February/March 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 2
Twenty-eight years times six numbers a year comes to 168, and this total leaves out special issues like The Nineties and New York . But the 168, fairly well squeezed together, come to six feet six inches, or a full foot longer than that once-famous compendium of knowledge “Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf.” Is my arithmetic faulty? No, for Charles William Eliot, who turned Harvard from a college into a university, gave full measure. His shell was actually five and a half feet long. But A MERICAN H ERITAGE too strives to give full measure. There are, for example, eleven entries on Dr. Eliot in our index, including a full biographical piece about him by his great-grandson.
There is a more important measure, however, to the value of a magazine of history, even if we did not fully perceive it at first. It is timeless. The subject matter is always current, whether one is writing about footholds in the wilderness or footsteps on the Moon. Although historians may make new discoveries, disprove hallowed traditions, and argue about conclusions, old issues of this magazine, unlike old newspapers, are never out of date. Read the old ones and grow in wisdom. What A MERICAN H ERITAGE has become, almost accidentally, is a kind of encyclopedia of American history: six feet six of articles by a dazzling list of contributors, living and dead, and a vast museum of American art and photography, past and present, much of it unearthed for the first time by our picture staff.
The key that unlocks the encyclopedia and the museum is of course this index, which supersedes an assortment of other partial indexes, mostly out of print. It is not just longtime subscribers (who rarely seem to discard their issues) who have been demanding this finding aid, but students, scholars, educators, collectors, researchers, and above all, librarians.
History continues to be made and chronicled. We never run out of raw material, as a few early reviewers of A MERICAN H ERITAGE thought we might, and this huge, if unintended, encyclopedia keeps steaming down the track of time. Let it never stop, like Dr. Eliot, at some arbitrary destination, and may there be another index, and another and another, into the mists of the future.