Edge Effects, One Million Views Later

This semester, Edge Effects is celebrating a major milestone. Nearly eight years after launching the magazine in 2014, we’ve reached one million total views on the website. To celebrate, we decided to connect with Edge Effects managing editors past and present for a Q&A. Their responses sketch an institutional history of the magazine and offer a behind-the-scenes look at the editorial labor and care that make it all possible.

Tell us a bit about yourself. When were you managing editor of Edge Effects? What are you up to these days?

Adam Mandelman: I was Edge Effects‘s first managing editor and also led the site’s design and launch. These days I’m living in Amsterdam, where I work as an artist and freelance design researcher.

Nathan Jandl: I served as managing editor from 2015 to 2016. I was the second person in that position after Adam Mandelman, and suffice it to say, I had very large shoes to fill. I graduated with my Ph.D. in English in 2016, and after about a year, managed to land a job at the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability. I still work there as the assistant director. 

Rachel Boothby: I was the third managing editor of Edge Effects from 2016 to 2017 after serving for two years as an editor, including on the founding editorial board. Today I work for a company based in California creating and operating responsible sourcing programs for agricultural supply chains.

Topos map of the isthmus in Madison, Wisconsin, with overlay text reading "Edge Effects"
An Edge Effects website banner from 2015.

Brian Hamilton: I served briefly as managing editor during the summer of 2017 in the interregnum between Rachel Boothby’s and Becca Summer’s fantastic tenures. I served on the board from 2016 until 2019, when I moved to Western Massachusetts to teach at Deerfield Academy, where I currently am chair of the Department of History and Social Science. I’ve had the good fortune here to be able to teach Edge Effects pieces, including the Flint forum and Alice Rudge’s piece on COVID

Rebecca Summer: I was on the Edge Effects editorial board for two years, from 2015 to 2017, and then was managing editor in the 2017–2018 academic year. I graduated with my Ph.D. in geography from UW–Madison in 2019. Since then, I have been an assistant professor at Portland State University in the University Honors College.

Laura Perry: I was managing editor in academic year 2019–2020. After that, I was a Mellon Postdoctoral Scholar with University of Iowa’s Humanities for the Public Good program. This January, I joined the Center for Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis as the Assistant Director for Research and Public Engagement.

Addie Hopes: I was fortunate to serve as Managing Editor twice, 2018 to 2019 and 2020 to 2021. And I’m still on the board! As I finish up my dissertation on documentary environmental poetics, I’m thrilled to be the first reviews editor for Edge Effects, as well as serving on the editorial board of the blog for the Canadian research collective NiCHE and The Hopper, an environmental literary and art magazine.

Richelle Wilson: I am the current managing editor (2021–2022), a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+, and a talk radio producer at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison.

What are some of the notable achievements from your time as managing editor of Edge Effects?

A dream a few students had turned into something bigger than any of us expected.

Adam Mandelman: Well, the obvious answer here is just launching Edge Effects in the first place. Those of us in CHE (the Center for Culture, History, and Environment) who were involved in the project at the time—including not just the first editorial board but also all the students and faculty who participated in its development—were all immensely proud of Edge Effects and excited to be working on something that clearly had so much potential. I think we were all also quite pleasantly surprised with just how quickly the site gained some recognition with the environmental humanities and social sciences.

Some particularly memorable posts from those first months included Rob Nixon’s “The Anthropocene: The Promise and Pitfalls of an Epochal Idea“—which I seem to recall seeing cited in a number of places—and Brian Hamilton’s photo essay on Davis Island. One day I noticed Brian’s piece was consistently (and significantly) topping our views and it turned out that it was being passed around a community of Civil War history enthusiasts. That was a good lesson about how powerfully a small audience’s enthusiasm can compensate for its modest size.

Nathan Jandl: Hitting our one-year anniversary was a pretty big moment, in part because it meant that we hadn’t fallen apart! I also think we published a lot of great content, including two really meaningful roundtable discussions: one on the Flint water crisis, and one on the thirtieth anniversary of Chernobyl.

Rachel Boothby: I’m proud of working with other former managing editors and CHE leadership to turn the managing editor position into a paid project assistantship, helping to make the magazine more sustainable and provide an avenue of support for CHE graduate affiliates.

A green circle icon with the Edge Effects logo
An early Edge Effects podcast logo.

Brian Hamilton: The podcast, which I added to iTunes in fall 2016, served as a way to get editors experience with audio recording and editing and helped bring big names to the site to help raise its profile in hopes of making it a more valuable outlet for new scholars. Other new initiatives I was excited to be involved with include getting the magazine on Twitter and developing a social media strategy, the Faculty Favorites posts, tabling at conferences, giving the board authority over headlines (and not calling them titles!), and planning posts for tentpole events (the 2016 election, the Olympics, the Biosphere 2 anniversary). But probably what I’m most proud of is that I got to serve on the board through what felt like a transformational moment for the magazine. As the founding generation of editors and those who had been present at the creation moved on, it was entirely possible that the magazine could have folded. This expressed itself most visibly in the struggle to find willing applicants to the (unpaid) managing editor position.

