From the Endnotes column in the December 2012 issue of Perspectives on History
Reflections of a Retiring Editor
Pillarisetti Sudhir, December 2012
Endnotes, the rubric under which this essay appears, is a new, occasional column that we launch with this 50th anniversary issue. The felicitously apposite column title came from our former colleague, the late David Darlington, whose modestly uttered but brilliant witticisms we still remember with fondness. This column is intended to be a space for letting us editors talk to the readers and to share our thoughts on making the magazine a better medium for the message the AHA wants to convey. We had been planning to launch this column for some years, but it is only now that we could get round to implementing the plan. But there is some unintended irony in this timing, for the first endnotes column turns out also to be my last composition as editor—my own endnotes, so to speak—because I am retiring at the end of this month after 16 years at the AHA.
Endnotes (and their dizygotic twins, footnotes) are, as every scholar knows, the sine qua non of scholarship. But our column is not intended to display our erudition (although, to be fair, I should let my successor, Allen Mikaelian, decide the shape, purpose, and direction of future Endnotes columns). Nor will we strive to emulate Edward Gibbon, whose footnotes, as Anthony Grafton pointed out in his book, The Footnote: A Curious History, amused his friends or enraged his enemies more than anything else in the Decline and Fall. Given its location in the printed magazine, almost at the tail end, this column cannot hope to perform the other role of the scholarly endnote—to be the tangential, discursive reference, a precursor of the hyperlink that takes the reader away from the main text (in this case all the preceding pages) on a serendipitous journey into other uncharted realms. What we hope to do, however, is to use the space to discuss our plans for the future, share our predicaments, and invite your help for meeting such challenges as we may meet from time to time as we continue to publish our periodical.
When T. S. Eliot wrote "Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future," he was not perhaps thinking of editors who produce monthly magazines. But the lines strike a resonant chord: working as we do in a deadline-driven world, we inhabit a multitemporal universe, thinking about future issues, planning the finer details of the next issue, even as we work on getting the current issue off to the press in time. And all too often, we are compelled to ruefully look back at past issues, and lament an overlooked typo or grammatical solecism. The question "Where am I?" that recurs frequently—and sometimes nightmarishly—is not a question about spatial location, but refers to one's location in the shifting, intersecting planes of past, present, and future issues.
It might be said that "Those who can, write, those who can't, edit." But as they toil behind the screens to polish the prose of many authors or at least to ensure that the authoritative voices of style manuals and dictionaries are heeded, editors can take comfort in the Barthian notion that all texts are collaborative projects. Editors too can claim some credit for the final product, even if all they did was to insert a necessary comma at the appositive point or change, obeying the dictates of typographic usage, a mere hyphen into the more exalted en-dash. There is some schadenfreude, no doubt, in spotting (and correcting) an error in someone else's writing, but one can certainly take great pleasure in helping an author to chip away at obfuscating verbiage and to communicate with clarity and style.
To be an editor of Perspectives on History is to do (and be) more, of course, for your training as a historian—limited as it might have been—must be brought into play as well, along with whatever you may have learned of the craft of editing, as you work with authors who practice history every day, in their classrooms and carrels. I must say that on the whole my 16 plus years at the AHA have been an enjoyable experience. In this I have been helped by authors (some of whose patience I might have unduly taxed!), AHA officers, and friendly colleagues, to all of whom I extend my heartfelt thanks.
While I cannot express my thanks severally to the numerous individuals who helped in one way or another, I should say thank you to the three executive directors I have worked with, Sandria Freitag, Arnita Jones, and James Grossman; to the many presidents who have all been generous with their support and compliments; to Wendi Maloney and Robert Townsend, my first editors; and above all, to Chris Hale, who patiently tolerated all these years my occasional micromanagement of layout and design issues, and Liz Townsend, who saved me many times from letting uncorrected errors stand.
Most of all, thank you patient, understanding reader. All the editing in the world will be of no use if no one reads the end product. In that spirit, and not to claim any magical powers or display endtimes hubris, I will sign off with Prospero's last lines from The Tempest :
Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own
. . . Let your indulgence set me free.
Pillarisetti Sudhir is the editor of Perspectives on History. He is retiring at the end of December 2012 after working at the AHA for more than 16 years. He will be succeeded by Allen Mikaelian, who is currently the associate editor.