History is for everyone.
Every way of doing history is worthwhile.
Historian should be paid for their work.
When you travel to contingentmag.org these are the first three sentences that greet you. There are lots of websites focused on historical writing, many of which are great and we happily read them. Some try to reach a wider and public audience and many value the hard work done by all types of scholar working on the past. But few meet the last objective and none can claim all three. Trying something different, Erin Bartram, Bill Black, Emily Esten, and myself (Emily and I are former and current HASTAC Scholars) developed Contingent Magazine, a nonprofit online magazine driven by people’s desire to understand the past, and, inevitably, themselves. We did not select those three principles at random. Our experiences as graduate students, adjuncts, independent scholars, and public historians choose them for us. Now is the time for a project based on these three guiding beliefs and based on the initial response, we know there is an audience for it.
Our first value is about how Contingent is meant for the general public. Historians have a lot of stories to share with the public, but far too many are locked away behind paywalls or embargoed in databases. Our writings are for the many, not the few. We believe academic departments, especially history departments, do not do enough to train their students on how to write for the public, for wider audiences. A more public-facing project should not be a luxury for already tenured faculty. We should practice and teach it much earlier and Contingent is dedicated to delivering rigorous and quality history, accessible to the public. History is all types of versions of the past and it is for everyone. Our vow to you is this publication will never forget that truth.
When we say every way of doing history is worthwhile, we are talking about more than the many methodologies historians practice. Our larger hope is to change people’s perceptions of who is a historian. It is more than tenure-track professors employed at research universities. The people doing history today look more like graduate students, adjuncts, visiting instructors, librarians, and archivists. History is not just done in a monograph; it also happens when archival papers are processed or when talented teachers bring the past alive in their classrooms. Contingent’s inclusive approach extends beyond topics and includes the people who are the backbone of historical study. This project honors and values their contributions to our discipline.
And our last objective, maybe the most striking, is that if you work for Contingent, whether as a contributing writer or researcher or designer, we will pay you for your labor. The undergraduate designer who created our logo – she was paid. Same goes for the specialist who built our website and runs our social media accounts. We are not “paying” people in the promise of exposure instead we will pay you in the reality of a paycheck. So few outlets pay historians for their writing, even major U.S newspapers with sections devoted to historical analysis do not pay. We are operating differently and once we open for author submissions, we will post our rates for payment. Transparency is important to us because it should not be work to find out how you will be paid for your work. We will save you the hassle and come right out and tell you.
Since contingentmag.org launched earlier this month, we have been blown away by people’s support. In tweets, followers, and offers of help, it is clear people want this project and excited about where we go next. The site debuted alongside our initial fundraising campaign. Contingent aims to raise $18,000 by February 1. This money will enable us to complete the website and meet monthly operating costs, but the majority of those donations will pay all of our contributors who write for us in March. Without revealing too much, in March readers will enjoy long-form features, book reviews, a mailbag section where we answer reader questions, and “field trip” pieces that aim to demystify the work historians do and how they do it. If you agree with one, two, or all three of Contingent’s objectives check out our site or follow us on social media. And if you like what you read, please consider donating and helping us hit our first fundraising goal. As someone who knows what we have planned for March, I believe you will be hooked. So help us make this project exist beyond one month. We need your help to make Contingent a permanent space for historical study and it can only happen if we build it together.