Rebecca Summer: To be honest, I can’t quite remember what initiatives happened during my tenure versus those other two years on the board, which I think speaks to the amazing collaborative experience of working on the board. Kate Wersan deserves a special shoutout as a longtime board member and one of the originators of the Edge Effects idea, even though she never served as managing editor. All that is to say, I worked closely with five other managing editors and there were many other brilliant minds working together. During those years, the magazine really transformed from more of a bloggy grad student–centered space to a really professional magazine complete with a podcast and multimedia posts. There are pros and cons to this type of transformation, of course, but it is very impressive nonetheless.

What I am personally most proud of is the behind-the-scenes work I did as managing editor. Rachel and I worked together to push really hard for making the managing editor a paid project assistantship; that process took a while, and I was the first managing editor who got paid in a meaningful way for the work. I don’t think it would be too dramatic to say that Edge Effects would look very different today if we hadn’t made that change. I’m grateful to the managing editors before me who worked tirelessly (uncompensated) to build the magazine while also working other jobs.

Laura Perry: We published the magazine’s first dual-language piece, a podcast interview in Spanish and English with environmental activist Mario Luna Romero. We also launched a series connected to the CHE Place-Based Workshop focused on Indigenous Lands and Waters. Addie Hopes and Carly Griffith guided many of the pieces in that series, and I especially admire the essay from UW grad student Kendra Greendeer on commemorating Native histories.

Addie Hopes: I really enjoyed the opportunity to oversee Edge Effects’s early forays into themed series. As managing editor, I took part in developing three exciting series that brought new voices and new perspective to the magazine: the Plantationocene, Indigenous Lands and Waters, and 2020 Visions: Imagining (Post-)COVID Worlds. I’m still so grateful for the monumental efforts of the many editors—and the contributors, of course—that went into making these series the successes they continue to be on the site.

I’m also very happy to say that, through the generous support of CHE and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, we were able to offer compensation to some of our 2020 Visions contributors. I’m proud of the entire editorial board’s commitment to supporting authors at the (often precarious) margins of the academy.

An illustration of people doing activities from their windows and balconies
Website banner for the 2020 Visions series.

Richelle Wilson: As a member of the editorial board, I took a leading role in developing the 2020 Visions series, which brought a great variety of topics and voices to the magazine. Building on our work paying contributors last year, we were able to secure funding for our forthcoming series, Unpure Imagination. It’s also been a big year for audio. This semester saw our first published book excerpt with original audio narration, Daegan Miller’s “Badwater” from the Kinship book series, and the launch of Ground Truths, a six-episode podcast series funded in part by a grant from Wisconsin Humanities.

Oh, and we reached one million views!

What’s your favorite thing about Edge Effects? How did your time with the magazine shape your research, scholarship, or career?

Adam Mandelman: There were two things that really enamored me of Edge Effects: First, its commitment to diversity of both form and discipline. The fact that we were publishing poetry, photo essays, and comics alongside scholarly essays and interviews with acclaimed researchers from such a wide variety of disciplines just felt really exciting. Second, the fact that we were always striving (if not always succeeding) to reach broader audiences beyond academe was inspirational, not just in terms of my values but also for the quality of work we were facilitating—after all, it’s much, much harder to write/produce for an audience outside your field, let alone outside academia. That orientation also proved hugely influential on my career in that I ultimately decided to leave academia to continue working with audiences and communities outside of university settings.

Nathan Jandl: I have always appreciated how Edge Effects (and the team that produces it) quietly disrupts the academic gatekeeping that many graduate students encounter as they pursue their degrees. There are critical quality standards and editorial processes and submission guidelines, but it is not—at least in my understanding—an academic journal, and I think it is better for that.

Managing Edge Effects was, for lack of better description, a crash course in professional development disguised as a grad student volunteer passion project. The role helped me develop and deepen some crucial skills, including team management, consensus building, organization and planning, and of course editing. I use these skills every day in my current position.

Rachel Boothby: More than any other experience in graduate school, my time at Edge Effects taught me how to give meaningful and constructive feedback—a skill I have not stopped using since!

Black-and-white photo of Manhattan skyline, with overlay text reading "Edge Effects"
An Edge Effects website banner from 2015.

Brian Hamilton: The diverse digital and public humanities skills I developed while an editor contributed more lines to my resume than my doctoral work, and I was delighted to see the range of jobs I felt qualified for when I went on the market. Though I ended up in a teaching position, I’ve been able to do things with my students like substantial podcast projects with a heavy emphasis on technical skills because the nights I stayed up late watching tutorials to support my work on the Edge Effects podcast. I loved the way that the magazine provided networking opportunities not over cocktails at an awkward conference mixer but in service of collaborative publications that would be read by an audience. I love running into Edge Effects authors and podcast guests from years ago who tell me how much attention they received from what they published with us.

