The Making of 'Age of Revolutions'
“When I go to a scholarly website, I don’t expect to be surprised, if only because I am often looking for something specific. But when I go to Age of Revolutions I always find something unexpected and unexpectedly helpful for my own teaching or research. The site offers gateways to new thoughts because its editors are always on top of the latest developments and because they have an especially capacious view of what matters in history. They are not just collecting scholarship; they are actively helping to create new interpretations.”
Drs. Cindy Ermus and Bryan Banks are FSU history alumni who are actively making a positive impact on their respective fields and the profession as a whole. Both scholars graduated from FSU with their PhDs in History in 2014, as students in the Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution (INFR). Their desire to publish scholarship more rapidly and in a more accessible format drove them to found a website called Age of Revolutions (AoR) (Check out this review of the site in the Journal of American History). AoR offers scholars an opportunity to publish quickly while still undergoing a rigorous, peer-reviewed editorial process. Ermus and Banks spoke with social media assistant and INFR doctoral candidate Marina Ortiz recently to discuss their experience building the project from the ground up and the future of AoR.
AoR is an innovative platform in the academic world. It is free and accessible not only to historians, but also the general public. Submissions are peer-reviewed, which is critical for achieving the standards of a scholarly publication. With a team of editors with a wide range of national and thematic specialties, Ermus and Banks have created an editorial process that is much quicker than that offered by traditional journals. The site focuses on scholarship within the broad field of “revolutions,” which allows for diverse content from vast time periods within a global perspective. Ermus emphasized that AoR speaks not only to the revolutions of the past, but also the sent moment: “We live in an age of revolutions.” The expeditious editing process enables AoR to publish material relevant to events happening in the world at any given moment. Banks stresses that AoR is also flexible in terms of format. Although traditional scholarly articles are a mainstay for AoR, they encourage submission of interviews, multimedia, and think-pieces too. These features, coupled with their ability to publish materials of varying length, facilitate the delivery of concise content that is attractive to general audiences and scholars alike.
AoR is an ambitious endeavor that has required a lot of hard work, networking, and partnership to get it to where it is today. Banks first considered the idea after attending the Western Society for French History conference. After the conference, he returned to Georgia State University where he was a visiting professor and talked with a colleague who runs Tropics of Meta, a site designed to publish scholarly articles for a general audience. Their advice encouraged him, but it was too big a project for him to take on alone. He had maintained a connection with his FSU classmate Ermus after graduation via social media, and it was from there that Age of Revolutions began taking shape. In the beginning, the idea was not focused on the Age of Revolutions but was rather more open-ended with a “serialized publication” format. Ultimately, they decided to focus on revolution. Fortunately, the AoR website domain (www.AgeofRevolutions.com ) was available.
Both Banks and Ermus feel that they make a great team. They enjoy working together—each bringing their own strengths—and this, they agree, has helped make Age of Revolutions a success. “What makes this project successful at all is the fact that we work so well together,” Ermus says about their working partnership, “it’s just a really excellent match in that sense.” Being able to share the workload between two people with complementary skills has sustained the project over time and has helped it blossom.
AoR was built from the ground up. As a team, Ermus and Banks had to tackle learning new skills while working on gaining a following. They spent much of 2015-2016 recruiting written contributions. Banks says that the majority of their networking was done through social media. “We started on social media. Without social media, Age of Revolutions would not exist – plain and simple. We’re a social media-created website.” Ermus agrees, adding that “the digital revolution is here, - and here to stay.” They used social media to solicit submissions, get their name out, and establish their digital footprint. “Nobody knew what Age of Revolutions was,” Ermus says, “We hardly knew what it was, but we figured it out.” Their aim was ambitious: to expand the Age of Revolutions and “trace its legacies in a lot of different directions”.
Determined to bring the project to finish, Banks and Ermus had to overcome some challenges. Both founders had to learn new tech skills. Ermus did not have a strong background in technology or coding and said they had to enlist the support team from their website host to assist them. Banks had to teach himself some HTML coding to help get the site off the ground and build a solid foundation. On top of the initial technological challenges, the site requires still consistent and frequent upkeep to keep it updated and functional. Ermus says that projects like AoR need to be refreshed every so often, or else they can grow stale.
Powering through the challenges paid off; even in the early days of the site’s existence, it was getting roughly one hundred views a day. This far exceeded typical numbers of downloads from other academic journals. “We quickly realized, this is the big time. I can’t believe we’ve figured this out,” says Banks. The positive response to the site fueled their perseverance. They were getting views. Professional doors were opening for them and their contributors.
When asked about their greatest accomplishments, the pair had many answers – too many for a concise response. “That’s a good problem to have,” Ermus laughed. Above all, they pride themselves on AoR’s presence in classrooms across the continent. Being useful to other academics and students is rewarding for them. Noting the site’s open access, Banks said: “I love that we’re contributing to making college more accessible for students, especially with how expensive college is these days.” Banks feels that their work with AoR has helped flatten inequalities in academia by lifting up scholars who have been isolated or experience imposter syndrome. They are also proud to be able to support other faculty and scholars. “Academia can be such an isolating thing,” Banks said, and he is happy “to be able to work with so many different people from so many different places and help get their really interesting research out there.”
If AoR keeps the pace they are at now, they say they are set to increase their viewership by 170% this year. Collectively, they have published over 600,000 words since they began, all free and open access. The platform has come a long way from the early days of learning HTML and wrestling with plug-ins. As AoR’s readership continues to grow, so do their goals for the future of the site: “The world is ours; the possibilities are endless.” Ermus says. AoR has been working on establishing affiliate partnerships with other groups to help grow their audience. They have partnered with the Consortium on the Revolutionary Era in the past and are eager to expand this part of their work. They even helped with a redesign of the Liberty Equality Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution primary source website on the French Revolution. Now, AoR is focusing on expanding their editorial base to cover a wider array of topics to continue reaching more audiences.
The project has had great impact on the field of revolutionary history. With its ability to speak to the current moment, it continues to prove the persisting relevancy of topics like those featured on the site, notably studies about protest, terrorism, religion, medicine and disease, and studies about race and gender. “We regularly have people tell us that we’re actively shaping the field,” Banks notes. Reflecting on the impact the platform has had, he says: “I can easily say that Age of Revolutions is the thing I’m most proud of that I’ve done in academia.”