Summary: Civil War Magazine Editor Dana Shoaf discusses his two popular Civil War Magazines, America’s Civil War and Civil War Times.
Brett’s Summary: Dana Shoaf, editor of America’s Civil War and Civil War Times, talks with Gerry about his magazines.
Shoaf grew up with a subscription to Civil War Times Illustrated in the 1960s. Shoaf pursued his interest in history by going to Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania, a self-described “terrible undergraduate student”. He got his Masters there before working towards but never finishing a PhD at Kent State University. He eventually moved to Washington, D.C. with his wife and after working for Time-Life Books for awhile he has been with America’s Civil War (and eventually Civil War Times) ever since.
Shoaf has always felt that the popular side of History is important, getting history out to the masses. Gerry asked Shoaf what the difference is between America’s Civil War and Civil War Times. Dana replied that they are trying to differentiate the two magazines, with America’s Civil War due to undergo a redesign. He points out that four years is a short amount of time to draw stories from. What Shoaf has tried to do lately is to make Civil War Times a magazine with a bit of a broader range, bringing in more Social History. America’s Civil War is going to be more battle focused and more appealing to younger audiences.
The two magazines were once owned by separate companies and only recently came together. Shoaf mentioned that there has been talk of merging the magazines, but each has its own dedicated subscribers, so it doesn’t make sense to do so. He indicated that the Civil War is popular enough to support multiple magazines, and named several others as well.
In the second segment, Gerry asked if there are peaks and valleys of interest. Dana indicated there is, but hopes that interest grows with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War approaches in 2011-2015. Shoaf indicated that the Weider History Group is a much better publisher than Primedia was. He sees a greater circulation with the improvements that have been made.
Gerry also asked about the competition brought about by the internet. He pointed out the deaths of some newspapers as an example. Dana says the niche magazines seem to be better insulated against these types of issues and are holding their own in this poor economic climate. He mentioned that Wal-Mart will not carry magazines which did not sell at least 45% of the issues from their racks. Since Wal-Mart is the largest supplier of magazines in the country, it is important to stay on their shelves. He believes many Civil War magazine publishers are hopeful about an uptick in interest with the Sesquicentennial fast approaching.
Gerry mentioned that North & South was for awhile the best Civil War magazine, mixing popular and academic history. Gerry sees this appearing now a bit in Civil War Times. Shoaf indicated this is a purposeful change and that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. He mentioned a recent article on Lee and slavery which caused a lot of anger but also some positive responses as well. Shoaf believes that as we approach the 150th year since the beginning of the war, we need to take away some of the romanticism and look at the faults and failings of people as well. Gerry pointed out that academics working their way toward tenure have very little time to dedicate to writing for a popular audience because it interferes with their quest to gain that tenure, all-important to a professor.
Gerry asked an interesting question about the possibility of getting academics to “referee” articles on a gratis basis, just as the articles in academic journals are. Shoaf indicated his interest in developing an advisory board to do just this. Someone who submitted such an article would then also be allowed to include such an article as a part of his or her tenure work.
Listeners who want to get a year’s subscription to Civil War Times for half price can do so until the end of May 2009. Just listen to this episode for details!
Gerry next asked Dana where illustrations are found for the magazines. After praising his staff, Shoaf mentioned that they search all over the place to find pictures which work.
As the third segment opened, Gerry asked Mr. Shoaf who reads his magazine. He added a facetious remark about letters to the editor where readers cancel their subscription for a Yankee or Rebel bias. Shoaf believes magazines should not print articles which everyone agrees with, preferring instead to promote discussion. He points out that the articles are quite varied in terms of viewpoint. He mentioned getting angry letters from both “sides” and indicated that as long as these are around the same number he must be doing something right. He primarily wants people to think about the war in different ways than they are used to.
Shoaf indicated that he looks at Civil War blogs every single day. He mentioned Ethan Rafuse and Harry Smeltzer specifically, who both write for the magazine. He believes you can create a fuller argument in a magazine than on a blog. He mentioned that although his magazine does not use footnotes, he believes people should get something out of it. Shoaf mentioned that many in the public shy away from footnotes and shy away from magazines that use them. His magazines now compromise and list some primary sources in the back. This allows them to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Shoaf reiterated that footnotes turn many people off. Gerry mentioned Vernon Burton’s book which had no footnotes in the book but instead listed them online. Gerry asked if maybe they could include footnotes online or if the writers are asked to include notes. Dana mentioned that his staff simply doesn’t have the time to include notes either, though he has thought about including the notes online. In any case, he is not opposed to including notes online. He believes magazines must embrace the web to survive and his is always eager to learn more about it.
As the show was coming to an end, Gerry asked Shoaf about how one would go about submitting an article for Civil War Times. Typically, Shoaf says, submissions from out of the blue are accepted less than 10% of the time. With that said, he does sometimes find a well-written article which comes out of the blue. Gerry also asked about book reviews, and Shoaf indicated these are also solicited by the magazine staff.
Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.
In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.
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