Review Standards


38_00415-300x200We recognize that H-Net Reviews is made up of a wide range of individuals from diverse academic and other backgrounds. We wish to embrace that diversity, and not stifle the flexibility and creativity on the part of individual lists that has made H-Net so strong.

However, experience has taught us that circumstances arise, ranging from inexperience to ill-fortune, in which H-Net Review editors might find themselves in situations that threaten to compromise their own professional integrity and the integrity of H-Net Reviews as a whole.

The standards outlined below should serve as a set of best practices to guide review editors in the performance of their responsibilities, and as a shield in case a particular situation takes an unfortunate turn.

We hope that list Editorial Boards will take an active role in overseeing the review projects of their own lists, if necessary drafting list-specific standards that speak to the particular challenges of their own area.

Definition: An H-Net Review is one that is assigned and managed by a certified and trained H-Net Reviews editor, that goes through the centralized copyediting process, and which is ultimately archived in the H-Reviews database. The Vice-President for Research and Publications exercises jurisdiction over H-Net Reviews in co-operation with the Publications Committee and the Associate Editor of Reviews.

If a particular list publishes reviews that do not go through this process, these are considered to be publications of that list (such as H-South publications) rather than H-Net publications. (This includes roundtable debates or forums.) Nonetheless, it is expected that the particular list will promulgate and adhere to standards that seek to avoid conflicts of interest, overt partiality, and other circumstances that may adversely influence the high standards to which H-Net lists and their editors hold themselves.

H-Net Reviews Standards:

Within the normal bounds of professional life, conflicts of interest, whether actual or apparent, should be avoided by H-Net Review editors in pursuit of their responsibilities. All editors are encouraged to consult with their Editorial Boards, and/or with the Vice-President for Research and Publications, the Associate Editor of Reviews, and the Publications Committee if they are unsure whether they face a conflict of interest, or if they are unsure about how to proceed with an issue confronting them.

Reviews should be assigned to qualified reviewers by list review editors. Individual books should not be offered up through list-postings or any other public forums. However, it is acceptable (depending on list culture) to place a general call for reviewers, so long as the appropriate qualifications are taken into consideration and conflicts of interest are avoided.

Determining the qualifications of a reviewer for a particular book is a matter for the professional judgment of the individual review editor. Although standards for particular fields and lists may vary according to circumstances, a “qualified reviewer” is generally understood to be one: (a) who has completed or who is engaged upon the final stages of a terminal graduate education, as appropriate for their field, or (b) someone with demonstrated expertise in a specific field. Individual lists should publish their own qualifications for reviewing, within these general parameters.

A statement concerning conflicts of interest should routinely accompany every invitation to review. We recommend following the AHA’s standard, that “an individual should normally refuse to participate in the formal review of work by anyone for whom he or she feels a sense of personal obligation, competition, or enmity.” It is the responsibility of the reviewer to disclose a conflict of interest that could not otherwise be identified by the review editor.

As a general rule, requests by potential reviewers, qualified or otherwise, to review particular books should be politely declined.

As a general rule, review editors should not duplicate their responsibilities, whether it be between H-Net lists, or between H-Net and print publications, i.e., a review editor should not be responsible for the same duties (assigning reviews, for example) for more than one institution or publication. Such activity would be deemed a conflict of interest. When in doubt, please consult the appropriate H-Net bodies. If their duties are materially different (review editor in one case and copy editor in another, for example), then multiple appointments are permissible, so long as the Editorial Boards of the relevant lists are apprised of the circumstances and are willing to accept them.

Review editors should be especially careful in assigning reviews in circumstances where they themselves face an interest. If necessary, disinterested colleagues from within one’s own list or guest review editors from unaffiliated lists should be tasked to proctor reviews in all aspects for those works. It is essential here that the appearance of conflicts of interest are avoided.

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The following represent potential areas where conflicts could arise, and review editors should consult their Editorial Boards and/or the Vice-President for Research and Publications, the Associate Editor of Reviews, and the Publications Committee for guidance.


a. Fellow list editors as reviewers.
b. Books authored or contributed to by fellow list editors or Editorial Board members.
c. Books authored or contributed to by graduate advisors or other scholars to whom a review editor may feel a sense of obligation.
d. Scholars who are active candidates for job openings in the review editor’s department, or over whom editors’ have some sort of immediate power relationship.

Review editors should be mindful of a potential reviewer’s relationship to the commercial side of publishing. Generally speaking, an employee of a press publishing books in related fields is never an appropriate reviewer, regardless of their other qualifications. Review editors should be aware of the potential conflicts of interest inherent in individuals with other commercial relationships to publishing – such as bookstore staff for example, and should seek to avoid them in all possible cases.

Review editors should not assign reviews to anyone with whom they have any prior or current personal relationship that would disqualify them from supervisory responsibility under standard professional policies on sexual harassment, nepotism, or fraternization. Neither should they assign reviewers to books by authors in cases where similar circumstances exist.

Review editors should never write H-Net Reviews for their own list, although they should be free to do so for lists with which they are not affiliated.

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Adapted from the AHA’s “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct.”

Reviewers should be mindful of any conflicts of interest that may arise as a consequence of their agreeing to review a particular scholarly work for an H-Net list. A conflict of interest arises when an individual’s personal interest or bias could compromise (or appear to compromise) his or her ability to act in accordance with professional obligations. Reviewers should identify and, where appropriate, recuse themselves from reviewing any work in which a conflict of interest or the appearance thereof arises. An individual should normally refuse to participate in the formal review of work by anyone for whom he or she feels a sense of personal obligation, competition, or enmity.

It is the responsibility of the individual reviewer to determine if they face a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof, in any particular case. If they do, then they should decline to review the particular work. If they already have the work in hand, they should withdraw from the review and return the book to the commissioning review editor.

Examples of situations where conflicts may arise, or appear to arise, include:

  • The reviewer has some sort of close personal relationship with the author, beyond mere professional acquaintance.
  • The reviewer has some sort of close professional relationship with the author, such as that of advisor to student.
  • The reviewer contributed in some material way to the publication of the book, serving as a manuscript peer reviewer for example.
  • The reviewer contributed a pre-publication review to the publisher (a “puff” or “blurb”).
  • The reviewer is serving on a prize or award committee for which the book is being considered.
  • The reviewer is specifically recognized in the book’s acknowledgments. This category requires care in its application. There is a difference, for example, in acknowledging an intellectual debt to another scholar (who may still be able to function as an impartial reviewer), and acknowledging a material debt, such as peer review.

Questions of conflict of interest are not always clear cut, and may not always be immediately apparent. Please consult with the commissioning review editor if you have questions, or if you believe that your circumstances require an exception to the above. In the latter case, review editors should consult with their Editorial Boards, and as needed, the Publications Committee.

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