Eight years ago, I wrote a short piece for a Norwegian science policy journal lampooning the Festschrift as an outmoded form of academic communication. The Festschrift, I can hear some of my non-Scandinavian readers ask: Are such volumes still being published?
Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Of course, it is largely a self-financing enterprise. In signing up for the Tabula gratulatoria, friends of the honoree promise to fork out a few hundred kroner for a book they are often unlikely to read. A book filled with articles that are generally not quite important enough to be published in academic journals (or, even when they are important, are doomed to oblivion because they are in the wrong outlet). Of course, any Festschrift editor would like to think that his or her project is different. In 1980, I edited a Festschrift in honor of Johan Galtung on the occasion of his 50th birthday. The core of the publication was a list of 667 published and unpublished items that the author had written over the years. I would like to think it was a useful project at the time. In the age of electronic publication, such a task might still be worth undertaking, but probably not to publish as a book.
Why then does the tradition survive? Well, it’s a nice gesture to edit a book (or contribute to one) in honor of a friend. The element of surprise adds a measure of excitement to the project. In a country brimming with oil money, we can probably afford to continue this tradition. In my article, I nevertheless offered an alternative explanation for the survival of the Festschrift: If you announce publicly that you think the Festschrift is outdated, you are put in an embarrassing position if you get one yourself. And if you don’t get one, you risk ridicule – did you really think that anyone would take on such a project for you? I took the risk and said ‘no thanks’ in public, and this has been respected by my colleagues (if they ever had such an idea in the first place). I hasten to add that I have contributed to various Festschriften for others, and of course to numerous Tabulae gratulatoriae.
But, of course, I am not immune to flattery. So when my energetic friend and colleague Hans Günter Brauch, who doesn’t ever take ‘no’ for an answer, invited me to submit a volume to his ‘Pioneers’ series published by Springer, I yielded. So now I have a kind of Festschrift edited entirely by myself! PRIO and the Gløbius foundation have joined forces to purchase open access. You can read it here. And if you have room for another hard-copy book in your collection, it comes at a reasonable price, thanks to the open access option. Enjoy! (Or ignore!)