An Interview with Jon Christensen, the New Editor of Boom: A Journal of California

Boom Spring 2013With his first issue about to publish, we checked in with new Boom editor Jon Christensen about his plans for the journal.

Before coming to Boom, Jon—an adjunct assistant professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of History at UCLA—was executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, and an environmental journalist and science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Nature, and numerous other newspapers, magazines, journals, and radio and television shows.

Christensen also published a recent piece in the New Yorker about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. Read more on our blog.

 

UC Press: Jon, welcome to Boom! Can you tell us a little about your research, and how it relates to Boom?

Jon Christensen: It’s not just my research, it’s my life. My mom grew up in Pasadena. My grandfather owned and ran the venerable independent Vroman’s Bookstore. I’ve lived in California for much of my adult life. And when I haven’t been in California, I’ve felt its influence and tug everywhere I lived and worked in the American West and around the world. Wherever you go, if you say you’re from California, people’s eyes light up. My own research as a journalist and a historian of the environment and science is rooted in California but it is all about the movement of people, species, and ideas around the planet. In many ways, this very real movement is also a perfect metaphor for Boom, a quarterly that strives to bottle that lively mixture of what makes California such a vital place in the world.

Jon Christensen
Boom editor Jon Christensen

UC Press: What is it about California? What makes California an object for scholarly study, a place for public intellectuals to be concerned about, and how does understanding California tie back to the larger world?

Jon Christensen: If California were a country, it would be among the most important countries in the world, in terms of the economy, politics, culture, arts, media, technology, education. California is a place to watch what’s new, what’s coming next. Many of the crucial challenges of our times are being confronted and worked out here in California. And this ties us to the world. California belongs to the world, and our ideas and influences can be seen around the world. The world can also be seen in California. In fact, there’s really no way to understand California today without thinking about California in the world and the world in California. Our fall issue focuses on the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and the past, present, and future of the city’s water supply. But it’s also about how water ties LA to the rest of California, the American West, and an increasingly urban world in the 21st century.

UC Press: What attracted you to Boom in the first place?

Jon Christensen:  Boom is a beautiful publication, illustrated with great art and photography, and filled with compelling writing. I was in love with the idea of Boom from the moment I first heard historian Louis Warren talking about it. He and Carolyn de la Peña, the founding editors, did a fabulous job of launching this inspiring combination of a popular magazine and a scholarly journal. I loved it from the first issue and have been a subscriber ever since. Now that I’m editor, I’ve traveled around California over the last year talking with all kinds of people about Boom. And everyone I’ve talked to just brims with goodwill, high hopes, and best wishes for Boom. It inspires us in our work. The publication occupies a niche that has been empty for too long: a place where Californians can have a conversation amongst ourselves, with all of us talking together—writers, artists, scholars, policymakers, advocates, and citizens—about this state we love and worry about. And then, I’m excited to explore the ways we can enlarge that conversation to embrace the ways in which California is tied to the world, to become a journal as much from California as about it, convening a conversation about California in the world.

UC Press: As incoming editor, how do you see Boom changing under your direction? Are there specific changes, or new things we should be excited about? Any forthcoming articles you want to highlight?

Jon Christensen:  We’re really excited about exploring how Boom, the print publication, can be a beautiful, evocative object—something you want to open immediately and spend some time with, carry with you in your bag to read, and keep around on your coffee table—at the center of conversations that also orbit around the magazine, on our web site online, in social media like Twitter and Facebook, in partnership with other media, and in face to face conversations. We want to create one of the most interesting dinner party conversations in California every quarter. And we’re actually going to host dinner parties around the state with readers, as well as other public events with each issue. We’re also excited about experimenting with new forms of interactive, multimedia, mapping and data visualizations, and other forms of innovative digital publishing in association with the issues we explore in the magazine. We’ll be launching a couple of these projects with our first issue on the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct this fall. We discovered a really cool photo album at the Huntington Library, and we’re creating an interactive digital version accompanied by a 1915 song about the Model T—the car that the photographers drove as they explored the aqueduct just after it was built. These are the kinds of boundary-shifting things you can’t do in the magazine, but add rich depth to the experience and conversations in the journal, online, and in person.

UC Press: Boom has had a foot in two camps, so to speak—articles of interest to non-specialists, lay people, but also in-depth articles that speak to a cross-disciplinary, even global group of scholars and researchers exploring larger themes relating to California. How do you see the “new Boom” influencing research within the academy?

Jon Christensen:  At Boom we’re very consciously thinking about how the journal can best play a constructive role in a much larger and very important global conversation about the public role of academic research and scholarly communications. We think it’s crucial that researchers and scholars participate in the public square, and we want to help them do that in Boom. As both a journalist and a scholar myself, this mission is close to my heart and bridging these gaps is at the center of my own career. Taken as a whole, California’s great university system is the biggest—and I would not hesitate to argue the best—in the world. We have so much to contribute. Too often we hide our light under a disciplinary bushel. Sometimes it’s important to have conversations within disciplines, and many journals serve that function. Boom is meant for something else, for people within the academy, in any field, from the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences and medicine, to talk with each other and with the public. We are a great public university system. That public is important. And it’s a conversation. That means listening. So Boom includes many voices beyond the academy in everything we do. Will that influence research within the academy? If we really listen, I think it will.

UC Press: Thanks Jon! Readers, look for more from Boom, including lots of free articles and also content found only online, at boomcalifornia.com!