Tag Archives: Graham Broad

  • One in a Thousand: One Hundred Years Later

    One hundred years ago, Eddie McKay, the WWI flying ace featured in One in a Thousand, was shot down and killed. To commemorate his life and death, and the publication this year of Eddie's story in an innovative new microhistory, author Graham Broad discusses how he was compelled to research, write, and publish Eddie's story. To learn more about Eddie McKay, you can of course get your hands on a copy of One in a Thousand, but we also urge you to check out Eddie's account on Twitter: @AEMcKayRFC

    I don’t believe in such things, but if I did, I’d say that Eddie McKay was pursuing me.

    About fifteen years ago, when I was a TA in the Canadian history survey at Western, I was asked to give a guest lecture about Canada in the First World War. It was my first lecture and I was quite unsure of myself, but I knew that the lecture would be more meaningful for the students if I told them about someone from their own university who had been killed in the war. The campus had no First World War cenotaph—it’s a long story—but I found Eddie's name in an old book about Western’s history. I looked into his story briefly. He was a rugby player who became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Perfect.

    I spent a few hours in the university archives looking for a picture of him to no avail. I left, stretching and yawning, rubbing my eyes, and paused to glance for a moment at a nearby display case. And there was an old and yellowed photo of Eddie McKay, wearing his rugby team uniform, looking straight back at me from the pages of a scrapbook about Western’s sports history. I alerted the archivist. “That’s weird,” she said. “I flipped to that page at random this morning.”

    Odd things like that happened again, over a decade later, when I decided to write a book about Eddie, like the time I took my laptop to the local market for a change of scenery. Sipping coffee and writing, I looked down for a moment at the top of the table. Somebody had etched “Eddie” in it. So that was weird, too.

    Again, I don’t believe in that stuff, but Eddie McKay does haunt me in a way. I can’t really claim to know him. Even if he had survived the war, it’s improbable that I ever could have: he would have turned seventy-eight the year I was born. Would I have liked him, or would he have liked me? He was athletic and a soldier. I am bookish, uninterested in sports, and unmilitary. And it would be incredible if he did not share many of the commonplace sentiments of his own age that rightly find no place in our own. Yet something about him compelled and still compels me inexorably. I’d mention him once a year when I guest lectured, and later in my classes when I started to teach. Then in 2007, I persuaded my senior seminar to do a little class project about him. Together, we gathered material about his life, at least the stuff we could get locally, and placed a commemorative marker for him on campus. I pass it often. My wife, who works at the university, can see it from her office window.

    In 2013, I hashed out an idea with Natalie Fingerhut, the Higher Education History Editor at University of Toronto Press. A biography, of sorts, of Eddie McKay. Could it be done? I dunno, I said. I’m not sure if there’s enough material. What the students and I had gathered in 2007 provided no more than a sketch. Even better, she proposed. It would really be two biographies: the story of Eddie McKay and the story of how I wrote that story—or failed to write it. A pedagogical microhistory.

    So, I committed biography, as they say. Sort of. I was able to locate only about six documents relating specifically to Eddie’s life prior to his twentieth year, for example, so the “biography” was pretty much confined to the last three years of his life when he was a student and soldier. Moreover, the experience of thinking my way through things I had taken for granted, such as how I went about doing history, why I believed the things I discovered about the past were probably true, laid me bare. Oh, back in the day I had taken the obligatory theory and methods courses, and I had wandered the thickets of “theory” over many hours of beer and argument with classmates who were convinced that there was nothing in this world that we could be convinced about. But I had always believed that, for all the interventions of the post-modernists, the core methodology of the historical profession hasn’t changed much over the years. We write about more things and often take a broader perspective, but fundamentally it seems to me that most historians do what historians have been doing for a very long time: they gather evidence to tell stories and make arguments about the past.

    My book, One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps, is the story of a promising young man who was killed in a terrible war. It is also the story about how I struggled to learn what I did about him, how I came to certain conclusions—however tentative—about him, and how I dealt with gaps in the record and the mysteries I couldn’t resolve. Where is he buried? Who was the mystery woman who inquired after him when he failed to return from his final patrol? What was in the envelope, addressed to him, that was never sent by the President of UWO in 1917? The book serves as an entry point, then, for students wanting to learn more about historical theory and method. It’s possible to skip the methodological discussions and read the book as biography alone, but it’s my hope that readers who come for the history will stay for the historiography.

    Eddie McKay was killed in action the day after his 25th birthday, 28 December 1917. For the past two years, I have been tweeting significant events in his life from @AEMcKayRFC. You can follow him there. In a future blog post, I’ll ruminate some about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet.

    Graham Broad is Associate Professor of History at King's University College at Western University and the author of A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945 (2013).

  • Publishing with UTP Higher Education

    The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation. Our Editor, Natalie Fingerhut, continues the conversation with her description of the personalized treatment that authors receive when they publish with the Higher Education Division at UTP.

