While our fortnightly essays span a wide array of disciplines and periods they have a common focus on oft-overlooked subjects, careful writing, and attention to works now in the public domain due to their age. Our past contributors include: graduate students seeking an outlet for unusual finds; award-winning authors experimenting toward their next project; and curators gathering materials scattered across collections. Below you will get a sense of our interests, but, as we delight in the unusual, these are moveable bounds.

What We Are Looking For

We encourage submissions that highlight unorthodox ends of cultural spectra — found documents populated by curious figures, odd inventions based on forgotten theories, and relegated histories in need of a new readership. Should the essay concern a well-known figure, we tend to favour against-the-grain angles and attentive crawls through lesser-known works. In addition to pieces that examine specific texts and images, we also welcome contributions with a broader historical focus, so long as they touch upon interesting public domain material.

The best way to get a sense of our tastes is to look at our past essays. For example: Patricia Mainardi on the art of J. J. Grandville; Richard Hamblyn on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ volcano letters; Yasmine Seale on the Prophet Muhammad’s enigmatic steed; Angus Trumble on the Pre-Raphaelites’ obsession with wombats; Jessica Riskin on the wondrous history of automata; and Paula Findlen on Petrarch’s plague.

If you would like to contribute and find yourself in search of a topic, do look at our Collections posts, many of which could be developed into the focus of a full-length essay.

Other Considerations

Tone: We tend to favour the playful over the expository. In practice, this means different things for different essays. Again, it may help to look toward past essays as a rough guide.

Format and Style: Submissions must be fully referenced. We use a version of Chicago, but accept essays written with any reference system. Our house style guide can be viewed here, though authors may submit essays in any style.

Length: Most contributions come in at about 3000 words, though longer or short pieces will certainly be considered.

Pitches: We review pitches as well as fully-drafted essays, with a slight preference for the latter. In inquiry emails, please highlight the material under consideration and why you are the right person to examine it. First-time contributors might include links to recent writing if possible. We respond to all pitches.

Background: Most of our contributors have an academic grounding somehow related to their essay topic. We always consider enquiries from authors with other forms of training, though they must demonstrate a facility with their chosen subject matter. We particularly welcome expressions of interest from potential contributors of minority ethnic groups.

Public Domain Requirements

An important requirement is that the work or group of works associated with the essay must be in the public domain (ideally worldwide). As a very rough guide, this often means material created prior to 1926. The works should also be freely available online in digital form and openly licensed. If you have an idea for something, but are unsure as to whether it qualifies, or if you’d like help determining whether a digital copy is openly licensed or not, then please get in touch.

How to Submit

Please email a proposal — including a brief author’s biography — to: submissions@publicdomainreview.org. If you would like to submit a piece already written, then please email it as an attachment, in either plain text or in a word processor format (e.g. Open Office, Word). Feel free to include, as a JPEG/PNG attachment or link, any images which are relevant to the essay.

Please inform us if it is a simultaneous proposal. We respond to submissions within six weeks.

Payment

While historically we have not been in a position to pay contributors, thanks to the support of our Friends, we can now offer an honorarium for original essays we publish — a flat rate of $200 / £150.

Our Licensing

Due to the public domain nature of our project, most essays are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license. This permits others to redistribute the essay, with credit to the author, under the same terms. By submitting work to us you are agreeing to publish under a CC BY-SA license.