H-Ukraine initiated the new interview project "The Projects and Their People" that is aimed to present and showcase the variety of the scientific, publication, and public projects in the area of Ukrainian studies. We invite everyone to share their experience, ideas, and reflections on running the projects that could serve as an inspiration and guidance for others. The aim of this interview project is to turn attention of the academic and public community to your work. If you would like to share your experience please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first interview showcases the online peer-reviewed journal City, History, Culture, and Society (Місто, історія, культура, суспільство, MICS) and her editor-in-chief Tetiana Vodotyka.
We are looking forward to hearing from many of you and would love to make your projects visible!
H-Ukraine, Editors Team
Interview with Tetiana Vodotyka, editor-in-chief of the online peer-reviewed journal
City, History, Culture, and Society (Місто, історія, культура, суспільство)
H-Ukraine. When did the idea for this journal first appear?
TV. It was a warm, sunny summer day in 2015 when I was sitting in Shevchenko Park with my colleagues and friends, Volodymyr Shevchenko and Igor Postolnyk. All of us studied at the historical faculty at Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University, however, at different times. Igor already had experience working with the almanac Gardarika (http://resource.history.org.ua/item/0010131). Our idea was to have a new look at the development of cities and villages in Ukraine because several decades had passed since the last multivolume almanac was published. It seemed to us that the second collection would be no less interesting than the first. However, everything went wrong, very few texts came, and their quality was not the best.
But as it is often the case, another idea grew out of the old one. It became clear that it was necessary to make a full-fledged peer-reviewed scientific journal. And, to be honest, the quality of the vast majority of Ukrainian historical journals leaves much to be desired. We wanted to create a journal that existed on a quality, European level with an anonymous peer-review system, an editorial board who reads and comments on texts, and authors who are willing to review their peers’ articles.
When we started, we had little support and no idea how to go about this, but in six months, we managed to find an editor-in-chief, enlist the support of two leading academic institutions, form an editorial board, and collect articles for the first issue. This was not easy because the magazine lacked a formal status, so the first texts were a kind of indicator of trust in the team and faith in the project.
Until the magazine received the official scientific status from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine in the spring of 2017, the articles were collected under the “honest word” of our team that aimed to complete the task. The first issue was released on August 8, 2016. I have reproduced this date from our Facebook page. Nowadays, social networks are archives of the digital age.
H-Ukraine. Why did you decide to choose the online format for the journal? What influenced your decisions?
TV. Why is the magazine electronic? Everything is simple. There is almost no money available to support journals, and an electronic version allows you to save on many printing costs. Frankly speaking, it also expands the possibilities of publishing more illustrations, larger texts, and experimenting with the visual style of the publication. If we went immediately with the printed version format, MICS would have been forced to accept funds from the authors. The editorial board seeks to maintain an open access policy.
H-Ukraine. Why is the topic of urban history central to this project? How could you explain the need for such a publishing venue in Ukrainian academia?
TV. This is where my own research interests and understanding of what exactly such a thematic journal lacks in the Ukrainian historical space converged. There were magazines focused chronologically and ones that focused on general topics only. Other magazines dedicated themselves to certain larger topics, such as the peasantry or other important foci. But a journal devoted to one topic, especially the topic of urban studies, was clearly lacking. And this is the niche we have filled.
H-Ukraine. The editorial work, which you have already mentioned, is very impressive. It seems that you should have great colleagues around you with whom you are running this journal and sharing ideas. Could you please tell the readers of H-Ukraine how the team was created?
TV. Everything that the magazine has become in five years of its existence would be impossible without dedicated people. First of all, Ihor Postolnyk – it was he who made Gardariki, and we constructed the journal’s architecture with his help. Volodymyr Shevchenko helped us a lot in the first couple of years. Igor, Volodymyr, and I read the first issues, the texts and edited the bibliography alone. We did not have the resources for a designer and a professional literary editor. The magazine is free, and it is still a principal position of ours. Therefore, the issue of a team and resources is constantly relevant. The situation has improved slightly over the last year. We have formed a team that includes a designer, typesetter, and editor. Igor and I perform the current editorial functions. Volodymyr Gula helps a lot. We are all historians by education and practice, which allows to work together and be on the same page.
H-Ukraine. You have already mentioned that one of the main reasons why you decided to create this journal was grown from the need to have an established peer-review historical journal with a strong editorial policy. Could you expand on that? What are the pillars of the MICS’ editorial policy, and how do you construct your relationships with the authors and reviewers?
TV. All articles are first filtered by the editor-in-chief (i.e. me). Some of them I do not even send for review and refuse immediately. Certainly, I am not an expert in all topics of history, but I already have the ability to distinguish valuable texts from those that are more pseudo-scientific by default. Once every six months, we publish articles and put out an open call for papers . We try to ensure that our requirements for articles meet the best standards; no plagiarism, no self-citation, and we require double-blind review. These are not just words or statements, they are the core values of our journal. At the same time, the editorial board remains open to thematic issues that are shaped by the types of submissions we receive, which are first sorted by our pool of reviewers and then organized accordingly.
So, let’s imagine that the text came to the office and passed my rather wide sieve of the first selection. After that, my colleagues and I begin looking for two reviewers. Certainly, this is a challenge because it is not always possible to avoid a conflict of interest. The historical community in Ukraine is quite small, and people often recognize each other's work by style and prose, which makes it difficult to find objective reviewers. This means that some reviewers do not make a review of based on the academic value of a paper, but based on their grievances against another author with whom they might have had past disagreements. The editorial office may not always know about these, which makes them difficult to find and address. Such situations have occurred in the past, and it’s not easy to get out of them. There was a case when seven specialists read the text, but we did not accept it for publication.
