It was July 2018 and I needed an answer about how to pitch an op-ed. My first thought was, “I should message Erin.”
If you’re a historian on a social media platform, especially Twitter, you often see opinion pieces connecting historical analysis with today’s news. Like other graduate students, I had read interesting pieces by historians in major U.S. publications and thought, “why not me?”
There were two problems. First, I study twentieth century U.S. foreign relations with India. News out of India does not always fit with the U.S.’s twenty-four hour “hot take” media environment and writing timed to an anniversary or holiday can limit pieces to just a handful of days a year. Second, I had no idea how to pitch an op-ed. In my graduate training, I could not recall a workshop or seminar or writing guide that explained how a historian should pitch submissions to major publications like a magazine or newspaper. So I thought of the first person I knew who had done this: Erin Bartram.
Minutes after my message to her, Erin responded with stories of frustrating writing experiences, of editors underestimating their audience’s intelligence, and no pay for your work, just payment in another line on your CV. I could try showing my landlord my CV, but I’m pretty sure he’d prefer a check. After telling me her cautionary tales, Erin mentioned an idea that she and Bill Black had for a new project: a history website geared toward the public that would pay everyone for their work. When I heard that, I knew I had to be involved.
We envision Contingent as an outlet dedicated to publishing and promoting the work of scholars outside the traditional tenure-track structure. Our contributors will be adjuncts, graduate students, independent scholars not affiliated with a university, as well as the librarians and archivists who make historical study possible. These folks cherish their knowledge of the past and it’s time for a project that honors and values their contributions to our discipline. We are comfortable saying that because we know those folks, and many of us are those folks. On the flip side, we know that we don’t want Contingent to be built on the backs of unpaid labor and promises of exposure when the promise of a paycheck would be better.
As Contingent took shape, Erin, Bill, Emily, and I realized we were betting that a different approach to historical scholarship would have an audience. Since we launched on January 3, we have been blown away by people’s support for Contingent. In donations, followers, and offers of help, we know people want this project and they want to see where we go next. As someone who has seen under the hood of what we will publish in March, I know you’ll be hooked.
So help us keep Contingent going beyond our first month of articles. We need your help to make Contingent a permanent space for all types of history and it can only happen if we build it together.