Ralph Cohen Honored for Founding New Literary History Journal

May 6, 2010 — When Ralph Cohen came to the University of Virginia in 1967, he had goals beyond teaching. The University's plans to celebrate its 150th anniversary coincided with his ambition to start a new literary journal.

New Literary History, a quarterly published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, debuted in 1969 and flourished under Cohen's leadership for 40 years. He announced his retirement last year and has turned over the reins of the journal to colleague Rita M. Felski, another English professor in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences. The fourth issue of this year's 41st volume will serve as a tribute to its founder, Cohen, now the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus at U.Va.

"We invited Ralph's friends, many of whom count amongst the most distinguished scholars in the profession, to reflect on the intellectual impact of the journal that he founded and to pay tribute to his accomplishments as an editor, scholar and teacher," Felski writes in the issue's introduction.

In addition, the University held a celebratory luncheon in his honor May 6 at the Colonnade Club, with guests including President John T. Casteen III and Maurice Apprey, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs.

Twenty essays and one interview in the tribute issue provide an in-depth look at Cohen's career and accomplishments. Casteen is one of the contributors.

"His longevity as editor of this important journal is a testament not only to his personal commitment and his intellectual and physical stamina, but also to his conviction that ideas should be constantly reassessed and renewed," Casteen writes.

In an interview with Jeffrey J. Williams, editor of the Minnesota Review and an English professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Cohen said he wanted New Literary History to mirror his educational philosophy.

"I was interested in establishing a collaborative journal, one in which it would be possible for scholars who presented particular views to have the views discussed, challenged and debated within the context of a single issue," he said. "I wanted a journal that made clear the collaborative nature of scholarship."

That effort clearly succeeded, as the journal has received six prestigious awards and gained an impressive international reputation. In 1999, it became the first English-language journal translated into Chinese. Cohen was most recently honored by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals with the Distinguished Literary Editor Award last December.

— Brian J. Shea, Johns Hopkins University Press