Blog Post #39: From Academic Reviews to Inclusive Conversations: an Interview with the Founders of Rhea Classical Reviews

At Peopling the Past we occasionally feature interviews with educators and researchers who have founded amazing new projects dedicated to making history, archaeology, and related subjects more inclusive.

First of all, congratulations on bringing this publication together. What is Rhea?

Thank you! Rhea is an online, open access book review journal publishing reviews of new scholarship on the ancient Mediterranean world. Both our reviews and the works under review are written by emerging and alternative scholars (for instance, pre-tenure, non-tenure track, or contingent faculty; graduate students; independent scholars; and those with academic training who have chosen a career path adjacent to or outside of academia proper). Many Rhea reviews also include a dialogue, in Q&A format, between the reviewer and the author.

Photo of the Rhea Executive Editorial  Board(a six-person team) in an elevator.
The executive editorial board in an elevator at the 2018 SCS/AIA, when most of us were in temporary or alt-ac positions. Top to bottom and left to right in the picture are: Chelsea Gardner (with junior member Avalon Gardner-Duffy), Emily Wilson; Hilary Bouxsein, Maggie Beeler, Jennifer Lafleur, and Colin Whiting.
Who is behind Rhea and how did it come about?

The leadership of Rhea Classical Reviews is made up of a six-person executive editorial board, which manages day-to-day operations, and a larger 23-person editorial board, which provides advice and discusses broader questions facing the journal.

Believe it or not, Rhea originated over seven years ago. The six members of our executive editorial board met in Greece as fellows at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 2013–14, where we bonded over a shared love of antiquity, travel, and tsiporo. Years later, we have all remained close friends, though some are still in academia, some have stayed adjacent to academia, and some have left academia altogether. After discussions about the state of the field, we decided there should be a review venue that reflected this wide variety of places where “classicists” can be found.

The membership of Rhea’s editorial board follows that same principle: we count archaeologists, curators, editors, graduate students, lecturers, librarians, postdocs, secondary school teachers, and more among our ranks. Our reviewers come from equally diverse backgrounds—Rhea’s goal is to make a space for all nontraditional and early career scholars.

Why did you see the need for a book review platform specifically aimed at emerging and/or alternative scholars?

As the founding members of Rhea took different paths in the years following 2013-14, we became part of a demographic that’s grown significantly in Classical and Ancient Mediterranean Studies over the past 10-20 years, namely what we’re calling emerging and alternative scholars. This demographic faces challenges that our mentors and advisors didn’t always face, and in response to those challenges more of us are taking what are sometimes considered nontraditional paths. Many of us remain engaged in scholarship in our fields, either publishing ourselves or reading others’ publications, but without many opportunities to engage in conversation about this scholarship. Rhea aims to remedy this problem and others related to it by creating space exclusively for this rapidly growing demographic.

What is the significance behind the name “Rhea”?

As readers of this blog may be aware, Rhea is the mother of Zeus and the other Olympian gods. By protecting the infant Zeus, she helped the next generation of gods emerge and take their place. Historically, Rhea was one of several goddesses revered in the ancient world as protectors of younger generations as they came to adulthood. By adopting Rhea as our namesake, we hope to indicate our commitment to be a space for the next generation of scholars.

What are your goals with these new types of dialogues? In other words, how is Rhea intervening in the fields of Mediterranean history and archaeology (broadly construed)?

First, as noted above, we want to give emerging and alternative scholars a place that’s entirely theirs. In doing so, we also hope to highlight a lot of the very important work that’s being done by those who might be in NTT or adjunct positions, for instance, or who work in museums or editing, or who teach middle or high school. These sorts of positions make up an increasing proportion of the fields of Mediterranean history, literature, and archaeology each year, but have not yet received commensurate attention or resources.

A screenshot of the Rhea website mission statement, with the tagline "More inclusive scholarly reviews".
Rhea Classical Reviews Mission Statement

Second, we’re very excited about the dialogue portion of a Rhea review, which as far as any of us are aware is a feature unique to our platform. We hope that it changes, at least slightly, the way that reviews are approached, making them more of a conversation and ultimately more helpful to both author and audience. Even reviewers who do not end up including a dialogue with their reviews are encouraged to approach their reviews with a spirit of curiosity and collegiality toward the work under review. We would love to see this approach adopted more broadly.

What are some challenges in running this project?

Well, of course there are the usual challenges involved in getting any new project off the ground: for instance, none of us are web developers by trade, so building our website has been a bit of an adventure (shout out to our amazing webmaster Maggie Beeler for making everything look so pretty!). We’ve also had to think through carefully how we position ourselves as a professional space for emerging and alternative scholars. Luckily, though, the six of us and our wonderful editorial board have been very much on the same page and committed to the importance of this project.

Another challenge is spreading the word to what can be a rather disparate demographic and getting people involved. We’ve had a great response so far but can always use more reviewers and supporters!

Finally, how can people get involved in Rhea?

There are so many ways to get involved! The easiest is to support us by following Rhea on Twitter @RheaClassical and by sharing our content (reviews are published every Thursday) with your friends, colleagues, and followers. If you’re looking to be a part of Rhea’s review process, we are always looking for book reviewers! If you’re an emerging or alternative scholar who wants to review a book for Rhea, just send us an email (rheaclassicalreviews@gmail.com), tell us a bit about yourself, and let us know if there are any specific books on our book list that interest you. The review process is outlined here

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