that would apply to national identity in that the particular image that architects are able to render is something that is associated with a culture.

Steve: Well, you’ve mentioned geography and architecture. What other disciplines are represented within the journal?

Dr. Kaplan: Two of the four editors are historians, Peter Catterall and Elfie Rembold are both historians, so history is very well represented. In terms of our editorial board, which we’ve actually just changed, we’ve got people there who are political scientists, we certainly look for sociologists who are active in this. I’m not sure if we have anybody who represents literature or aspects of the humanities, but of course nationalism in literature is a strong link, as well. One of the things that a lot of nations really go on is a particular national literature, in particular books that help define them as a people, so that can be very important. But I don’t know if we have anybody who specifically does that, although we have had articles that have dealt with that issue.

Steve: What portion of your articles are solicited, and how many are submitted “blind,” that is, without any prodding by the editorial board?

Dr. Kaplan: We have four issues a year, and what we try to do is have a mix of what we call special issues, and regular issues. You’ll find this in a lot of journals, I think. Journals will commission or they’ll enable a special issue to take place. Probably for other journals you’ve talked about special issues, or have you?

Steve: Yes, when it’s appropriate, I have, yes. Many scholarly journals do, you’re right, especially within the humanities and social sciences.

Dr. Kaplan: I think that’s something Taylor & Francis is interested in having a few of, although in some ways the people who want to do special issues is greater than the number we can allow, because we have to have an open number of issues for submissions. Most of our articles that get published are submitted blindly to one of the four editors. But we also have people who think about making a special issue about a particular topic. I mentioned before the special issue on riverscapes. But there’s also special issues on national identity and diversity, just recently for March 2008 we have a special issue on nation state and identity in Finland. In that case, what happens is there is a person, it can be one of the regular editors, but very often it’s another person, perhaps someone on the editorial board, or someone who’s very interested in the journal. They work with one of the editors to get manuscripts from various authors. Those manuscripts then go through the same review process as the other manuscripts do. They are sent through the pipeline with the understanding that they will be part of a special issue, so it’s a little bit different from the general run of things, where you get these articles that go through as independent entities, and they’re placed where they’re placed. Here the idea is you may have a cohort of four or five articles, and they’re all going in as a special issue. One of the problems, of course, is what happens when one or two of those articles don’t make it. Then you have to supplement it with something else, or have a small issue. There can be some problems with that.

Steve: And by don’t make it, you mean they don’t pass muster in peer review.

Dr. Kaplan: Basically, the way in which, and I’m sure many of your listeners are aware of this, but the way in which manuscripts become articles is that they go through this double-blind review process. How that works is, as an editor, I will get a manuscript, then I’ll go ahead and identify three people, sometimes I do two, it depends on how easy it is. I’ve done four in the past. Two to four people who have some knowledge of the field, either they’re experts in the field or they’ve got some quality that I like. It may not even be particular expertise on this particular topic, but they certainly know a lot about general article construction. I send it out to them. They don’t know who wrote this manuscript. I ask them to comment on it, and to give me a judgment on whether it should be published or not, or published with revisions. They get back to me in three or four months, however long it takes. After four months I start to bug them. Then I get their opinions, and what I do is take their opinions and then I look over the manuscript myself again, and see whether or not I agree with their opinions. I get back with the author, and say based on what the reviewers say and my own reading, I’ve decided this manuscript ought to published, or rejected, or the middle ground, which is revise and resubmit. You know, we like the article, but we don’t think it’s ready yet. So if you actually go ahead and make some of these changes, then you can resubmit it to me and I’ll decide what to do with it then. That’s the way the normal run of articles come through. The special issue is the same basic idea, except with the understanding on my part that this is part of a special issue. One thing I try to do is send it to independent people, but also send all the articles to one person to look over the whole set, just to make sure there’s some kind of coherence. Does that make sense?

Steve: Yes, it does, and thank you. I’ve addressed that several times in interviews. I’m glad you brought that up, because you explained it very well. Not everybody understands that if they’re not academics and haven’t gone through the process themselves it’s a little bit murky.

Dr. Kaplan: It is a little bit murky, and of course the issue of it is that the editor ends up sending it to people, and the editor has to make a judgment based on what all these people say. In some sense it’s a little bit of a box score. If I send it out and I get three people who say “This is great!”, I’m just probably just going to go along with everybody, because I feel they’re the ones who are there to make the judgment. If three people say it’s terrible, I’ll go along with that. The tricky issues come when it’s split, and it’s very often split. You have one person who says it’s good, another says it’s terrible, somebody else is in the middle. Then what do you do? That becomes a tricky issue for making a decision. Sometimes it just has to do with what my reading is, or how good the arguments are from the different reviewers. Reviewers are all over the map. Some reviewers will write pages and pages and pages of comments. Other reviewers are a little disappointing, they might just write a couple of sentences. I’m certainly going to pay attention to people who make substantive comments, because I can tell they’ve spent the time to really look over the piece.