However, most of the time two reviewers read the text and give feedback. Once an author addresses this feedback, the article is finalized. If necessary, reviewers read it for a second time to make sure that it fits our standards. After an article is finally accepted for publication, it is corrected by a literary editor and given a proper layout.
For us, it is always a matter of balance to maintain loyalty to the authors and reduce the amount of editorial work before the actual publication. We are very far from being one of those journals that rejects texts in the first stage due to minor things like not following proper formatting issues.
The issue of the author-magazine relationship has been gaining more weight lately. The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine has increased regulations and dictated new conditions in this area. One of the recent examples is the re-certification of journals, which has involved complex organizational and financial analysis. Our journal editors believe that further innovations will lead to a change in the format of interaction between journals and authors. The weight of scientific publication in Ukrainian science will change. In this case, the issue of a journal’s image is very important, and it is crucial to maintain a high level of quality publications that meet this expected rigor. We do not seek to become a kind of “predator magazine” that usurps the area of studies and manipulates publications. This is the path to the loss of scientific value and relevance. The issue of recognition and trust in the MICS brand is important because, in the close world of humanities, the loss of a name could happen quickly.
H-Ukraine. Could you comment on the directions of the journal’s publishing policy? What are your forthcoming plans?
TV. From the beginning, the journal was historical rather than truly interdisciplinary. It is still a limitation that we have not yet overcome. We want to get involved with, and bring in the work of, sociologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and other scholars who work on urban studies. Therefore, we have created permanent headers in the journal called “Archeology of the City” and “Sociology of the City.”
One of the tasks we face is to acquaint the Ukrainian community with the developments of science in the field. It is not always possible for renowned scholars, or academic “stars” to write for a Ukrainian magazine. Hence, we decided to include the scientific interviews, which help refresh the issues and introduce the scientific concepts to the readers. We also try to publish historical sources and are always happy to work on such proposals.
We are now in search for more balance among our topics since there has been a built-in practice of selecting texts for a particular topic. It is part of a tradition, which has both advantages and disadvantages. We have considered doing more thematic issues, like a special focus on topics such as food in the city or medieval cities. While this type of work is certainly interesting, it can limit the journal and close off submissions for other publications and areas of research. Those researchers who do not fit into the chosen topic then have to wait for months for another submission opportunity, and that is not very good, in our opinion. So, we are looking for a balance between special and general issues.
H-Ukraine. The recent issues of the journals are unique since they could be seen as a result of the cooperation between the journal as a publication platform and research centres. Could you please tell more about the avenues of the MICS’ collaboration and what you think about its possibilities?
TV. We are very much interested in collaboration, and we have not had bad results with this so far. Probably, the brightest projects are “Food in the City” that we did in collaboration with the project “Food and Culture” (in Ukrainian – “Їжа та культура,” or Їжак). Olena Braichenko, its founder, was a guest editor together with sociologist Tymofii Brik. The issue turned out very well. No less successful, though much more difficult in terms of the topic, was the cooperation with the NGO “Mnemonics” that resulted in a special issue dedicated to the Holocaust in the cities. This issue is truly important because the Holocaust and its memory are now politicized. And now, like in the 1942, it is not possible to stay away. The last issue is a product of cooperation with the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The topic of thanatology is, of course, broader than physical anthropological research and the study of burial structures.
We look forward to further interdisciplinary collaborations in the future . In general, collaboration with different institutions is a way to expand our capabilities under limited resources. Also, collaboration is a good test of communication skills among the members of a scholarly community. But in the history of cooperation, there are always bad cases. Unfortunately, not all actors of Ukrainian science are ready to cooperate. Such moments are explained by the peculiarities of scientific life. In particular, many scholars and institutions are still focused on themselves and their own activities. In general, as a publication platform, MICS is open to any cooperation. We are going public by organizing presentations of new issues and other journal activities and participating in historical festivals before the pandemic.
Often scientific discussions lack sustainability. It is possible to watch a video and refer to it, but the power of a printed word is still important. We sometimes regret to see the lack of demand for expert assessment and thoughtful understanding of complex issues, especially when it comes to cities. In fact, one of the MICS’ tasks is to create room for such discussions that would involve more expertise, relevance, and reliability. Urban activism requires the expertise of sustained influence that can come from a developed scientific community. The scientific community, on the other hand, requires activism to increase influence. Why not make MICS such a platform that can address both issues?
H-Ukraine. It is great to see that there is a long-run vision of the project. What are the forthcoming directions and perspectives of the journal?
TV. In terms of a journal’s “career,” our main goal is, of course, to maintain good standing and rise to the first quartiles. The higher the impact factor of the journal, the higher position it has in the journal metric system. When we talk about the content, our goal is to expand interdisciplinary links and to include more interesting topics and collaborations.
A recent example is a collaboration with the Center for Urban Studies (Kyiv, Ukraine), an NGO that is working with Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture that is aiming to develop a masters program in urban planning. This is set to launch in September 2021. In collaboration with this centre, we are conducting the series of historical workshops “How cities remember and how cities forget.” («У пошуках балансу»: огляд воркшопу «Місто й оновлення: як міста пам’ятають і як міста забувають» (10-12 вересня 2020 р., Київ) - Україна модерна (uamoderna.com))
H-Ukraine. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas!