November 3, 2019 -- In 2016, the peer-reviewed academic journal Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos (MS/EM) transitioned to a triannual publishing frequency. Additionally, two new formats were introduced: special issues and thematic sections. The bilingual journal provides sets of articles examining critical and timely topics covering but not limited to history, economy, literature, and the arts of Mexico. Also of note the journal is now electronic only.
MS/EM is published by the University of California Press (UC Press) and is a cooperative venture of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). The journal maintains two editorial committees comprising faculty from the UC and UNAM, and an International Advisory Committee, tasked with the peer-review process.
To highlight these publishing developments we recently conducted a brief interview with the Editor of MS/EM Professor Ruth Hellier-Tinoco (Department of Music, University of California, Santa Barbara), over email.
We hope you enjoy the interview and look forward to the next profile featuring exciting journal content and innovative publishing initiatives on the HAPI News page.
HAPI: What circumstances led the editors at MS/EM to switch to publishing three issues a year and to move to publishing in an electronic only format?
To cut a long story short… these decisions were made by UC Press, who owns the journal. In my role as Editor I was not directly involved with these conversations, although I do know some of the basic rationale. My role was to implement and work with these decisions.
By way of explanation, here is a little history of this complicated and long-standing journal: Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos was founded in 1984 by Dr. Jaime Rodríguez, in his role as Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, specifically working through the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS). Established in 1980, UCMEXUS is a UC systemwide academic research body specifically dedicated to contributing to binational scholarly understanding through collaborative academic programs and exchanges (receiving funding from the UC Office of the President). So, the original setup for the journal of Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos in 1984 was between UCMEXUS and UC Press. The world of scholarly journals and scholarly publishing (and indeed the University of California) was very different at that time. Part of the remit was to collaborate with scholars in Mexico, so the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) was also included through the involvement of an UNAM Editorial Board. Under the Editorship of Dr. Rodríguez, the Editorial Office was hosted at UC Irvine.
In 2014, I was appointed Editor of the journal, with the agreement of (and some funding from) the administration at UC Santa Barbara. When I commenced my role, the journal was still being published twice per year (even though the original 1984 agreement indicated a triannual or a quarterly publication schedule). The switch to publishing three issues a year had therefore been planned many years previously. This model of frequency obviously provides readers with more of a sense of ongoing contact with the journal through new material.
The move to publishing in an electronic only format was part of the long-range planning that UC Press was doing (and continues to do, given the rapid changes in scholarly publishing). This change responds to purchasing trends, helping to offset the rising costs of print production and also allowing for the possibility of multimedia features (although, given the additional time it takes to peer review, produce and format other media, I have not been able to include this feature in any articles published during my Editorship).
HAPI: Can you provide a bit of background on why Special Issues and Thematic Sections were introduced? And how has this has altered the editorial process?
One of the unique and complicated elements of MS/EM is the breadth of research covered in the multidisciplinary articles that are submitted for review and potential publication. Scholars may propose material in any discipline as long as it is cutting-edge research relating to Mexico, broadly defined. In any one issue, therefore, the range of disciplines, methods and frameworks is diverse. As Editor I proposed Special Issues and Thematic Sections as a means of generating a single issue with a core set of research questions or topics. For a Special Issue, I also wanted this to be a genuine collaboration between scholars working in Mexico and the U.S. (and also elsewhere globally).
In terms of the editorial processes, this adds a major complication, for although each article is double-blind peer reviewed (as usual), I have also sought to have the entire set of articles peer reviewed by at least one reviewer. Given the busy schedules of scholars, finding at least one expert scholar who is able and willing to review the material for the whole issue is not easy.
During my tenure as Editor, I have managed to bring one Special Issue to publication, which was expertly guest edited by Dr. Víctor Zúñiga of the Tecnologico de Monterrey, México and Dr. Rubén Hernández-León, of the University of California, Los Angeles, (please note that the spelling of "tecnologico" without a diacritic on the second "o" follows an official request made by the Tecnologico de Monterrey, in order to facilitate international online searches). The issue, titled Contemporary Return Migration from the United States to Mexico -Focus on Children, Youth, Schools and Families -La migración de retorno contemporánea de Estados Unidos a México -niños, jóvenes, escuelas y familias comprised six articles and an Introduction co-authored by senior and emerging scholars in Mexico and the USA, including a policy report by Dr. Patricia Gándara ("Policy Report - Informe: The Students We Share /L@s estudiantes que compartimos"; MS/EM 32.2 Summer 2016, https://msem.ucpress.edu/content/32/2).
