Publication Date

December 19, 2023

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities, Behind the Scenes at the AHA

Have you ever wondered how a Perspectives on History issue comes together? This process involves editorial strategy, hard work, and often a dollop of good timing.

As our readers know, a Perspectives issue is made up of a few different genres of articles. There are some that appear every month, such as columns by the Perspectives editor, AHA president, and AHA executive director, or In Memoriam and Long Overdue tributes. There are updates from the AHA, often found in the AHA Activities section, that report on the work of the Association, including events, advocacy, and grant-funded projects. And then there are articles about the broad practice of history. Whether these are Features, Viewpoints, Career Paths, or Everything Has a History articles, historians from around the world, across the discipline, and at every career stage write pieces that bring a diversity of (ahem) perspectives to the magazine on research, teaching and learning, and professional issues.

Articles come to us in a variety of ways. Sometimes the editor, Leland Renato Grigoli, or senior managing editor (me) solicits an article from an individual on a specific topic. Sometimes articles are pitched to us, what we call coming in “over the transom.” And sometimes we’ll put out a call for pitches on specific topics of interest, whether in the magazine or in other spaces, like the AHA Member Forum or social media. We are always seeking fresh ideas and voices, hoping that the magazine will reflect the diverse interests, experiences, and hard work that drive the historical discipline.

What many readers may not realize is that Perspectives is shaped by more people than just the editorial staff on the masthead. All articles submitted to the magazine from external authors are reviewed by an editorial board that includes 10 to 12 AHA staff members, all with graduate training in history and varied academic and professional expertise. Along with advising the editorial staff on individual articles, this group is also helpful for recommending authors or topics we may want to cover. After acceptance by the board, articles are assigned to an issue and move forward toward publication.

Perspectives is shaped by more people than just the editorial staff on the masthead.

For a December issue like the one you’re reading now, the editorial work begins no later than October. Leland leads our editorial strategy and divides up the work of developmental editing for articles in each issue. Editing is a team effort, as Leland and I incorporate feedback from the editorial board, sometimes requesting a read from the other editor and the director of research and publications, Sarah Weicksel, on future drafts. By the end of October, editorial work should be completed or well underway on December articles, including finalizing the text, selecting an image and ensuring permission to use it, and obtaining a copyright agreement from the author.

Sometimes, even more planning is necessary. A theme issue like the popular December 2021 issue on historical fiction often requires six or more months of work. The then editor of Perspectives Ashley E. Bowen and I began discussing the historical fiction idea early in the summer of 2021. We identified historical fiction authors with academic training, chose an author to write about teaching with historical fiction (based on a previous publication on the topic), and picked a related Everything Has a History topic. By early July, we began contacting authors to gauge their interest, and those who signed on were given a deadline of late September for a first draft. With the editorial board’s acceptance, we moved forward with pieces by six authors: one on teaching with historical fiction, three historical fiction writers that we packaged into a single article, a piece of flash fiction, and an Everything Has a History article on a pulp novel. Ashley also requested that I write an editor’s column on my love of historical romance novels. With such a fun topic, we wanted a striking cover. We commissioned art from illustrator Anne Lambelet, who had designed the art for the 2022 annual meeting. Anne drew on article drafts for inspiration, and we fell in love with her tree house, requesting only a few tweaks. Perhaps most importantly, we asked that the cat be modeled after Pete, our most frequent feline visitor on Zoom calls with Sarah.

After editorial comes production, when a Microsoft Word document becomes the magazine or web page that you are currently reading. Research and publications assistant Lizzy Meggyesy works with me to shepherd articles through copyediting, typesetting, and proofreading. After editing is complete, all articles go to a freelance copyeditor, whose eagle eye is essential for ensuring all prose is written clearly and follows AHA style (including here—thanks, Rita!). Lizzy takes the copyedited text and “applies styles” to it, making formatting changes that will indicate to the composition vendor which text in a document is the title, author byline, pull quotes, bio, image caption, and so forth.

The issue in your hands included 16 proofs that required review by 18 authors.

Along with paid advertisements and the house ads selected by marketing and engagement manager Hope Shannon, we send batches of articles to our compositor, which are returned within about 48 hours as typeset proofs. Leland and I proofread the articles, making corrections to wording or formatting, before sharing proofs with the author. The issue in your hands included 16 proofs that required review by 18 authors. I make author corrections in InDesign files shared by the compositor. We also send them files for the front matter, with an image, coverline, and “On the Cover” paragraph by Leland; a table of contents compiled by Lizzy; and a masthead updated by me.

Once all proofs are approved, we request what we call a “dummy”—a PDF compilation of the entire typeset issue, including front matter, articles, and advertising. It takes me half a workday to read the dummy cover to cover to ensure that no further changes are needed. (There are always a few more changes needed.)

Then the issue goes to the printer. With a print order and mail labels compiled by membership manager Pamela Scott-Pinkney, printing takes about two weeks from approval to when a box arrives at the AHA townhouse and individual issues begin hitting members’ mailboxes.

Online publication also takes work. Lizzy puts the articles on our website, which roll out one per day throughout the month, along with promotion on social media (coordinated by communications manager Alexandra F. Levy) and in the AHA’s email newsletters. When their article is published online, authors receive an honorarium of $100. We also upload PDF, EPUB, and MOBI files of the entire issue that are available for member download.

Of course, we are never working on just one magazine issue at a time. Simultaneously, we are reviewing pitches and commissioning articles for issues two or three months ahead, editing pieces for the next issue, and keeping up with the online-only publication of Perspectives Daily articles too. But when each issue arrives in the mail, it’s worth all the hard work.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.

Laura Ansley
Laura Ansley

American Historical Association