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Contents And Continents

July 2024
2min read

A few months ago, the issue you hold in hand was only paper, blank as much of the surface of the ancient copper globe on the opposite page that shows barely a trace of the still unexplored North American continent. How did the editors of this magazine discover the contents of this issue? Or did the contents discover them? Here’s how the blanks were filled in:

“When we were first planning our new business column,” writes senior editor Barbara Klaw, “Peter Baida submitted a list of subjects that might evolve into columns. One of them was on the dismantling of AT&T. At lunch with Baida to discuss his ideas, we asked him not to use the AT&T item in a column but to write a full-length article on the history of the company instead. AT&T was on everyone’s mind as we all plowed through ten-page telephone bills and tried to figure out to whom we were to give our long-distance business. When Baida’s piece came in, it was so informative we decided to make it our cover.”

Moving up the coastline, senior editor Carla Davidson recalls the discovery of “The Last Cruise of the YP-438”: “The author, Ellis Sard, lives in Dennis, Massachusetts, where my parents have been spending a month every summer. He is an old family friend, and from the early days of my father’s meeting with him, he’s been reminiscing about the first ship he commanded in World War II. At the time, my father suggested he write it as a movie treatment—which he did but never sold. On the first day I was up there last August, Ellis came to our front door with a huge, tattered manuscript in hand and diffidently asked me if it might be an article for American Heritage. I loved it. The only problem was length; but Richard Snow’s smooth, cut version delighted us all—even the author.”

Snow, our managing editor, logs in with this: “The nucleus of the ‘Arms and the Press’ section came from Stephen Sears, author of the recent, highly acclaimed Landscape Turned Red . Now he is deep in a biography of the odious George B. McClellan, and in the debates that followed the Grenada invasion, he heard echoes of Civil War disputes. He proposed the piece on Civil War censorship, and we agreed. A few weeks after Sears’s article came in, I heard John Chancellor giving a talk comparing the hermetically conducted Grenada invasion with World War II, when a bracing and casual atmosphere of mutual trust existed between press and military. I asked him to write this up for us and he obliged. Then the essay by Joseph Cooper arrived in the mail, and we found we had the last of a triptych.”

Finally, my own journal reminds me that ever since the historian Elting Morison wrote a fine article for us on the limitations of Disney’s Epcot Center, I had hoped he would write a column on the history of technology. Morison liked the idea of writing regularly for us and would certainly make technology the subject of his work from time to time, but he wanted a broader franchise. Fine, said we, surrendering, write on any subject that interests you and we’ll make space for it. Morison’s first effort can be read in this issue—short in length but the equivalent of a whole mountain range in the mapping of our perennially new world.

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