Alabama Heritage Magazine Marks Silver Anniversary
August 29th, 2011 - Filed under: Cover Story
The University of Alabama has its own group of myth busters — the writers of Alabama Heritage magazine.
For 25 years and 101 issues, the magazine has taught Alabamians about their heritage.
“People coming in from the outside have heard us talk about our history, but then they read these articles and get a real sense of what happened,” said Donna Baker, editor of Alabama Heritage. “People from the state appreciate that they’re getting bold, solid research in these articles. They’re not just getting the myths repeated. They’re actually learning things.”
Published by UA in partnership with The University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the magazine features entertaining and well-researched articles illuminating the history of Alabama.
The magazine has a circulation of about 10,000 and an overall readership of 25,000. Dr. Bill Barnard, former chair of UA’s history department, founded the magazine in 1986 along with founding editor Suzanne Wolfe, who worked on the magazine until 2001.
“Barnard’s goal was to expand scholarship to the public in a way that they would embrace it,” said Baker. “That’s been our goal ever since — our articles have a scholarly underpinning, but they also have narratives that will engage people.”
In the 25 years that have followed, Alabama Heritage has published hundreds of articles that seek to illuminate the full spectrum of the state’s history — even the events that may cast shadows on the state’s heritage.
“We’ve taken a broad view of ‘heritage’ by embracing our whole story and not simply focusing on what we can celebrate about ourselves,” Baker said. “The question, ‘Who are we as Alabamians?’ requires that we talk about Indian removal, slavery, racial strife and the Civil War, along with our celebrations of the innovation, bravery, talent and hard work that marks our past.”
Stories in the magazine embrace all aspects of history. For example, the most recent issue, published this summer, includes articles on Civil Rights martyr Jimmie Lee Jackson; a rediscovered site of a battle during the Creek War; and workers’ rights advocate Ola Delight Lloyd Smith Cook.
“We’re looking for anything that illuminates who we are or where we came from,” Baker said. “The stories can involve history or archaeology or anthropology, art or literature. History’s the word that’s most often used to describe it, but it embraces many different topics.”
Because Alabama Heritage seeks depth as well as breadth, the editors tend to draw from a pool of writers and scholars with deep backgrounds in their subjects.
“Our writers are people who have an expertise in whatever area we’re talking about,” Baker said.
“Their expertise either is something they’re developing on the side in their free time, or they’re scholars with a background in the fields of history, anthropology or archaeology. They’re people who can bring something new to the story — they can find the untold aspects of Alabama history.”
Because of the magazine, Alabama’s citizens are taking action to understand and preserve their heritage. The editors point to a 1988 article that focused on a German POW camp in Aliceville during World War II. The article inspired a reunion for the German soldiers incarcerated there, and Aliceville later established a museum to tell the story. When the story was reprinted, a descendant of one of the POWs revealed that he had a complete set of newspapers printed by the inmates at the camp — newspapers thought lost to history.
“Articles take on a life of their own after they’re published,” Baker said. “People pick up stuff and do things.”
Baker also mentioned a 2007 article about a mining town of Brookside and the Slovakian and other Eastern European miners who lived there. The town had fallen to rack and ruin, but the magazine article by Pam Jones inspired a clean-up effort.
“Brookside was a mining town that had an incredible history, but it had become derelict,” Baker said. “Kids were scavenging the graveyard and taking the skulls out. I had heard the story of that town because the ancestors of one of the regular contributors to the magazine had been among the town’s founders. It was an incredible town that had a Slovakian population. We were able to get the story told and published. People were inspired to clean up the cemetery. They put the site under protection, and they put up landmark signs.”
In recent years, Alabama Heritage added two columns as the editors worked with UA’s history department. The editors also work with The University of Alabama Press to cross-promote and nurture projects. As for the future, Alabama Heritage will continue to publish and present its archived articles online.
“We are determined, while we are strong and healthy, to cultivate new technologies,” Baker said. “We want to be fully ready to survive digitally.”
For more information on the magazine, go to alabamaheritage.com.
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