As many of you have noticed, the Journal of the Early Republic is overdue for some kind of digital extension, some kind of voice in the virtual world. Indeed, when I assumed the JER editorship in 2014, one of my chief goals was to create an online presence that extended beyond the digitization of the journal proper.
I quickly discovered that recognizing absence is not the same as creating presence. What should the blog of a scholarly journal look like? Should it speak primarily to the interests of the sponsoring society or the intellectual commitments of the journal’s audience? How could it contribute to research in progress? How could it capture the development of ideas, conversations, and debates in a form midway between the riposte of a tweet and the refinements of peer review and revision? Could it help move the journal’s contents into the classroom? How could it generate debate and discussion among the specialists who form our core constituency while also making the journal useful to the many high school and college teachers who are tasked with teaching our period but who are not specifically trained in it
With the assistance of a series of exceptionally bright undergraduate interns, I spent three semesters identifying and assessing other models from the humanities and social sciences from an audience standpoint. We considered variables ranging from voice, to layout, to navigation, to technical capacity. (OK. The students served as authorities on all things technical while I worked my way through The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Internet.) We used the print journal as the raw material for an experiment in generating content. Working off of Erik R. Seeman’s fine essay “Native Spirits, Shaker Voices: Speaking with the Dead in the Early Republic” (JER 35:3), the students generated assignments based on related primary sources.
“Make the Panorama your Bully Pulpit,” Theodore Parker, 1810-1860, half-length portrait, standing behind pulpit, lecturing in New York, facing right. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
These experiences confirmed that there is no one way to build and write the blog for a scholarly journal. But they also helped me to identify, broadly, the things that I thought best reflected both the JER’s exceptional scholarly profile and SHEAR’s exceptionally humane institutional one.
My thoughts crystallized on Friday, July 17, 2015 a little before noon, in an overcrowded, airless, wretchedly lit meeting room, somewhere in the bowels of a Raleigh, North Carolina hotel. Dozens of SHEARites packed themselves into a room to join in on the roundtable on “Teaching Capitalism in the Early Republic” organized by Will Mackintosh and Seth Cotlar. As conference experiences go, the session was the least physically pleasant that I can remember. It was also among the most intellectually exciting. The panel set SHEAR stalwarts like John Lauritz Larson and Gary Kornblith alongside fresh voices like Courtney Fullilove and Mackintosh. The audience outnumbered the available chairs, and there was real competition for space along the walls to lean against. The conversation darted from research to theory to teaching. The titles of classic texts and forthcoming work rolled out faster than I could write them down. And when it was time to adjourn the session, no one was eager to leave.
That session was the true prototype for The Panorama. Over the months that followed, Will Mackintosh and I talked about the JER, blogging, audiences, voice, and his own personal blog. We talked about things like software and platforms. (OK. Will talked about software and platforms; I’m still working my way through The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Internet.) I was delighted when he agreed to serve as The Panorama’s founding editor. I am more delighted still by what he has come up with for the first few months; if I were a betting woman, I’d bet that you will be delighted too. But like that session in Raleigh, The Panorama will work best if we all join in the conversation.
What can you add to this conversation? Plenty. Bookmark the page, and make it part of your regular round of reading on the Early Americanist Internet. Post your thoughts and comments, so we can reproduce the excitement and energy of that room in Raleigh. And of course, we invite your thoughts for individual submissions and series on teaching, research, writing, and the multiple ways in which the Early American Republic speaks to contemporary dilemmas. Consider The Panorama your intellectual home.Welcome!
 Mark Bernhard, Hayley Hinsberger, Elizabeth Knapp, Morgan McCullough, Sarah Miles, Garreth O’Brien, Franklin Otis, Terrence Robertson, Elijah Stafford, and Kiersten Strachan, Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage Interns.