Out of the ordinary: co-editing a collection of Australian Methodist biography


… by Patricia Curthoys

Over the past few years I have been involved, with William Emilsen, from Charles Sturt University, in editing a collection of Australian Methodist biographies (Patricia Curthoys and William W. Emilsen, Out of the Ordinary: Twelve Australian Methodist Biographies, Unley, MediaCom Australia, 2015). The collection was published in November 2015, one of several books produced to mark the bicentenary of Methodism in Australia. (The others include Glen O’Brien and Hilary Carey’s also edited collection, Methodism in Australia: A History, Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2015). As editors we adopted the view that biography was an important way into the history of Australian Methodism – the story of Australian Methodism could not be fully told apart from the people who made it.

The criteria for selecting who should be in the collection included that they had to be people who had achieved some public recognition within the Methodist Church of Australasia (1902–1977), but with no substantial biography already written about them; that together they had to be representative of the diversity of Australian Methodism, including ordained and lay men and women across, as far as possible, the Australian states and territories; and they had to be deceased. These criteria were intellectually sound. They were also influenced by an appreciation of part of our potential readership: ex-Methodists who we hoped would recognise at least some of the names! The final list was also determined to some extent by the availability of historians and historical theologians willing to write the biographies.

In December 2014 we held a two-day workshop with our contributors, made possible by funding from both Charles Sturt University and the (Australian) Religious History Association. At that workshop contributors made short presentations about their prospective subjects as well as providing feedback and suggestions on each other’s chapters. Our task, as editors, was made considerably easier by our contributors’ professional responses throughout the project to our numerous requests and to often tight deadlines. Once almost final versions of the chapters were received in early 2015, another ten or so people undertook the task of reading and commenting on the chapters. Then William and I exercised final editorial control. Our search for a publisher for the project was made fairly straightforward by William’s previous, successful, publishing experience with MediaCom Australia. We were particularly heartened that MediaCom’s CEO immediately warmed to the idea of publishing a collection of Methodist biographies in the bicentennial year of the arrival of Methodism in Australia.

William and I had worked together before, productively and amicably, most particularly on a co-authored history (Susan Emilsen, Ben Skerman, Patricia Curthoys and William Emilsen, Pride of Place: A History of the Pitt Street Congregational Church, Beaconsfield, Circa, 2008). It struck me at one point during this project that one of the reasons we worked so well together as co-editors was that we are both fairly pedantic people – a personal attribute not always, I would suggest, sufficiently appreciated by others but a quality which comes into its own when working as an editor! Editing the collection, as well as contributing a chapter each was a huge task. But it was also a rewarding one. The book has been selling well, particularly amongst ex-Methodists. We hope it will also be of use to historians seeking to understand various aspects of twentieth-century Australian Methodism.

Image: Methodist Church at Noarlunga [Source: adelaidia.sa.gov.au]

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