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news imageSept. 22, 2005

Student Eric Burnette, right, created an online journal for undergraduate history majors when he discovered there was no outlet for his work. Now Burnette and fellow Appalachian State University student Matthew Manes publish the electronic journal History Matters. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)

Students Create Online History Journal

BOONE– Eric Burnette spent a lot of time and effort on a research paper he wrote his freshman year.

He was proud of his efforts, but once the paper was submitted to his professor, Burnette discovered there weren’t any opportunities for undergraduates like him to gain additional recognition for their work. So the Appalachian State University history major started an online journal devoted to publishing historical research authored by undergraduates.

The electronic journal, History Matters, debuted in the spring of 2004. Burnette, a senior history and political science major from Greensboro, is editor. Fellow student Matthew Manes, a senior history and political science major from Charlotte, is associate editor. The journal can be found at www.historymatters.appstate.edu.

“Our first year we had 11 submissions, all from Appalachian,” Burnette said. “Of those, we published one research paper, one research essay and three book reviews.”

For the second issue, released in spring 2005, Burnette and Manes invited the history departments from Western Carolina University and UNC-Asheville to participate in the project. That journal contained two research papers and five book reviews.

Published papers included “The Chariot: A Weapon that Revolutionized Egyptian Warfare” and “Judicial Impotency: The Empowerment of Federal Judiciary During Reconstruction.”

The next issue, to be published in spring 2006, has already received inquiries from undergraduates across the United States. The Appalachian students hope to include as many as six research papers and a dozen or more book reviews in that issue.

Any undergraduate in the country is welcome to submit his or her work. The submission deadline for the spring 2006 issue is Jan. 27, 2006.

Diversity in submissions and a rigorous editing process help ensure the quality of the journal, Burnette says. “One of the original goals was to give students like us an outlet,” he said. “We want to publish the best papers we have, but we also want to keep in mind diversity and having a different mix of schools in there.”

Good papers require good editing, a skill that Burnette and Manes have polished on the job, so to speak, with help from editorial board members comprised of history faculty from Appalachian, WCU and UNC Asheville.

Papers are read at least four times. Burnette and Manes first edit for content, grammar, clarity and flow. After corrections are made by the author, Burnette and Manes read the paper again and decide whether to send it on to a faculty editorial board. “They are a really important part of the organization,” Burnette said. “With a student-run journal, it would be easy to say it’s not academic or scholarly, it’s just students running it.”

The faculty board evaluates the papers, looking for historical accuracy. The paper is returned to the student author with the faculty board’s suggested edits, and if resubmitted, is read again.

“These editors have worked intimately with students on their revisions to improve their papers and make them stronger contributions, and that means that the students benefit from excellent critics of their work,” said history professor Michael Moore, one of the journal’s faculty advisors at Appalachian. “It’s the process of rewriting that clarifies your thoughts and adds to the depth of your work.

“Another benefit is that the student editors employ the full academic standards of evaluation that are involved in this enterprise,” Moore said. “They learn a great deal about writing history, as well as the aspect of scholarly publication.”

“As undergraduates, we don’t always know how to fully research a topic or idea,” Manes said. “We write last minute and turn it in. But understanding writing as a process is essential. This really drives home that point.”

Having a paper published is a plus for students planning to attend graduate school, Moore said. “It demonstrates they are getting good training for a future academic career.”

Burnette and Manes graduate in 2006, so in addition to reviewing submissions for History Matters’ next issue, they are looking for replacements to continue their work. Next year’s editor will receive a $1,250 scholarship and the associate editor will receive a $750 scholarship, thanks to contributions from faculty in Appalachian’s Department of History.

“It’s almost like starting and running a business,” Burnette said of the work establishing the electronic journal. “It’s given us a lot of experience in managing an organization. That alone has been extremely rewarding.”

Burnette, however, has yet to have his paper published. “The irony is we set up this outlet for other people, but we don’t have one,” Burnette said of himself and Manes. “We can’t publish our own papers. But it’s tremendously rewarding to watch this grow.”

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