Back to the New Old Offices
This issue should arrive in your mailbox around the same time that AHA staff members arrive back at the townhouse after 18 months of working from home. For historians, the chance to step into our own time capsule is both jarring and exciting. What did we leave written on our whiteboards in early March 2020, when we believed we’d be out for just two weeks to flatten the curve? Will our conference badge collections bring back happy memories of mingling with peers or spark anxiety around travel, variants, and masking?
The return to the office is no such thing for about 40 percent of the AHA’s staff. Eight current staff members, including myself, began working at the AHA after stay-at-home orders were put in place. We have known working here only as a combination of Zoom, Slack, Dropbox, and other digital productivity tools. This hasn’t stopped us from feeling like a welcome part of the team. We’ve participated in everything from trivia contests to brown-bag lunches, informal chats over coffee, and Slack channels dedicated to pet photos. I expect that for us, the chance to be in the office will feel like a natural continuation of relationships forged through these technologies.
Perspectives has dedicated much of the last year to covering how the pandemic has changed our work and personal lives. The Remote Reflections series, originally imagined as a contained series of seven articles, now spans 15 articles covering everything from parenting to remote teaching techniques, mental health to tips for successfully continuing to write a dissertation during a pandemic. We may not yet be anywhere close to a post-COVID world, but we are ready to look to the future. We hope to transition from covering the incredible ways that historians adapted in the last 18 months to thinking about what changes will or should carry forward into the “new normal.”
Many historians will return to changed workplaces this autumn (or they have already). All of us, regardless of our professional roles, face the question members of the Teaching Division ask in their “From the Division” column this month: “How can we keep our memories of the past year alive without being burdened by them?” As we return to offices unseen since March 2020 or step into new offices for jobs we began after the pandemic upended our lives, we face myriad big and small decisions that ask us what it really means to “go back” to the way things were.
It is my sincere hope that we remain in the townhouse through the autumn and winter. There are some tasks that are just easier in person—reviewing the printed issues of Perspectives, for example, is simpler when we can sit around a conference table and compare ink colors in different copies. However, we remain conscious that things can change quickly. As I write this in late July, the delta variant is surging in the United States and around the world. We cannot yet know whether—or, more likely, when—epsilon, zeta, and eta variants will emerge or how they will change our current plans. We may have to adjust our work plans, but I am confident that the quality of this publication and all the AHA’s work will continue to be exceptional.
“You can’t scare me, I’m a historian” reads a sticker distributed at the 2020 annual meeting and affixed to some of our laptops. It is one of those lines that AHA staffers throw around in times calling for gallows humor. We used it a lot in 2020–21; it suggests that we already know how bad things can get, so how could this be worse? At the same time, I suspect that the return to working, researching, teaching, and networking in person will be met with a bit of trepidation by many. I am grateful to my colleagues for their careful attention to how and when the townhouse should reopen. I am even more thankful for the grace, patience, and empathy we have shown one another and that we have received from members. May those traits continue to characterize our working environments as we “go back”—whatever that may mean.
Ashley E. Bowen is editor of Perspectives on History. She tweets @AEBowenPhD.
Tags: From the Editor
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.
Please read our commenting and letters policy before submitting.