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EIU Historia

A Letter from One of the Original Founders of Historia

March 1999

Dear Daren,

Dr. Key emailed me last week and asked to ruminate on the origins of Historia for your Web site.  I kind of slapped this together quickly. It is largely unedited, but then that gives it a more conversational tone, which might be good if you are clipping out quotes for a kind of overview of the publication. In fact, his exact words were, "We need some blather regarding our salad days."  I think that if anything, the following qualifies as blather.

The actual idea for Historia came during a meeting of the History Club. Dr. Key was asking us to brainstorm ideas for activities, events, etc. for history students. I asked whether we could start a journal similar to the English department?s Vehicle, but for history students. Either he or Dr. Shelton, I don't remember which, may have suggested at that point that I should go ahead and start one as part of an independent study. In either case, Dr. Shelton and I made arrangements to do so, drew up a kind of vision and plan for the journal, what we were trying to do with this thing, what kinds of things would we include, etc. I then got together with some others who were interested in the idea, most notably Bo McGuffee and Jeannie Reardon.

The first step was advertising for submissions and getting the rest of the faculty to back the project. That was the fun part, as it allowed me to ply my Terry Gilliam-esque trade of making cartoons out of clipped pictures. Sure beat writing term papers and studying for tests.

We wanted the publication to feature some variety, not just a bunch of long papers by upperclassmen and grad students. We asked Cheryl Munyer, who was interested in the Historical Administration program, (HA! for short) to interview the director of that program. Someone else did a review of a special lecture by Anita Shelton about women in Russian history. I think we even made sure to get a student paper from the department's required Research Methods class in order to show what the course was about. We included similar features in later issues, like a review of a lecture on Neo-Nazis in Germany by Wolfgang Schlauch, and book reviews. We encouraged students to review historical movies for us if they wanted to. (No one took us up on that. I bet someone could have a lot of fun dicing up Elizabeth for the next issue.) We also made sure we had papers of various lengths to make the publication more readable. We didn't want just one long paper after another. When we reviewed student submissions, we kind of graded on a scale. If they were too heavy or too light, we didn't want them; We were only accepting papers in a range of 2.5 to 7 ounces. But seriously, what I mean is that we took the best sampling of papers from freshmen, sophomores, upperclassmen, grad students, H.A. folks, etc.

The original gang of reviewers included the terrible triumvirate of Reardon, McGuffee and Schmeltzer, (Inc.?) as well as Cheryl Munyer.  After we made our selections, we would edit the copy. This was a very valuable learning process, which was the reason it was an independent study in the first place, and why students can earn course credit by working on the publication. The idea was that you were not only creating a forum for student scholarship, but were also getting some insights into the world of publishing and editing.

We had some money in the department's budget for that first year, but the whole operation was relatively primitive. Bo and Jeannie had the computer smarts and so they had the painstaking task of kerning and formatting and jiggling the handle and so forth. This was on the department secretary's computer, which mocked us with the blank blue face of Word Perfect 5.1. (None of this Window's stuff like these darn kids today have. Heck, a journal practically writes itself, with all the fancy, shmancy technology they have nowadays!  And, we had to walk to school ten miles in the snow and uphill! Both ways!! With hot potatoes in our pockets to keep us warm!)

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, they came up with a template document from which we made 11x17 photocopies of each page, front to back, etc. Then, in true sweatshop fashion, we laid each page out on tables and stapled them together with a cover, a gold-colored paper with my amateurish doodling of the Parthenon, and our Kierkegaard motto. Our working pattern of consecutive junk-food fueled all nighters now firmly established, we finished "publication" just at about the time my parents rolled into town to attend my graduation.

Everyone seemed pleased. But we were committed to making the next issue better; so Bo and I handed the reigns of editors-in-chief to Jeannie Reardon. But seriously folks,... I think we wanted to establish a kind of revolving editorship for the publication, since everyone always worked really hard on it and we wanted more people to have the experience of being editors-in-chief. We still were limited to using Word Perfect 5.1 for the second issue, but I think we had more money in the budget which enabled us to boost production values a little bit. (See Dr. Shelton for the history of funding for Historia) I think we used a professional printer for that issue. We also had a much larger staff, many of whom were undergrads. We liked this because we wanted the publication to continue after we were gone, and the new staff members were learning how to put this thing together. I think we also had a heck of a lot more submissions, too. Students must have felt reassured after seeing that we put out an inaugural issue with minimal casualties.

As with the first issue, Dr. Shelton watched over us, minimizing the damage our many editorial mistakes would have caused otherwise to the publication and the reputation of the department. Her involvement also ensured that the flow of pizza would continue to re-energize weary staffers. Jeannie and Bo were still saddled with the chore (and I mean chore) of the layout process. Another variation on the Greek temple (this time, a close up of a single column) and the Kierkegaard quote graced the cover.  I think this issue standardized the publication's size. The overall look improved as well.

As I said, we established ourselves in the department; now it was time to go public, as they would say in corporate terms. The Phi Alpha Theta regional conference being held that year on our own turf that year provided us with our first moment in the sun. In between racking up awards for the department, we shamelessly pushed copies of Historia on representatives from visiting schools (that's called marketing, baby! Another valuable thing we learned from the experience). It seemed to have started a buzz around the state, this modest little land-grant university doing something this cool. Dr. Shelton would know more about the interest other schools began to express in our journal.

Year three. My second year of grad school. Bo and I back in charge. This time, however, we had a ringer in Chris Kade, a student who had work-related desktop publishing experience gave Historia a facelift. No Classical iconography, this time. Pope and swastika. I think we were trying to get a National Geographic thing going where there would be a main feature story or article with an accompanying illustration on the cover. Went back to the Greeks for the next year's cover, 1995. I prefer the annual motif thing. It's a little like finding the bunny on the cover of Playboy, so I've heard. Providing the cover illustration was my last official act for the publication. I was no longer a student at the time, but I was working for the university.

I can only imagine that with things like Quark Express and other layout programs, the staff probably doesn't have to deal with the more annoying aspects of the publication (you young kids really don't remember the world before Windows, when everything was DOS and incomprehensible.) However, learning about the art of editing, selecting good papers and keeping one's eye on the vision for the publication remain among the biggest and most rewarding challenges of working on Historia. Even if the department uses easier-to-use publishing software, someone still gains valuable design experience. Layout is an art involved in this. I write a newsletter here at the Field Museum, and while I select the photos to illustrate the stories (and if none exist, I have to get a photographer to take them), I still leave most of the layout decisions to a professional designer.

As the publication grows, and this was our hope, it doesn't have to involve necessarily just history students. I think that if during any issue, none of the history students were particularly interested in doing the layout, the job could be given to an art, design, English or journalism student who just wants the experience and the portfolio. I also believe in interdisciplinary studies, so that you should try to feature historical papers from students in economics, political science, philosophy, anthropology and the biological sciences. As long as the papers fit certain basic historical criteria, they would only help Historia. We believed in this too, but I don't think we had as much success as we would have liked. I also think that if more money becomes available, students can improve the visual content of the journal as well.

What becomes of Historia in the future is really up to you, the students; there is no limit. Is it too much to dream that the names Eastern and Historia will be linked to the degree that the names Kenyon and The Kenyon Review are today? Well, maybe. But it couldn't hurt.  Now get back to work.

Mark Schmeltzer

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