Rebecca Summer: Working on Edge Effects was such a valuable experience in so many ways. I am now a professor in a teaching-focused college with a heavy focus on undergraduate writing and research. My Edge Effects experience helped me build skills to manage teams of student researchers and to help guide students through the writing process. I really admire the rigorous and transparent editorial process that Edge Effects provides; the experience of being on both sides of that process—as an editor and writer—has made me a more discerning reader and writer for other publications.

Laura Perry: My favorite thing about Edge Effects is the team, how every week and every piece is truly a collaborative and collective effort. I found out that I far and away preferred this model of intellectual community to the usually solitary experience of scholarly research. Since then, I’ve deliberately looked for positions that involve collaboration, whether intellectual, interdisciplinary, creative, or the all-hands-on-deck moments of event planning and program management. My second favorite thing about Edge Effects was copy editing, and how sometimes that process would lead to wonderfully nerdy conversations among editors about language, audience, and grammar hobbyhorses (mine is semicolons). 

As a reader, I appreciate how Edge Effects introduces me to new writers, artists, and ideas—one that comes to mind is Weishun Lu’s excellent, moving piece on migrant salt workers that introduced me to Divya Victor’s poetry.

Addie Hopes: Hands down, the collaborative spirit and intellectual generosity of our contributors and editors that makes Edge Effects possible.

Richelle Wilson: Edge Effects is a true public humanities success story. As a first-generation scholar committed to doing work that reaches outside the ivory tower, it’s been a real joy to be part of the team at Edge Effects, where the goal is to write for a public audience. I am very proud of the community-mindedness I find here and the ethical and generative editing practices that have been developed and refined over the years by graduate workers. I know I will carry all of this with me into my future work.

What does one million views mean to you? What do you hope for the future of the magazine?

Adam Mandelman: One million is a big number. But, honestly, I think at this point it’s less about the raw views and more about the publication’s longevity and community. Here we are, almost eight years later, with Edge Effects—an entirely graduate-student run endeavor, I might add—still going strong. That alone is a significant achievement in a world where digital publications are launched and scrapped with a rapidity reminiscent of mayflies. Editorial boards, both past and present, should be proud. As for the future, obviously, I hope Edge Effects has at least another eight years in the tank and continues to keep producing stellar work while nurturing such an inspiring community of contributors.

A woman in a plaid shirt stands among tall green plants
From a slideshow Edge Effects displayed at an Earth Day event in 2018.

Nathan Jandl: Though the work was often tedious and time-intensive, I remember fondly the early days of building the structures, procedures, and guidelines for Edge Effects. (And I’m sure those conversations have been ongoing since.) Our goal was always to produce intellectually engaging content that was approachable and interesting to a non-specialist reader. That the magazine has flourished and has now passed the million-view mark is testament to that work and those values.

Rachel Boothby: It means that a dream a few students had turned into something bigger than any of us expected, and that the hours of collaboration, discussion, and deliberation paid off in the creation of lasting organizational structures and a strong core ethos. I hope that the magazine can continue to grow to serve the evolving visions of its editors, authors, and readers.

Brian Hamilton: Though a total analytics novice, I loved poring over the numbers to try to derive lessons from them. I remember watching, minute by minute, the numbers climb on our first truly viral post—Rachel Gross’s piece on Canada Goose jackets—and the valuable conversations the board had about that experience. For me, the trick has always been how to professionalize the magazine without abandoning its mission to showcase the work of CHE grads and emerging scholars around the world. The numbers always seemed to me one metric of the board’s success with this balance.

Edge Effects is a true public humanities success story.

Rebecca Summer: It’s fantastic! When Edge Effects started I believe we were focused more on the product: a space for emerging and established scholars to share public-facing, interdisciplinary, and creative work that didn’t fit the mold of traditional academic publishing. Over time, Edge Effects also became somewhat of a training ground for graduate students to build really valuable professional skills that could prepare them for careers inside and outside of academia. I hope that as Edge Effects grows it continues to focus on both—the product and the training experience—and that it remains a graduate student–led initiative.

Laura Perry: Wow! This makes me wish we could all gather at the Weary Traveler, as we often did to celebrate the end of a year or a change-up in editorial boards. Cheers to all the editors, readers, contributors, and other supporters of Edge Effects who helped make this possible—and here’s to another one million views in the years to come. 

Addie Hopes: A million views, wow! My only hope for the magazine is that it continues to grow and thrive in ways that reflect the passions and the commitments of the graduate students who dedicate their time, labor, and talents to the work.

Richelle Wilson: Being at the helm this year and seeing the stats rising, it’s been wonderful to witness how the foundational work of the graduate students who came before has led to this moment. We’re here a million views later thanks to hundreds of posts by hundreds of contributors sharing their work on this platform, and dozens of graduate students lending their skills and energy to the editorial process. I hope the magazine continues to receive institutional support to grow as a space of collaboration and a true gem in the world of digital publishing. I know I’ll keep reading!

Featured image: A celebratory and anticipatory scattering of dandelion confetti. Photo by Erlend Schei, 2009.

Thanks to the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies for publishing “Edge Effects magazine reaches one million views” by Richelle Wilson, which features research and quotations from these interviews.