From his colleagues’ latest monographs to students’ dissertation chapters to undergraduate papers on Anglo-Irish literature, English professor James Chandler, AM’72, PhD’78, doesn’t lack for reading material. So why does Chandler add to the pile by editing a book series?
The reason is simple: “If you care about your field, you want to bring people into it and you want to bring good people into it. Book series help to do that,” says Chandler, editor of Cambridge Studies in Romanticism for Cambridge University Press and Literature in History for Princeton University Press.
Book series play an essential role in helping to forge new fields and keep established ones vibrant, scholars say. As editors, they are charged with curating the critical conversation by handpicking the books to include. “It allows for a bird’s-eye view of the pertinent field—often hard to get at when caught up in the detail of individual research,” explains English scholar Leela Gandhi, coeditor with Sanjay Seth, Michael Dutton, and Pal Ahluwalia of Routledge’s Postcolonial Politics.
The sometimes underappreciated work of editing book series has perks for the editors too, providing opportunities for mentoring, collaboration, and scholarly inspiration. “It is nearly always pleasurable, even exhilarating, to watch one's peers at the top of their game,” says classicist Clifford Ando, editor of the University of Pennsylvania Press’s series Empire and After.
The hunt for the next great manuscript
The process begins with “some bird-dogging of good manuscripts,” explains Chandler, the Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Distinguished Service Professor in English and Cinema and Media Studies and director of the Franke Institute for the Humanities. “You want to be on the lookout for really promising work that fits within the series.” 
Such searching gets easier, he says, “the longer you’ve been around and the more people you know.” In fact, presses often look for scholars with years of experience and a robust roster of contacts to edit a series. In other cases, scholars propose their own series to oversee.  
For Frederick de Armas, who edits the University of Toronto Press’s Iberic series, this “bird-dogging” phase can be thrilling. 
“It is always with excitement and some trepidation that I start reading a manuscript we have agreed to consider,” says de Armas, the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Service Professor in Romance Languages and Literatures. He hopes for the best, “concerned that, sometimes even with the best advice by a great board, a book may not come to fruition, but always in search of elegant arguments, new knowledge or perspectives, and striking insights.”
After an initial reading, the editor typically decides whether to reject the manuscript or send it on to another scholar for assessment. If the second reader approves, the manuscript may be sent to a third reader or returned to the author for revision. Finally, the editor makes a formal recommendation to the press, which offers the author a contract. 
Although nothing compares to publishing a book of one’s own, editors like Chandler say they become invested in the fate of manuscripts they’ve shepherded through the editorial process: “It’s not disconnected to the feeling one has in bringing along a dissertation. It’s essentially the same skill set—it’s nurturing and fostering.”
It is always pleasurable, even exhilarating, to watch one's peers at the top of their game. —Clifford Ando
De Armas agrees that editing a series provides a welcome opportunity to deepen his connection to his colleagues’ work. “It is so gratifying to publish a book for example, by a young scholar who is then promoted partially on the basis of her study,” he says, “or to see the completion of a major book by a senior scholar, while enjoying every page.”
Defining and defending fields
Book series benefit the wider scholarly community by “making the disciplinary fields or terrains sharper and clearer,” explains Gandhi, a professor in English Language and Literature whose interests include sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drama, Indo-Anglian literature, and postcolonial theory.
The role of series is especially pronounced in smaller fields, says Ando, the David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Classics and History. Thanks to carefully curated series, books that might otherwise have been isolated by topic or methodology can be brought into conversation with one another. In ancient studies, for example, “the mere existence of trends in scholarship can be discovered and certainly affirmed,” he says. 
In Gandhi’s case, Postcolonial Politics emerged out of a relatively young scholarly conversation at the intersection of politics and postcolonial theory. “The interest as editors was in thinking about postcolonial politics in an interdisciplinary way,” she says, “with a special openness to humanistic perspectives.” 
By providing a stable home for scholarly conversation, book series can help to protect more established fields against changes in academic trends and fashions. As some English departments in recent years moved toward dividing literature by chronological period rather than by movement, for example, Romantic studies seemed endangered. Many scholars have told Chandler that Cambridge Studies in Romanticism “helped defend the field of Romanticism against the squeeze,” he says. 
The ability of book series to protect and shape fields is why Chandler thinks editorial work is so essential. “More generally, the profession just won’t function if no one agrees to do it,” he says.
Inspiration and collaboration
Editing a series provides a welcome opportunity to collaborate with coeditors, press editors, and authors. For Gandhi, such shared labor is “insufficiently encouraged in the traditional humanities,” and was a driving factor behind her commitment to Postcolonial Politics.
Similarly, de Armas says his partnership with Iberic coeditor Robert Davidson, a University of Toronto scholar, has been “the perfect combination, since he specializes in contemporary Iberia while I work on Renaissance and early modern. We both enjoy interdisciplinary studies—he is particularly interested in architecture, while I work more with art history. The partnership has proven extremely successful.”
Collaborating has also shaped de Armas’s research on the literature of the Spanish Renaissance. Editorial work influences “your own perceptions of trends,” he says. “And knowing what is being said helps me to construct my own arguments in my books and essays.”
For Ando—who explores law, administration, and cultural change in the Roman Empire—the benefit is more abstract: It lies “at the level of inspiration, derived from watching creative and intelligent people wrestle with questions that I recognize as meaningful to the world that I too study.”