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On the Tenth Anniversary of The Common Room

Lori Schroeder Haslem


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The Common Room began with a student impulse. The Knox College English Department had long pointed proudly to the attractive and substantive literary magazine Catch as one its hallmarks, and rightly so.  But back in the fall of 1996 and the winter of 1997 a couple of students majoring in English Literature approached me to ask if I would encourage the English Department to sponsor the creation of a new journal that would operate as the “literary criticism” equivalent of Catch, which they perceived to be mainly a creative arts magazine.  They believed that there were precious few places where students could share their literary critiques with others, and they argued that there were fine student papers being generated in classes each term that warranted publication.  I sighed and conveyed my doubt that the College could support another magazine of quite the caliber that Catch was—and is!
     We almost left it at that.  Until one day I began to think about the numerous journals and magazines I had recently seen popping up online.  The idea of online journals was still pretty new in 1997, but it seemed like a good way to pilot a new journal of literary criticism at Knox without incurring much cost. We also liked the idea that we could create links from the pieces published in our journal to other sites online, something that print journals cannot do.  Read an essay on Christopher Marlowe and with one click you had before you myriad sites concerning Marlowe himself, rumors about his mysterious death, rumors about his love life—and even other good pieces of literary criticism! At the journal’s inception, the students behind it (and I) had visions of one day converting it to a print version, perhaps a journal that published essays from across our college consortium.  But as time passed we came to feel that being the first online journal at Knox had a sort of cachet, and the size and scope of the journal also began to feel just about right.
     From the beginning, the students very much wanted this journal to be student edited and to feature articles written by Knox students.  Faculty in the English Department strongly supported this position of making the student involvement central.  As it turned out, we have also had a decade of Knox student webmasters contributing to the journal’s success.  Back in 1997, the fledgling journal was named (resulting from a campus-wide contest for submissions) for a room in Old Main, a room in many ways at the heart of the College, a place where so many papers had been read, stories unfolded, poems recited, and ideas shared.  Indeed, the Common Room is a name given to many such rooms at colleges everywhere, a room where some of the best exchanges in the liberal arts tradition occur—but aren’t always recorded.  We liked the idea that our little journal could serve in some small way to capture and record such moments of learning, insight, and camaraderie.
     Since the first issue was published in the spring of 1997, ten years ago, The Common Room has included some special issues devoted to one or two authors.  It has featured some experimental pieces, and many essays that won awards for being the very best literary criticism at Knox College.  This momentous issue is no different! You’ll discover a range of discussion covering literary periods and topics that cross oceans and centuries, while engaging, in surprising and astute ways, the texts at hand. Some editorial evolutions occurred over the years, yet the vision of the journal has remained fairly constant, even as other online journals at Knox have sprung up.
     Upon this occasion of the journal’s tenth anniversary, then, let me thank you on behalf of the ever-growing number of past and present student editors and contributors and on behalf of the Knox English Department for your support and your readership.  We do hope that you will come back often to visit The Common Room.