Tag Archives: journal editor

Land Economics and the history of “Sifting and Winnowing”

Land Economics journal founder Richard T. Ely and the battle for academic freedom

Richard T. Ely
Richard T. Ely

The founder of the field of land economics, and of the journal of the same name, played a pivotal role in the history of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He also scored a victory for academics everywhere when he defended his teaching and scholarship against charges that it promoted a subversive political agenda. Richard T. Ely taught economics at the University of Wisconsin from 1892 to 1925. His Progressivist ideas went against the current of the laissez-faire economic theory of the time, and his support for social reforms and organized labor earned him the scrutiny of the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oliver E. Wells. Wells charged that Ely was promoting anarchism and socialism to his students, and that he encouraged labor union strikes and boycotts—charges that Ely denied. In fact, he had written articles and books that were critical of socialism. Under media scrutiny, the UW Board of Regents launched an investigation, and Ely was tried in a public hearing in August of 1894. The economics community, as well as other academics, spoke out emphatically in Ely’s defense, and he was acquitted by a unanimous vote. In their report of the hearing, the regents issued a strong statement in support of academic freedom, part of which now graces a plaque on the university’s main administration building. The plaque reads:

Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.

This idea of “sifting and winnowing” has become a cornerstone of the University of Wisconsin’s institutional philosophy, and in this phrase, proponents of higher education can recognize the imperative to preserve the freedom to teach and research without censorship.

Land Economics cover image

Ely went on to found the Institute for Research in Land Economics and Public Utilities in 1920, along with the Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics. In 1948, this journal was renamed Land Economics. For more on Ely, see this excellent history of “sifting and winnowing,” which appeared in September of this year to mark the 125th anniversary of the regents’ statement. Additionally, Ely’s legacy has been a recurring topic in the pages of Land Economics. He is profiled in this tribute from the year of his death, in the published proceedings of a 1948 symposium at UW–Madison on frontiers of housing research, and in the journal’s fiftieth anniversary issue.

Previous Journal Editors Reflect on Their Tenure at GHANA STUDIES

Ghana Studies Volume 21 Cover

Ghana Studies Journal Publishes 20th Anniversary Special Issue

With the most recent volume of Ghana Studies, the journal celebrates its twentieth anniversary, as well as the thirtieth anniversary of the Ghana Studies Association, of which it is the official publication. Along with the usual articles and book reviews, the current issue features an anniversary forum, where scholars reflect on the history of the field of Ghana Studies as well as the progress of the journal and the association.

One of the forum’s notable offerings is a conversation with previous Ghana Studies editors Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Stephan F. Miescher, in which they discuss their editorial challenges and successes, as well as their thoughts on the journal’s potential future directions. Below is an excerpt from this conversation, centering on the ways in which Adomako Ampofo and Miescher cultivated a focus on Gender Studies in the publication’s pages. The full interview can be found in Ghana Studies Volume 21.


GS Editors: You are both noted Gender Studies scholars, who also brought your respective backgrounds in history and sociology to your term as editors of GS. Has your mark on the journal been shaped by your (inter)disciplinary orientations? Or by other commitments?

Akosua: I like to see myself more as an interdisciplinary scholar rather than as a sociologist. This is why I am attracted more to the works of sociologists like W. E. B. DuBois and Patricia Hill Collins—both authors who speak to questions of gender and race, as well as their intersections, which is where much of my own work is situated—than, say, to the works of Marx and Weber, albeit the latter certainly have their value. There are two ways I tend to respond to an article: If it’s in my field, I am looking for something new and refreshing, or new insights to a question that has puzzled scholars. So to that extent I tend to be more critical, but also, when it comes to a younger scholar, I’m more excited about pushing it to publication. However, if the work comes from an area outside my own area of expertise, then I am looking to be thrilled, sometimes to have my socks knocked off so I have that aha! moment, which I want the whole world to feel. Then I can proudly shout that it came out in a journal I am affiliated with. And then, yes, definitely I think that having spent my entire academic career in a multi- and interdisciplinary institute, I am very sympathetic to interdisciplinary work. And of course gender scholarship is so interdisciplinary. After almost thirty years of teaching, I have found that students respond much more enthusiastically, and tend to engage more with the class, when we have a multidisciplinary set of texts. In the gender classes I coteach at IAS, we have always included literary texts and films, as well as work in history, political science, economics, and so forth. It’s my view that especially for African Studies, this multidisciplinary approach is important since the nuances of our global history and contemporary realities often get lost in the cross-sectional or the single-approach analysis.

Stephan: My own research interests certainly had an impact on the type of work we pursued and published. Questions about gender have been important to me for a long time. As GS editor, I was pleased that issue 14 featured several pieces on gender including Ernestina Dankyi’s article on transnational families, Peace Tetteh on child domestic labor, and Josephine Beoku-Betts on women academics in neoliberal Ghana. In the same issue, we published two articles on same-sex intimacies, a topic then still marginalized in African Studies and in Ghana. The piece by Serena Owusua Dankwa deals with same-sex love and female masculinity; the one by William Banks explores the subjectivities among saso people, a community of men who engage in same-sex erotic practices. The special issue on health and health care (issue 15–16) also includes works with a gender analysis, such as Fidelia Ohemeng’s article on the gender dimension of trust and caregiving for HIV patients and Jo Ellen Fair’s piece on love and newspapers advice columns. My tenure as GS editor corresponded with a period when my scholarly interests expanded to the history of development and technology. For over a decade, I have been researching the history of the Akosombo Dam for my forthcoming book, A Dam for Africa: The Volta River Project and Modernization in Postcolonial Ghana. This interest also led to the “Revisiting Modernization Conference,” for which I wrote with Dzodzi Tsikata a paper that compared discourses and practices of modernization in relation to the Akosombo and Bui Dams. Our paper appeared in GS 12–13.

Akosua: I certainly had my favorites among the papers on gender; however, I’m not telling. What I will say is, all the gender issues that were addressed in the volumes mentioned by Stephan, which we coedited, brought fresh and important issues to the table.