Steve: Sure. Does Taylor & Francis an online system for managing all of this?

Dr. Kaplan: Yeah, they do. It’s called, the acronym is CATS. There are a few of these. There’s Manuscript Central, that’s one that some publishers use. But Taylor & Francis uses CATS, which is, I think, Central Article Tracking System. I’m just getting started with CATS. Before we did it a little more manually, but this system is supposed to really be helpful. I haven’t really gone through a whole issue yet going through CATS, but that’s supposed to the be the way in which it goes in the future. They do have people over there who are there to help and make sure that everything is running on time in terms of the production. So we do get an awful lot of assistance from Taylor & Francis.

Steve:  A hot topic among everyone interested in scholarly journals is Open Access, where people get free access to journal articles without having to pay subscriptions. What’s your opinion about whether Open Access is a good idea, either in general or for National Identities in particular?

Dr. Kaplan: Well, um, I guess, you know . . .I guess the thing is that if nobody has to pay for them, who’s going to do it?

Steve: Who’s going to pay the bills?

Dr. Kaplan: Well, yes. I can see that there might be some people who are so committed to the project that they’re willing to go through all the work involved in putting a journal together. But it’s a very difficult situation, because not only do you have the editors, like me and the other editors, we get a very tiny amount of money to do it. It’s not so much us, it’s that Taylor & Francis hires lots and lots of people for all of the production, the proofing, the marketing, just making sure that everything is running on time. If you have Open Access and there’s no revenue coming in, obviously how would you pay these people? I suppose you can have some sort of advertising type of system.  I think this is probably one of the issues that’s related to any sort of creative product. It’s like songs. Most people, they produce songs, and there are a few who decide to make their songs freely available. But for the most part it’s a question of trying to come up with a way to generate a little bit of revenue for their songs. Hence comes through iTunes and other types of things. I think the same thing is true of journals. It’s difficult to try to create the sort of infrastructure that a journal requires without any money coming in. So then you have to figure out how to get money coming in, and unfortunately journals are not the kind of thing Coca-Cola is going to want to advertise in. You’re going to have a problem with that.

Steve: Many librarians and publishers think that within 10 years virtually all scholarly journals will be published online only. No more paper copies. If that were to happen, would you personally miss the print editions of the journals you read?

Dr. Kaplan: Yes. People like the paper copies. I know most of the stuff I do is online, and in fact National Identities, the large bulk of what they do is online now. I think what you find is that most journals have an online presence, even the paper journals publish a number of those issues, but then their online presence is beginning to dwarf their paper presence. But it’s still very important to have a paper presence. I think that’s just one of those things that may not go away. Now I will let you know something in the field of academia, there some debate as to whether or not for purposes of promotion and tenure and things like that, whether or not somebody that publishes in a journal that is online only, whether that carries the same weight as publishing in a journal that at least has a paper presence. I think that maybe goes to the fact that when it comes down to paper copy, we’re limited in terms of the number of pages we can have per year. There’s certainly a lot of printing costs that are going into this. So that means, by virtue of that, since the supply of paper is limited, it makes some sort of restriction. Where if it’s online, maybe anything goes. Anybody can send something and it’s pretty much published automatically. At least that’s the worry. I know that’s been an issue. Some people argue that they should be treated equally, but other people in terms of making some decisions argue, “Well, you know, it should still carry some weight to have something that’s actually out there in paper.”

Steve: As a quality control measure?

Dr. Kaplan: As a quality control, because you know with paper there’s a limitation, that there’s actually a production process going in. In order to invest in paper you’re going to have criteria, and editors who are gatekeepers, and people who will ensure quality is good. In other areas, too, what’s Wikipedia? There’s the whole question, is Wikipedia something that should be a rival to Encyclopedia Britannica? Obviously most of Encyclopedia Britannica’s business is now online, but they still have their print version, and they still have a lot quality control and a big infrastructure. Now, is that something that should be held as a higher level than Wikipedia? I think a lot of people say, “Yeah”. Certainly people at Encyclopedia Britannica do. But you know of course Wikipedia allows for an explosion different topics and lots of open access.

Steve: Well David, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. You said before you were a little worried there wouldn’t be thirty minutes’ worth, but hey, we’re there already.

Dr. Kaplan: Okay, well, I certainly appreciate the opportunity.

Steve: Very good! Thank you very much.

Dr. Kaplan: Bye bye.

Steve: Personal subscriptions to National Identities are $146 a year from the publisher Taylor & Francis. Thank for listening to Periodical Radio. I’m your host, Steve Black.