How it Was ...

Cecelia Dadian, February 1999

When I first wandered into the AHA's Washington headquarters in January 1972, it was a veritable Luddite heaven located in a charmingly disheveled townhouse on Capitol Hill under the benevolent leadership of its executive secretary, Paul Ward, with the assistance of John Rumbarger and the remarkable Eileen Gaylard, who had been trained in the British foreign service. The only machines in sight were aging but stylish and sleek Remingtons, producing copy for the various AHA publications with the satisfying sound of their mechanical keys and levers. There were a few electric typewriters, but everything in the publications department was generated, it seemed, using traditional means.

On the second floor, which had been carved into small offices, Robert Webb and Nancy Lane produced the American Historical Review with red pencils, pica rules, scissors, paste, and an editorial staff composed chiefly of newly graduated PhDs. John Rumbarger was in charge of the AHA Newsletter. Books were stacked in precarious piles everywhere—awaiting assignment by bibliographer John Appleby to eager reviewers.

I joined this motley crew as a temporary, all-purpose editorial assistant—researching, copyediting, and proofreading the Review, Newsletter, Program, Annual Report, and the countless blue teaching pamphlets.

In 1975, the Review editorial office was moved to Indiana University in Bloomington; in 1976, Recently Published Articles, which had been part of the Review, became a separate publication produced in Washington. I had the pleasure of working as production coordinator, assistant editor, and finally, editor for the next 14 years, wielding the traditional blue pencil and training a considerable number of aspiring young assistants on the fine points of placing commas.

Over the years there have been many changes to the building, as well as changes in leadership and in personnel. Each executive director brought a new style, and often new technology.

The most exciting news at the AHA office in the early 1970s was the phasing in of IBM Selectrics to replace the older electric typewriters and the remaining manual machines. We also acquired some Dictaphones to supplement Eileen's impeccable shorthand. A noisy mimeograph machine, a noisier Addressograph, and an enormous Xerox photocopier completed our technological equipment, adding new sounds that competed with the occasional bark (yes, there were pet dogs in the building off and on—at one time there were four!). But not yet the strange whines and beeps of a fax machine. Back then, even the concept of a fax machine was pure Jules Verne—if a document had to be somewhere fast, overnight mail delivery or a bicycle pick-up service was the only solution.

In 1982 we took early steps down the information superhighway by installing, with great ceremony, our first computer, a Lanier. It was my privilege to type the first words on it. But I am prepared to admit that I still use my computer as a very classy typewriter.

Now, in 1999, we have come a long way down that information highway under Sandria Freitag, who not only remodeled the building into sensible and pleasant working space, but brought us all into the new electronic world with a computer on every desk. Now we can send e-mail to the office next door, or to a member halfway across the world. And now the Association's achievements and the many valuable services we offer our members are on display on the AHA's home page, accessible to anyone exploring the World Wide Web. It has been a wonderful 26 years, traveling with dizzying speed down technology's multifaceted path.

—Cecelia Dadian is senior editor at the AHA.