Letter from the Editors
Published December 21, 2012
The Appendix sprang from a simple idea: a lot of what makes the past fascinating, human, and relevant ends up on history’s cutting room floor. It has been said, after all, that only around one-tenth of historians’ research makes it into their published work. A tenth of newspapers read, books carried, archives explored, receipts tallied, journals skimmed, letters digested. A tenth of people’s lives sifted to make history manageable and ready for publication. It’s a potent and necessary tenth, but still: a small share of the past, only a fraction of which will ever reach the wider public.
The Appendix provides a home for the other nine-tenths. Many of our subjects won't have Wikipedia entries, let alone doorstop-sized biographies of their lives. Instead, The Appendix's historians, writers and artists deliver vivid discoveries from the archives—tragic, absurd, and inspiring stories that challenge what we think we know about the past and present. Over its lifetime, this journal will swell with forbidden love letters and forgotten prophecies; historical essays and first-person narratives of archival discovery; the marginalia of bored sailors; fiction, comics, and poetry that test the boundary between past and present; and photographs of someone else’s grandparents.
A journal is only as good as the readers who enjoy it, though. We designed The Appendix with a broad audience in mind: readers of good popular history, educators looking to engage their students, historians interested in experimentation, and anyone who would like to join us in exploring the stranger corners of the past. In other words: you.
These goals have structured our presentation. On the web, rather than burying our sources in footnotes or endnotes, we incorporate authorial asides, primary source citations, extended quotations and images, maps and other media files as supernotes—icons that open up new hallways of inquiry. (If you’re reading this online, there are two to the right of this paragraph. Click the first, and you can learn how to enjoy The Appendix offline. Click the second, and you’ll see an illustration that we toyed with using for this issue.) This is a bespoke format created specifically for The Appendix that allows our readers either to engage directly with the armature that undergirds history—the original sources, the questions and digressions, the appendix-worthy material—or to ignore it entirely. The Appendix’s storytelling should be good enough to stand on its own, just as a powerful primary source can speak for itself.
For our first issue, we wanted to find a theme worthy of this new format. ‘Beginnings’ was one self-conscious option that didn’t pan out. Beginnings are hard to identify and often misleading. The Appendix, for example, might have started with a conversation at a bar in Austin, Texas in early 2009; or it might have begun in July of 2012, when our editors finally got to work. To choose one is arbitrary and emphasizes either inspiration at the expense of effort or effort at the expense of inspiration. It also celebrates the winner, the ‘first,’ at the expense of the lost: a romantic search for origins that walls off the forking paths so many of us have disappeared down.
Endings, however, are as inclusive as they are inconclusive: we can all expect a final moment in this physical world, even as we argue over whether or not there’s anything beyond it. Our bodies die but our bones endure. Our friends live but their minds, their old selves, disappear. Empires fall, but people move on. We can all agree upon the existence of ‘ends,’ but their arrival is endlessly debatable.
We decided to make our first issue’s theme ‘The End?’ and release it on December 21, 2012—the moment when the Maya calendar turns over—to turn the question over to you. Today, and every day, is the Beginning of the End, the End of the Beginning, or something else altogether.
We begin with a nineteenth-century prediction of continental destruction that remains unfulfilled. One of our editors writes about a manila envelope filled with the effects of a plane crash’s dead, rescued from the Amazon. Virginia Garrard-Burnett argues that, in a sense, the Maya apocalypse may have already happened—and led to a massive conversion to Pentecostalism in Guatemala. Local historians conjure ghost towns. An eighteenth-century African prince dies—perhaps—from a cup of chamomile tea, and a British sea captain must drink ‘red water’ to absolve himself of guilt. We interview Adam Hochschild, the author of To End All Wars, to understand whether and how historians might speak for the dead. We explore superheroes whose corporate ownership prevents their death and atomic weapons that destroyed whole cities, then failed to destroy the world. Sixteenth-century Portuguese sailors survive a shipwreck and begin again, in the most human of ways: they bury the dead, and live to tell the tale.
We’re glad you’ve decided to help us listen.
Thank you for trying the The Appendix’s inaugural issue, something new in history. We hope you join us again, on April 1, 2013, when we present our second issue, “Illusions.”
Until then, we remain,
Your Appendix co-founders,