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Days Gone By: A Look Into Our Past
1997, Jan-Feb (September 19, 2008)
By Michael Andrew Uhl, Vice President, Carolina Chapter, STC

The venerable Larry Kunz recently dug into the Chapter archives for old documents, including some of the correspondence among Chapter leaders, for the current Chapter leaders to examine. For those who don.t know, Larry is a former Chapter president and Region 2 director-sponsor. Atypically of current leaders, he bridges both the modern world of technical communication and its older paradigm ("the typewriter epoch"), though I must quickly point out that this in no way implies he once roamed the earth with Neanderthals.

I hope to lead an effort to document our Chapter.s history. Larry has promised to help me interview folks who helped form the Carolina Chapter. From them we can build the foundation of that history. I've begun my effort by looking at some correspondence between Chapter leaders during the 1970s and 1980s. I'd like to share some of my immediate impressions.

With the advent of the PC and desktop publishing, technical communication exploded in growth and changed dramatically. The Carolina Chapter changed right along with these enhancements, if not, a bit faster. In 1987, STC had about 10,000 members. Now it has almost 20,000. Similarly, the Carolina Chapter has grown. I don.t have exact figures, but based on newsletters from the 1980s and 1990s, we.ve added well over a 100 members since the 1987-88 year.

The documents I have do not reveal much about the membership makeup, but I can distinguish a lot about our Chapter leaders. For example, the average age of current Chapter leaders is lower, by at least 10 years. We also have far fewer local university faculty acting as leaders or as speakers at programs.

For example, at the February 1985 meeting, Professor David J. Bolter, from the Department of Classics at UNC, spoke about his excellent book, Turing's Man. I know it was excellent because I had read it while a graduate student studying cognitive science. Also, Dr. Edmund P. Dandridge, Jr., then associate professor of English at NCSU, was an important Chapter leader.

Also, larger companies such as IBM, CP&L, and SAS constituted the Chapter. Now, many smaller firms do. Austin Farrel was an important Chapter leader in the late 1970s, when IBM dominated the Chapter. CP&L members led the Chapter in the mid 1980s, and SAS took over in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Corporate domination had the advantage of better sponsorship, but probably narrowed the Chapter's view of the profession as a whole.

NCSU began its Master of Science program in Technical Communication in the Fall of 1988. This was as good as any boundary marker between the technical communication epochs. It signaled the trend toward formalizing the profession, toward developing theories of technical communication, as opposed to flying by the seat of our pants. I.ll not judge the program now, but this new approach comes as the literary part of technical communication is receding. That is not to say that modern technical communicators don.t love words or great writing. However, the demands of new technologies on our time have de-emphasized the literary aspects of our work. In the archives, the transition from typewritten letters to e-mail, and the content therein, reveals this trend.

Other characteristics of the Chapter in the past include more meetings at peoples' homes, more programs on local university campuses, and closer cooperation with the Piedmont Chapter. Some things haven't changed much. The Chapter's December meeting has been a social event. For example, on December 8, 1982, the Chapter meeting was a party at Adelaide and Austin Farrell's house.

A key goal of writing this history is to recognize the achievements and hard work of our predecessors. While it is easy to remember Austin Farrell and Dr. Dandridge, many others have faded into anonymity. Pat Poppleton Silva, our treasurer last year, was a chapter leader as early as 1984. I had no idea she was a longtime leader until I looked back through the archives. I regret that she has elected to pursue other interests and is no longer an STC member.

If you are a longtime Carolina Chapter member or know someone who is, please let them know that Larry and I are working on a Chapter history. Please call me at 919-541-4283 or send e-mail to mikeuhl at mindspring dot com. End of article.

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