Irish Historical Studies and Gender Balance
A recent discussion on social media has raised legitimate concerns about the gender imbalance in the May 2018 issue of Irish Historical Studies. As Dr Ciaran O’Neill (@ciaranon) pointed out on Twitter, the issue carries six peer-reviewed articles (including a select document), two commissioned articles and two review articles – all written by men. The journal’s editors and editorial board have been discussing gender balance for some time, but it is clear that the journal has much work to do on this issue. In this respect, the discussion on social media is a very welcome one – much of the criticism was warranted and it produced many valuable comments and suggestions. Indeed, the very fact of a public debate was significant.
In relation to peer-reviewed articles – which constitute the bulk of any given issue – the gender imbalance reflects (unfortunately) current submission rates. Of the articles submitted to the journal between May 2016 and April 2018, female authors wrote 15%; male authors wrote 85%. Submissions to the journal are subject to double-blind peer review and it is important to emphasise that there is no evidence (nor has this been suggested) that the process discriminates against female authors. In the period from May 2016 to April 2018, for example, the acceptance rate for articles written by men was 32.75%; the acceptance rate for articles written by women was 60%. At present, articles are published in order of acceptance, simply because this is the fairest system for all of our authors.
We mentioned above that the editors and board have been aware of the issue of gender imbalance for some time. So, what have we done? In 2017, in an initiative spearheaded by Dr Elaine Farrell, Irish Historical Studies teamed up with the Women’s History Association of Ireland to offer an essay prize. This produced a series of impressive submissions and we are pleased that the winning essay (written by Dr Frances Nolan) and one of those ‘highly commended’ by the judges (written by Dr Leanne Calvert) will be published in the November 2018 issue.
The W.H.A.I./I.H.S. prize was a modest step designed to improve the gender balance of our authors. We should also note that the point has been made at Irish Historical Studies board meetings that we must avoid confusing women’s history with women historians. While the prize was open specifically to historians writing on women’s (and gender) history, we do hope that it sends a broader signal that the journal welcomes submissions from women historians working on any aspect of Irish history.
A number of commentators on social media made the point that a perception persists that Irish Historical Studies is wedded to traditional subjects and methodologies. We acknowledge that the perception is out there, but we are very keen to stress that Irish Historical Studies has, for some time, welcomed – and continues to welcome – submissions ‘embodying original research’ on any aspect of Irish history. The November 2018 issue, for example, will carry articles on the history of women, children, sexuality, prayer, business and dancing. It is also important to emphasise that we are very much open to all methodologies and approaches appropriate to an academic history journal.
In relation to commissioned articles (which are, in fact, very rare), review articles and book reviews, we can – and will – act to ensure a better gender balance.
Readers will be aware that many academic journals are grappling with the issue of gender balance and, indeed, diversity more broadly. Past & Present, to take one example, has responded to discussion of the issue, while the American Historical Review has published a thoughtful commentary in recent weeks. We realise that the most recent issue of the journal might not inspire confidence that Irish Historical Studies is engaged in tackling the issue, but we welcome the debate and we’re open to ideas, suggestions and – above all – submissions. For early career researchers who are considering a submission, the Royal Historical Society’s advice on publishing has some sensible things to say about submitting to a journal.
A short blog post cannot, of course, deal with all the points arising from the discussion on social media, but we present this as a contribution to a wider debate and as a statement of intent that the editors and board of Irish Historical Studies will work to improve the gender balance of our authors.
Dr Liam Chambers (joint editor, 2016-2021)
Dr Marie Coleman (incoming joint editor, 2018-2023)
Dr Robert McNamara (joint editor, 2012-2018)
 The discussion is accessible here: https://twitter.com/ciaranon/status/1009417949927628800
 ‘Gender bias: Past & Present’ (http://pastandpresent.org.uk/gender-bias-past-present/) (28 June 2018); ‘From the editor’s desk: all apologies’ in American Historical Review, cxxiii, no. 3, (June 2018), xiv–xvii.
 Peter Mandler, ‘Early career historians: publishing’ (https://royalhistsoc.org/early-career-historians/publishing/) (28 June 2018).