    As a prospective author, you can pitch your textbook idea to any number of publishers. Many of you choose big presses because you like the name brand. Some of you like presses where there are acquiring editors, developmental editors, copy editors, line editors. You don’t mind being shuffled from one editor to the next. Or maybe you do. Perhaps you are tired of not having your email returned. Perhaps you want to hear your editor’s voice over the phone but he or she never calls you back. Your editor has too many authors to deal with and can’t remember who you are. Maybe what you want is a more personal touch—a more human relationship with your editor.

    If so, UTP’s Higher Education Division is the place for you and your textbook.

    We editors at UTPHE pride ourselves on excellent customer service. We answer your emails within a day and if we reach an impasse, we call you to sort it out. I remember emailing with an author on a Sunday night. We were both home alone with our kids and I could tell that he was concerned about his book cover. So, I asked him if it was OK if we set up a phone meeting for that night at about 9:00 pm when all the kids were in bed. We talked for 15 minutes about how difficult it was to solo parent and what TV shows our kids liked best… and then we talked for 5 minutes about the book cover. Needless to say, he has published two books with me already and has another book on the way. So, yes, we editors go the extra mile with our authors because we are extremely appreciative of the work they do for us and we want them to be happy. In turn, they are appreciative of our work and we get repeat business and referrals. Everybody wins.

    Unlike some other presses, we stay with you and your book from its birth to its reincarnation in new editions. We do not leave you. We do not pass you off to some jargon-talking PR person. We do not leave you at the mercy of a junior editor. When we sit down with you at a conference to discuss your book idea over coffee or, more likely, a glass of wine, that is just the beginning of the relationship. If we successfully acquire the book, we have it reviewed. We take it through production. We present it at sales conferences. We take it to large North American conferences like the AHA, APSA, ASA, and AAA, as well as medium-sized and smaller conferences. We treat your book with the respect that it deserves because we understand how much time and effort has gone into writing it. We know that you are busy juggling multiple obligations and we also know that you have a choice in who you publish with, so we do our best to make the editorial process smooth for you. We want you to come back and we want you to bring your friends.

    Typically, this is how it goes (taken from a real email conversation, with the permission of the author):

    Graham Broad: Right, so what I want to do is write a short book about this WWI soldier who went to Western University and his letters and guide the student through the reading of those letters—just like I did with my own students.

    Natalie: That sounds creative. How did your students respond to it? I like when professors use ideas that have been tried in the classroom.

    Graham Broad: They loved it. My teaching evaluations have never been so high. They had to write papers about this soldier using his letters and they were fantastic. That’s why I thought it would be a good book to write. I have to be honest: I pitched to other presses, but no uptake.

    Natalie: Well, I can’t speak for other presses, but I think that the project fits with our mandate to publish materials for course use that are both useful pedagogical tools and that contribute to ongoing scholarship.

    Graham Broad: So, what are the next steps?

    Natalie: How about putting together a proposal? I’ll send you a link to our guidelines. After you submit your proposal, we will chat about it and then I’ll send it out for review. That usually takes between 4-6 weeks. I then prepare it for presentation to our editorial board which meets monthly. Once I have their approval, the UTP Board approves it, I send you a contract, and you go off and write the book.

    Graham Broad: I think I could have first draft to you in 2 years. Is that OK?

    Natalie: Absolutely. Most of our authors take between 2-3 years to submit a first draft. After I receive it, I’ll read it through and we’ll talk about whether it is ready for external review. If so, I’ll send it out again to three anonymous reviewers. When those come in—usually within 3 months’ time—I’ll organize the reviews and send you a review document and discuss a revision plan with you. When you submit your final version, I prepare it for production.

    Graham Broad: And how long does production take? I’ve heard nightmares about the potential delays.

    Natalie: We try to do it in a year—sometimes significantly less. Some books that have permissions and images take longer, but we try and keep it to a year maximum. Our goal is to publish it with enough time for professors to order exam copies and consider ordering it for their courses. We also gear our production schedule around important conferences to make sure that books get released in time to be promoted to key audiences. We are very time-sensitive with our books because we are market-driven.

    A personal touch means that real people work on the books we publish and of course life can get in the way of best-laid publishing plans. But good communication and a clarity of expectations lead to a great working relationship between author and editor, and ultimately to great books. We are always eager to work on interesting textbooks that have a point of view, and I’m excited to say that this micro-history on the WWI soldier was recently approved at our editorial meeting. We are confident that it will find an audience, and we base that confidence on our combined years of experience in editorial, sales, and marketing.

    Our editors have all spent time knocking on professors’ doors conducting sales calls. We ask you what kinds of teaching materials you want and we do our best to find them for you. We hear your concerns that your students are not good readers and we want to work with you to teach them how to do it better. Building critical thinking skills is our primary pedagogical goal, and we publish books with this goal in mind. We also hear your concerns about the lack of editorial freedom at big presses and we relish the opportunity to help you publish exactly the kind of book you want for your students. If you are intrigued by our approach, we hope you will consider working with us in the future!

    -Natalie Fingerhut, Editor

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