By Julianne Fullerton | Reporter
Dr. Ronald Johnson, associate professor and the Ralph and Bessie Mae Lynn Chair of History, was recently selected to be the newest co-editor for the Journal of the Early Republic (JER), which is sponsored by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR).
The Journal of the Early Republic is a quarterly journal that publishes scholarship on history and culture of the United States in its early years, from 1776 to 1861.
From the very beginning, Johnson said it was a “team effort,” as the Baylor family supported him throughout the selection process.
“When I was approached by SHEAR to put my name in officially for the position, I went to the chair of the history department,” Johnson said. “And immediately, the department — and not just the chair, but my colleagues — all rallied around me and poured love and support into me.”
Although he said he was a little surprised at first, Johnson said he realized working as an editor is similar to what he already does when working with his students on their papers.
“The part I really enjoy is being able to help the student shift the language, move paragraphs around, make their arguments clearer to make it a better product,” Johnson said. “I think that’s one of the most important qualities of an editor, is taking what a writer has drafted and helping them make it better in their own words.”
Johnson said he officially begins this role on Aug. 1, but until then, he is in constant conversation with the outgoing editor and staff.
Dr. Johann Neem, one of the current co-editors and a history professor at Western Washington University, was the first person to talk to Johnson before he put in his application. Johnson said Neem is a “wonderfully brilliant, incredibly generous and kind scholar.”
“From the moment I was selected, he called me,” Johnson said. “One of the things we’ve begun to do is have biweekly discussions of letting me know what’s going on at the journal, letting me know changes that are coming, changes that they have to make but are going to affect me, and asking for my input. It’s lovely that he is … inviting me to be part of those processes.”
With the JER being one of the leading journals in the field, Neem said Johnson’s appointment is evidence of the amazing scholars Baylor has in its grasp.
“This is an important role in the academic field, and it’s really a testament to Baylor to have someone like him,” Neem said. “It means that the person in charge has to be respected by the field, but also has to be trusted — and trusted in a way that they won’t be partisan, that they’ll embrace the diversity of voices.”
Neem said he and Johnson will complement each other as co-editors due to their different areas of expertise.
“It’s really important that we have a scholar who is deeply aware of African American history and the history of race,” Neem said. “Articles from the Journal of the Early Republic — they shape what people teach in high school classes. They shape textbooks. They shape new research. But they also increasingly shape what we would consider historical knowledge.”
Johnson said he hopes to bring “new voices, innovative technologies and methodologies” to the journal to give people a full view of that period in American history.
“We don’t publish just one view of George Washington; we don’t publish one view of Thomas Jefferson,” Johnson said. “We try to bring in multiple voices, because at the journal, we also don’t want to be telling people, ‘This is the only way or the best way to look at something.’ We leave it to our readers to come away themselves with what view of a particular topic or particular figure they find most convincing.”
Johnson said this mindset is similar to how he approaches teaching in the classroom.
“I don’t try to tell my students what they ought to think about a particular period in history or particular event,” Johnson said. “But I do try to teach them to look at multiple sources and choose the position not that makes them feel most comfortable or the one that already aligns with what they believe or think, but the one that is most convincing based on the evidence and the methodology.”
As a former U.S. diplomat, Johnson said he spent a great number of years representing the United States in embassies and in Italy, Luxembourg and Gabon. He said he plans on using this international mindset with the JER.
“Not only did I carry the U.S. flag and the U.S. administration’s policies and goals to other countries, I got to hear firsthand what other people thought of the United States,” Johnson said. “I plan to bring that mindset to the journal because I want us to read and to know what scholars in other countries are writing about the early American Republic.”
Johnson said he began his academic career as a graduate student with SHEAR, with the community embracing him before he even published his first article. He said he considers his role a way to give back.
“For me, being the co-editor of the journal allows me to give back to this community in tangible ways all the love and encouragement and support they have given me that has propelled my career,” Johnson said. “I am excited that we’re bringing the Journal of the Early Republic to Baylor, because it allows Baylor and the JER to do things that both organizations do really well, and that is nurture and care for scholars.”
Johnson said he hopes to execute this role to the best of his abilities while representing Baylor.
“I will do my very best to represent Baylor well,” Johnson said. “I see it as my responsibility to take — just like as a diplomat, I took the American flag where I went — I look forward to taking the Baylor name and its reputation to places that it has not been before.”