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Pages Count: A&S undergraduates produce their own academic journals in the humanities

Photo of Dina Ginzburg, Willem Crispin-Frei and Lola Borissenko in front of some trees on campus

Undergraduate journal editors: Dina Ginzburg, Willem Crispin-Frei and Lola Borissenko. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Before she joined the editorial staff of IDIOM, the English undergraduate academic journal, Erin Church’s only real experience with academic journals was a rejection slip from her submission to the publication the previous year. Today, the graduating English specialist has an entirely new perspective on what it takes to create an engaging, representative academic publication.

“I enjoyed the early stages of the selection process most,” Church said. “I was completely overwhelmed by the volume of talent exhibited by students I am lucky enough to call my peers.”

Church is only one of dozens of undergraduate students who has gained valuable experience from producing an academic journal. The Faculty of Arts & Science boasts more than a half-dozen such journals, in fields as diverse as classics and cinema studies. Interestingly, in this age of digitization, many of the journals are printed, as well as posted online.

 I was completely overwhelmed by the volume of talent exhibited by students I am lucky enough to call my peers.

Dina Ginzburg, assistant editor-in-chief of IDIOM, believes that having a printed journal makes it “real.”

“Many of our authors work with books and theories that were published long before online publishing began. It would seem horribly indecent to publish their work exclusively online; it just would not do justice to their sources.”

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Like many of her fellow editors, Ginzburg discovered that being part of a journal’s editorial team was a wonderful learning experience.

“IDIOM receives upward of 100 submissions each year,” she said. “Having to read through so many essays and have specific things to say about each one has trained me to quickly recognize good and bad writing, faulty logic and clunky arguments in short, it has made me a more aware editor and a better writer.”

Willem Crispin-Frei, a fourth-year student who is majoring in classics with a double minor in classical civilization and urban studies agrees. Being editor-in-chief of Plebeian, the undergraduate classics journal “has certainly gotten me to be more thorough when editing my own papers.”

The collaborative aspect of creating an academic journal is something students also find appealing. Humanities research is often a solo pursuit, but journal work provides an opportunity for teamwork.

“Brainstorming with my team to figure out our theme, our goals for the journal and how we’re going to reach out to people in our call for submissions was one of the things I enjoyed most,” said Priyanka Pai Kochikar, a double major in literature & critical theory and political science and an editor of FUN, the journal of the Literature and Critical Theory Student Union. “Honestly, those initial planning stages are so great and just as satisfying as the feeling of having the first proof of the journal in our hands.”

Lola Borissenko is a fourth-year student majoring in cinema studies and English with a minor in history. The editor-in-chief of Camera Stylo, the journal of the Cinema Studies Students’ Union, she says that the teamwork involved in putting a journal together can be a real learning opportunity.

The various undergraduate journals take students’ research experiences in the humanities to the next level.

“My biggest learning experience stemmed from all the collaborative work I had to do during the pre- and post-production phases,” she said. “Communicating with designers, editors, authors, our academic adviser and the printing company was quite a challenge.”

For a number of the students, working on an academic journal confirmed a career choice or offered them an option that they hadn’t seriously considered. Some, like Church, dream of working in publishing; others, like Borissenko, are looking toward academic careers. In any case, they have confirmed that the research enterprise is alive and well among U of T undergraduates.

Professor Donald Ainslie, principal of University College and provostial advisor on undergraduate humanities education, believes students learn valuable lessons in contributing to and creating academic journals.

“The various undergraduate journals take students’ research experiences in the humanities to the next level,” Ainslie said. “They give them the opportunity to experience the broader research context of submitting independently developed essays, revising them in light of peer critique, and ultimately sharing their ideas with the broader public in published form.

“The students who run these journals also get to experience the ‘other side’ of humanities research: the refereeing of papers, offering suggestions for revisions, and assessing whether those revisions yield a paper with insights deserving a broader audience.”