Since its launch in early 2017, the online quarterly journal Studies in Late Antiquity has published ground-breaking and wide-ranging interdisciplinary research on the world of Late Antiquity (150-750 CE).
Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, founding editor of Studies in Late Antiquity, joined UC Press Acquisitions Editor Eric Schmidt to discuss how the journal has developed under her tenure as editor, recent articles she’s excited about, and her vision for the field. Digeser is Professor of Roman History at UC Santa Barbara. Having previously taught at Cornell University, St. Norbert College, and McGill University, Digeser’s research interests focus on Mediterranean religious and political changes in the late third and early fourth centuries CE, together with the legacy of these developments.
This post is part of our blog series for the 2020 virtual AAR and SBL conferences. Visit our virtual conference exhibit.
Schmidt: Looking back on your tenure as the editor of SLA, you began with the intention to stimulate multi- and interdisciplinary research and conversations in the field. How has the work of the journal so far met this goal? Are there trends or developments in the field that you wouldn’t have expected when you began?
Digeser: SLA has become a forum for scholars studying the mix of regions around the Mediterranean, broadly speaking, to engage with one another. Besides Europe and the Mediterranean perimeter, articles in SLA have featured late ancient Georgia, Arabia, and Iran—regions rarely included (albeit for different reasons) in the “Roman history” journals of a generation ago, much less in the same publication. SLA has also become a place where research on late ancient Christianity, Judaism, “paganism” and Islam appears together. Finally, recent issues have juxtaposed scholarship on poetry, archaeology, soundscapes, philology, and philosophy, along with methodologically innovative approaches to history and religious studies.
We set out with an ambitious goal to bring together research in archaeology, cultural geography (including cartography), economics, gender and sexuality, history (including cultural history), history of the arts (including architecture, art, and music), law, literature and rhetoric, material culture (including codicology, epigraphy, numismatics, and papyrology), historical demography, philology, philosophy, religion, science (including medicine and technology), and theology. I’m proud to say that the articles over our last four volumes have touched on almost every single area of study. And I’d love for scholars of cartography, sexuality, codicology, demography, and technology to help us complete the list!
There is also emergent interdisciplinary scholarship that our list failed to include because late ancient scholars were just starting to publish on these topics six years ago when our goals took shape. Perhaps the most important of these topics is the study of the late ancient environment and its relationship to human movement and the economy. We have an article by Sabine Huebner coming out soon (SLA 4.4) on the effect of climate change on the agricultural economy of the Fayum, and more in the pipeline on topics ranging from the Justinianic plague to wider patterns of environmental change. Reception studies have also become increasingly important and more prominent than we imagined. Publications by Kalina Yamboliev (SLA 3.1) and Duncan MacRae (SLA 1.4) have put us at the vanguard of this approach as well.
Although we’ve made good progress, I think we can still do better. For example, I would love to entice scholars working on the Baltic, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Central, East, or South Asia in this period to consider publishing in SLA. Meeting this goal would not only help us move toward understanding late ancient Afro-Eurasia, but also provide a foundation for emergent fields, such as comparative history or the push toward conceptualizing a “Global Late Antiquity.” Work in these other regions tends to be quite siloed, however, and it is difficult for us to gain notice among those scholars. For that reason, we have made a concerted effort to review books that focus on these areas and raise awareness among these scholars.
Schmidt: Where do you hope to see the field go in the next five years?
Digeser: When the Associate Editors and I first conceptualized Studies in Late Antiquity, we wanted to create a platform for scholarship that would put global scholars in dialogue with one another regarding the late ancient world. As educators based in California, which has prominent world history programs in secondary schools and universities, many of us were frustrated by the parochial character of our own scholarly discipline. We have also become increasingly and painfully aware of the gender, racial and regional imbalances in our field.
For this reason, we put together an editorial board of whom one-third are scholars from outside the US and over half are women. We also make sure that no issue goes to press without significant input from women authors and reviewers. But we still have a long way to go. Although our authors have hailed from North America (both Canada and the US), Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Georgia, and Israel, until now we have lacked research contributions from Central or East Asia, or the continents of South America and Africa. We are not particularly unique among our peer publications in this regard, but I would like to see the world of scholarship become more integrated. I would also like us to publish research from a more racially diverse body of authors. As scholars, many of us have become increasingly aware of how we assume a “white gaze” on the part of the late ancient people we study. Good scholarship and good professional citizenship require us to work much harder to diversify our field.
Schmidt: What recent SLA articles are you excited about?
Digeser: We have published so much great scholarship lately, that it’s hard to choose! Grace Stafford’s article on women’s pilgrimage (SLA 3.2) is definitely a highlight: such an innovative, sensitive reading of material evidence and architecture to imagine women as full and frequent participants in these late ancient ritual excursions. The special issue edited by Julia Hillner on clerical exile (SLA 3.3) brought us fully into the world of digital humanities publications. Most recently, Blossom Stefaniw’s Viewpoint essay on feminist historiography (4.3) has been a blockbuster. Her penetrating critique of contemporary historiography garnered the attention of late ancient scholars (and beyond) in a wide range of venues, from Yale’s Late Antiquity Reading Group and—via Twitter—to scholars and followers of all eras of history around the globe, including Japan and South America.
Schmidt: Having now helmed a journal, you’ve seen how academic publishing works from a different vantage point than many scholars. How has that changed your perspectives on scholarly communication?
Digeser: More than anything else, editing SLA has opened my eyes to the privileges and responsibilities that comes with being an editor of a major journal such as SLA. People often talk about how senior scholars tend to serve as “gate-keepers” to the field, keeping the discipline on the straight and narrow, conforming to their idea of what is good or right. I would much rather be a nexus builder, putting people and their ideas in touch with one another, whether within our virtual pages or in the seminars, offices, libraries and classrooms where our scholarship will be read.