Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


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Takes On Twenty-Five Years

Fredrika J. Teute

Blue pencil. Taking a blue pencil to paper is the metaphor for editing text to this day. I currently have a box of them in my desk drawer. I earned my first one as an editorial apprentice at the Institute in 1970–1971. The program then offered year-long training in documentary editing, and I was intent on pursuing a career in that field. All the interns spent the first summer in mastering The Chicago Manual of Style (twelfth edition). That continues to be my go-to copy, full of annotations and bookmarks, even though the Manual is presently in its sixteenth edition. The managing editors of Books and the WMQ, Joy Dickinson and Maryanne O’Boyle, initiated us into the arts of copyediting and scholarly publishing. I particularly relished the arcana of proofreading marks and aspired to develop a stylish delete mark of my own. (I have had a lot of practice since, and it has a definitive swoosh now.) As I worked on The Papers of James Madison during the 1970s, I completed my induction into the historical editing profession under the tutelage of Catherine Seybold, an author of the Manual and an editor at the University of Chicago Press in charge of the production of the Madison volumes. Submitting a typescript, I had sent scraps of paper with questions; she sent me a stern rebuke with guidelines for the protocol of editorial queries.

In 1989, when I took up the blue pencil as editor of publications here, authors received the original of their submitted manuscript copyedited in blue by Gil Kelly, the then-managing editor. Redolent of his pipe tobacco, the chapters were accompanied by a sheaf of typed queries done on Gil’s favorite manual typewriter. The same book manuscript, further marked up, went down to the University of North Carolina Press to be computer typeset. Gil and I still wax nostalgic about the days of sparring with skilled linotype operators who took blue-penciled typescripts and corrected punctuation, spelling, and line breaks as they set the lead for galleys. By the last decade of the twentieth century, the Institute and the Press did have computers; Gil just didn’t use them. Now authors receive their copyedited chapters to review as electronic files redlined in MS Word. Computers have made some tasks easier, but writing and editing on paper have a spatial dimension that the screen flattens. The intellectual texture of commenting on the page gets lost. I think alongside the author as I edit. If I send redlined files, I transfer my emendations from the page, as do some of the manuscript editors. The use of computers has shifted the burden of keyboarding from typesetters to editors, requiring more of their time rather than less, in order to send perfected electronic files to the Press for production. The end product is the same, a scholarly book in print. The process by which it happens has transformed the professional lives of us all, authors, editors, and typesetters.

Email. Email has revolutionized editorial communications. Before, soliciting scholars to write readers’ reports or book blurbs involved calling them at their departments, leaving messages, catching departmental administrators to ascertain contact numbers and office hours, keeping an eye on the clock, calling again. (Imagine a time when we could not look this information up on the Internet.) Prospective authors would send entire book manuscripts unannounced, arriving over the lintel in brown-paper-wrapped boxes. Yet, today with electronic communications at our fingertips, we sometimes forget that a face-to-face exchange or one phone call can answer questions and resolve issues that twenty emails leave hanging.

Atlantic history. Arguably an old framework freshly applied at the end of the twentieth century to early modern social and intellectual history, decentering the colonialism of colonial America with new intersections made across the Atlantic. For me a defining work was Stephen Foster’s The Long Argument (1991). Twenty-five years later, the waves of globalism are washing over Atlanticism, as it takes broadside hits from all directions for being parochial. Move over Britannia; make room for other ships on the seas.

Conferences. Editors attend to exhibit books and meet authors. I have found conference sessions to be a rich venue, as well, for hearing new work and discerning new directions in the field, along with recruiting authors. I realized early on, as a novice in acquisitions, that listening to commentators could provide me with a list of potential peer reviewers. And I enjoyed becoming an interlocutor from the audience, engaging scholars about their subjects. On average, I have attended seven conferences per year. The choices have dramatically increased with the growing number of forums focused on the early modern era and on the early Americas. These have eclipsed the importance of the major professional organizations (the AHA, OHA, SHA, MLA, and ASA) as sites to present, and fewer early American sessions on the programs (and efforts to reverse the trend) reflect the shift. In 1989, the Institute exhibited at three, the AHA, OHA, and SHA; increasingly, we take advantage of the range of specialized meetings in our field, making conference-going a richer and more rewarding experience.

Institute annual conference. Begun by Ron Hoffman in 1995, they have met at universities around the country and abroad (Toronto, Glasgow, Quebec, and Halifax). An impetus for these was the lack of outlets for early Americanists, particularly young scholars, to present their work. The energy at the first, held at the University of Michigan, was electric. Since then, a wide variety of meetings have come to populate the hemispheric landscape, offering early Americanists a cornucopia of options for paper giving.

Early American literature. One of my goals in 1989 was to put history and literary culture on speaking terms with each other. David Shields and I began a conversation in the early 1990s about sensus communis in the eighteenth century, which resulted in his publishing Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (1997) with the Institute. (The working title of the book, in fact, was “The Conversation.”) We exchanged editorial comments in the margins of the manuscript that laid the basis not only for our own scholarly collaboration but for the Institute’s engagement with early American literary scholars in general. I attended the Society of Early Americanists’ first biennial conference, hosted by Shields in Charleston, S.C., in 1999, and I have been at every one since. Their organization has galvanized early American studies as a dynamic field, and through its meetings, historians have had fruitful exchanges with literary scholars. Cross-fertilization culminated in the joint conference in 2007, held in Williamsburg and Jamestown, of the fifth biennial SEA and thirteenth annual Institute conference. More than five hundred people attended the four-day event. My happiest moments were overhearing graduate students as they emerged from sessions, excited about discovering shared interests across disciplines. Since Shields’s Civil Tongues, eight more monographs and two edited collections under the Institute’s imprint have contributed to the dialogue. In June 2015, the SEA and the Institute are once again merging their biennial/annual meetings in Chicago. The next generation carries forward the goal of continuing the conversation.