The most recent issue (35.2, Summer 2019) is cross-between a Special Issue and a Thematic Section, so I have called it a Thematic Issue. Titled Vecindad, asimetría y vínculos polémicos: tráficos, flujos e intercambios en la relación México-Estados Unidos, 1821–1940 (Neighborliness, Asymmetry and Controversial Connections: Circulations, Flows and Exchanges in Mexico-US Relations, 1821–1940) the material was guest edited by Dr. Marcela Terrazas y Basante, UNAM ( https://msem.ucpress.edu/content/35/2?current-issue=y).
HAPI: Do you have advice for journals that might be considering two editorial committees?
MSMS/EMEM actually has three editorial committees or boards composed of UC faculty, UNAM faculty and faculty from many other institutions in Mexico, the U.S. and elsewhere. In some ways this seems rather unwieldy, but this also has allowed for many viewpoints and a wide range of expertise. There is a tendency for editorial committees of U.S.-based journals to be heavily populated by U.S.-based scholars, which therefore creates a U.S.-centric position. My advice for journals that might be considering two editorial committees is to be willing to embrace divergent positions and multiple perspectives. Given the ease of communication now (and despite time zone differences) engaging as broad a range of scholars as possible seems to be beneficial and exciting.
I have also worked closely with a wonderful and expert colleague in Mexico, Dr. Beatriz Urías Horcasitas of UNAM, who has acted as my Associate Editor. Although Dr. Urías Horcasitas has not been involved with the day-to-day (and never ending) processes of receiving and processing articles for review, and of preparing articles for publication, we have regularly discussed matters via skype (or in person).
In addition to the financial support provided by UC MEXUS and the University of California, Santa Barbara how else has the publishing model of MS/EM had such a stable and successful run as a journal?
Part of the stability comes from UC Press as the owner of the journal. Obviously, UC Press (and the UC system) has a global profile as high-level public education institution. Therefore, libraries across the world subscribe to UC Press journals. However, when I was appointed Editor in 2014 the stability of the journal was actually in question, because there was no process for transition (given that Dr. Rodríguez had been editor for almost all of the prior thirty years). The journal had been operating with paper copies of materials, so some of my initial tasks involved processing the many identically-labelled xerox documents, setting up a website and getting electronic copies of materials ready for review. As with all journals, part of the five years of stability (that followed the moment of crisis) has come from the willingness of expert scholars to take on the service of reviewing articles. This is an absolutely crucial element of the success of the journal.
I also regard part of the success and stability as resting on the expertise of a copyeditor. In this case, Marianela Santoveña (based in Mexico City) is the person who copy edits all the Spanish language articles. Marianela has been copy editor for MS/EM for many years and has a deep understanding of the specifics of this journal and is able to copy edit with great skill and knowledge. For the English-language articles, from the start of my term as editor I have acted as the copyeditor. At first I considered contracting this out, but I soon realized that finding a copyeditor who could combine the necessary expert knowledge of these materials concerning Mexican studies with the specificity of the framework of this bilingual and multidisciplinary journal, would be difficult. I therefore took the decision to undertake the English-language copyediting.
At this time, MS/EM is again in a moment of transition. My five-year term as Editor concludes with the publication of Volume 35 Issue 3 (Fall 2019) and, as I write this, I am deeply involved in the preparation of the six articles to be published in my final issue. In the coming months the journal will certainly be changing given that one of the core foundations of MS/EM—that the editor is tenured faculty in the UC system—is changing (UC Press has appointed a new Editor who is not faculty in the UC system: Dr. Christian Zlolniski is faculty at the University of Texas, Arlington). It would be useful for HAPI to check-in on MS/EMin a year or two to follow the subsequent shifts that will undoubtedly occur. My hope, of course, is that MS/EM will continue to be successful and stable and will flourish by disseminating high level bilingual research through collaborative processes connecting the U.S. and Mexico.