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Student book reviews to be published in major journals

Emma Driscoll | Monday, February 26, 2007

When political science professor Luc Reydams collected book reviews and essays from his class of international law students last semester, he got more than your average end-of-term paper.

“When I was reading them at the end of the semester, I was struck by the quality and the insight of some of these essays,” Reydams said. “And I thought they deserve a wider audience. They deserve publication.”

Reydams contacted many journals, including the International Organization’s Law Review and The International Community Law Review, and seven of the pieces were chosen for publication.

Junior Arnaud Druelle’s review essay has already been accepted for publication in the Criminal Law Review. Essays by juniors Catherine Kent and Paul Mower and seniors Tim Tryniecki, Caitlin May and Will McAuliffe have been accepted for publication in other journals on the condition that they revise some sections.

Editors at The Journal of Conflict and Security Law are currently considering senior Tommy Kemp’s review.

Reydams said Kemp had successfully completed the first steps to publication by attracting editors and discussing possible revisions with them.

“First of all, if a book review editor is interested enough, you send him the text, he has a look at it, and then he will decide whether to submit it to some outside reviewers,” he said. “The best thing that can happen is an acceptance with quite some criticism, which really then challenges the students to do better.”

Druelle, a French exchange student from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, wrote an essay on international law drawing from his readings and personal observations. He also worked with the Criminal Law Forum on a version that will be published in an upcoming edition.

Although the assignment was challenging, Druelle found the experience rewarding.

“[The book review] was not an easy job, but the main point is that I enjoyed a lot of liberty when I wrote the original paper,” he said. “I really had an opportunity to express my point of view, my perception of international law and international relations today. … I think this kind of opportunity to have ‘free hands’ is not so frequent in universities, especially in France, so I really took pleasure in writing this review.”

Druelle did not expect to be published when he wrote his review last semester.

“I was very surprised when Professor Reydams told me that my review was publishable,” he said. “This was an unexpected opportunity.”

The process of tailoring his work for publication purposes has shown Druelle how to improve his writing – but it also taught him classroom assignments have the potential to impact more than the student’s grade.

“I had the satisfaction to discover that we don’t only work to get some credits, but that what we write can actually interest other people, which is really motivating,” he said.

Although Reydams has been teaching the international law class since 2002, the book review assignment was new to the course last fall, an addition he made because it draws high-quality work from students, he said.

“My experience with the book review assignment is that it brings out the best in students,” Reydams said.

The assignment, he said, was to select a book from an approved list and write a book review or review essay on that book. All the recommended readings “dealt with international law and relations,” Reydams said.

The essay process began only a few weeks into the semester and lasted until the end of the term, giving students the opportunity to explore their ideas in depth – a factor that may have been directly related to the high quality of the student pieces.

The Journal of International Law and International Relations accepted Junior Catherine Kent’s book review for publication on the condition she revises some sections. Kent said since she was not familiar with international law before taking the course, it was somewhat difficult to form opinions on the author’s theory.

“Just being able to correctly summarize [the author’s] theory was kind of hard,” she said.

Kent, who wants to attend law school and focus on international law, said she found the project educational and rewarding.

“I think it’s exciting because undergraduates don’t really get published in political science journals unless they are coauthoring with a professor, so I didn’t really know that that was an option,” she said.

Kent is now on her own, as Reydams steps out of the publication process once the students complete most of their revisions and have final drafts of their essays.

“When I think they’re done, then I step out and they work on their own with the book review editor,” Reydams said. “They deal directly with the journal after implementation of revisions and when I think they’re done