Dr. Jitske Jasperse is a medievalist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in Royal Studies, gender history and with a focus on the 12th century. In her PhD The Many Faces of Duchess Matilda. Matronage, Motherhood and Mediation in the Twelfth Century she showed the sphere of influence of a royal woman by analysing her cultural patronage. In 2016 she will continue her research on medieval noblewomen in relation to coins and seals at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Madrid.
Jitske was also one of the founding members of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Amsterdam and is involved with the medieval network CARMEN. In addition to all that, she is the chief copyeditor of the Royal Studies Journal, and has agreed to tell us a bit more about her work and research.
Cathleen: Thank you, Jitske, for doing this interview. First of all, could you tell us a bit more about what a copyeditor does?
Jitske: Copyediting is an exciting and challenging task, because you need to analyse the articles and reviews in a formal way – checking spelling, style, punctuation – without getting carried away by the content and the author’s argument. The copyeditors use a stylesheet – which is the author stylesheet that can also be found on the RSJ website – to check whether the authors overlooked elements in style and spelling and to make the overall style in the journal as coherent as possible.
Snippet of the stylesheet
In order to do so the copyeditors use the famous ‘track changes’ and ‘new comment’ buttons, so that the author of the article or review is able to see what the copyeditor has changed or suggested. While a copyeditor’s main task is to detect style- and spelling mistakes, occasionally he or she will also ask the author to clarify sentences.
Cathleen: How does this work fit into the general process of making the Royal Studies Journal? When do authors interact with you?
Jitske: Of course copyediting isn’t the first step. A lot of work on the articles and reviews has already been done by the section-editors and review-editors who support the authors. Together with the layout team the copyeditors are part of the production team. The copyeditors are there to track and change the final errors that have been overlooked by the author.
Example of copyedit comments
Of course you need to read the content of text, but you also have to look at the text as a text searching for double spacing, odd quotations marks and forgotten International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN). Yet, the final work is done by the layout team, who has the big and laborious task to make the journal visually coherent. As copyeditors we try – and sometimes fail – to make their lives easier by trying to deliver flawless texts.
Cathleen: That sounds like quite a task! Especially since there are so many different styles of writing, or come to think of it, also of spelling. Maybe the easier question first: is the journal published in British or American English (or another kind)? And the slightly more difficult question: what do you look for in writing styles besides clarity? Are there some general rules you could give us and the prospective authors of the journal?
Jitske: Yes well, to make it slightly more challenging, although we prefer articles in English we also accept them in foreign languages. This makes it even more difficult to come up with a stylesheet that tackles all issues. We have, for example, debated the spelling of names in reviews and articles. In our stylesheet we point out that foreign names should not be anglicised. Yet some foreign name are so common in English, such as Frederick Barbarossa, that it feels a bit to odd to change this to Friedrich Barbarossa. In any case, our point of departure is the style guide by Modern Humanities Research Association, which uses a UK spelling. Alternative spellings, such as American, are accepted, but they should be consistent throughout the article.
This brings me to the second part of your question: rules related to writing style. This is a really tricky matter, because style is not just a matter of following the rules of grammar, it also something really personal. The use of commas is one example. Some people prefer to use comma each time you feel there’s a pause in a sentence when you read it out loud. But others just don’t like this because you can end up with too many commas in one sentence.
In general I would suggest the use of active instead of passive. And I would also recommend that authors or their editors contact their copyeditor in an early stage if they have doubts about style matters. We can then advice the author or editor in an early stage and he or she can make alterations before the copyeditor makes the first copyedit.
Cathleen: There is a quite a team of copyeditors at the journal. Could you tell us a bit more about how you organise the work, e.g. how you decide whom to give an article to copyedit? Or, are there more than one round of copyediting?
Jitske: At the moment we have a team of about 22 copyeditors. Their specialities range from Anglo-Saxon England to eighteenth-century Italy, including history, art and architectural history and literature. Together the team covers eight languages. The copyeditors receive the piece they need to copyedit through the online Open Journal System used by the Royal Studies Journal. I try to match the topic of an article or review to the copyeditor’s interests, although this is not always possible.
After the author’s document is uploaded, the copyeditors make their first corrections. They then upload these so that the author can rework his or her article or review and publish it again in the system. The copyeditor then does the final check. So author and copyeditor use the online system to communicate with each other.
Example of Royal Studies Journal-system used by copyeditors and authors
Cathleen: Thank you, Jitske, for this insight into the copyediting process.
Dear reader, leave us a comment if you have further questions about this!
Besides copyediting for the journal, you are also involved in quite some other projects. Could you tell us a bit more about these, e.g. CARMEN and the project New Interpretations on the Angevin World?
Jitske: CARMEN is an international network for medievalists and organizes an annual meeting in different places around Europe in September. These meetings focus on a theme, often connected to current research interests or (European) funding opportunities. Our 2015-meeting was in Sarajevo and the theme was ‘Memory and Identity’. The idea of CARMEN is that people gather to present and exchange ideas and research and join forces when applying for funding. Two of CARMEN’s successes are the ESF project ‘Saints’ cults’ and the ESF-funded exploratory workshop on Creative Cities. I myself also benefitted from CARMEN, because it was there that I met Therese Martin in 2012. She was in the midst of her European Research Grant project on medieval women as makers of medieval art and architecture. With her support I applied for a two-year postdoctoral grant at the Juan de la Cierva Formacion, which was awarded to me to do research at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Madrid. By the way, our 2016-meeting will be held in Essen (Germany). So take a look on our website and join us!
I am also involved in Stephen Church’s project on the Angevin Empire, which is funded by The Leverhulme Trust. This international research networks studies the phenomenon of empire through the prism of the medieval Angevin Empire. I will focus on gift-giving and gift-exchange between the Angevin court and that of the Holy Roman Empire: who are involved, how do the participants style and perceive themselves and others, are the gifts gendered, and is the notion of empire part of gift-giving and gift-exchange? I am excited to conduct this research and to find out what my colleagues are doing. For those eager to find out more, please read Stephen Church’s article ‘Was there an Angevin Empire?’
Cathleen: That does sound promising! So, how does your research fit into this all? What are you focussing on right now?
Jitske: Well, I already mentioned the grant I received to do research in Madrid. Although I still need to figure out the details of my research, I will certainly be working on medieval noblewomen, including some Castilian queens. Leonor of Castile was the sister of Duchess Matilda, the woman who inspired my research on medieval women. This research also included twelfth-century coins on which women were depicted. I think that we can learn more about the way coins and seals were used and how they functioned in medieval society by including women. Also, a study of these objects’ iconography and legends can inform us about women’s positions, their dynastic policies and family ties.
Cathleen: I certainly agree with you on that; numismatics is a bit underrated in Royal Studies, although coins and seals are such interesting and widespread sources of representation.
Finally as a last question: is there anything you like to add for authors dealing with copyeditors?
Jitske: Of course I hope authors keep sending us their material. But please check the stylesheet, which you can find online, as thoroughly as possible in order to avoid unnecessary inconsistencies. It’s also a good idea to read through some older reviews and articles to see what the RSJ style looks like.
Cathleen: Thank you so much for doing this interview!