Mame Warren is a self-proclaimed good listener, and for the past 10 months her attentive ears have been focused on everything Hopkins.
In June 1999, Warren took on the daunting task of assembling a pictorial book that would both chronicle and celebrate the university's 125-year history.
Warren had recently stewarded another tome of this type, for Washington and Lee University, which was celebrating its 250th year, and was eager to begin another academic project. A fortuitous call from someone she knows at Johns Hopkins University Press alerted her to the fact Hopkins had its own anniversary fast approaching. Warren said she jumped at the opening.
"I asked him, who is the right person to talk to, and he said, call Ross Jones. And that," Warren said with a grin, "was the best piece of advice I ever had."
Jones, vice president and secretary emeritus, is also chair of the 125th Anniversary Committee and was in the market for the services of someone like Warren. An agreement was quickly reached for her to edit the anniversary book, and the rest is, well, history.
The editor of seven other books, Warren has developed a niche for creating what she calls "visual and verbal portraits." In addition to Washington and Lee, she has edited pictorial histories of Baltimore, Annapolis and the state of Maryland.
She begins, soundly enough, by collecting images of the particular subject, scouring archives for those elusive photos that speak a thousand words. But what makes her books unique, Warren says, are the many oral histories she compiles on the very same subject. These oral histories come from interviews that Warren conducts in which she lets the interviewee do all the talking, with just a tiny bit of steering.
"In a sense, all the works I've done are picture books, but what I do is weave excerpts of these oral histories in with all the historical images," Warren said. "Basically, I let the place, or institution, speak for itself."
So what has Hopkins been telling her? Plenty.
Warren has two foot-high piles of oral history transcripts on her desk at Evergreen House, the product of 60 interviews with various university administrators, alumni and staff. Knowing she had to get the book to the printer by July 2000, Warren felt she had time for only 40 or so interviews. However, try as she did to trim down the list of 60 recommended interviewees, she realized that these were fascinating people she couldn't pass up.
"After I did my research on who these people were and what they have done, I said to myself, 'I think I really better talk to this person.' Warren said. "Actually, there were a lot of other people I would have loved to interview."
Although an oral history might be obtained from a mere 30-minute phone call, Warren said she has to go into each conversation armed with hours of research. She must know what they know.
Each person, she said, has his own assortment of anecdotes and yarns he likes to tell. Some of these stories have become so familiar through retelling, however, that they have become part of the university's collective consciousness.
"My job is to get more," Warren said. "To draw out the story behind the story. And I have found out, the more you let a person talk, the better it is."
What Warren is looking for is not information about people's jobs, but why Hopkins is important to them. Why are they here? Why have they stayed? And how has being at Hopkins made a difference in their lives?
Warren said she delighted in letting these people just spout and was regularly surprised by what they told her.
She recounts a half-hour discussion with Bert Vogelstein, professor of oncology and cancer biology at the School of Medicine, that was "just pure gold," and a three-hour interview with Professor Richard A. Macksey, the much-beloved and -respected teacher who helped to found the School of Arts and Sciences' Humanities Center.
"That was a tremendous honor, just to be there," Warren said.
A common word that came up in each interview, Warren said, was decentralization. However, she said, a major intent of the anniversary book is to chronicle all of Johns Hopkins, from the Applied Physics Laboratory to the Peabody Institute and from the hospital to the School of Engineering. "I tried to find all kinds of voices that will reflect the various aspects of each institution," she said.
But she looked for "interconnecting themes" that brought the university together. The format of the book does just that.
Early on, Warren came across the 1876 inaugural speech of Daniel Coit Gilman, the university's first president. She was astonished to read the words of a man who so clearly envisioned what has come to be.
"It's a remarkable document," Warren said. "It's not a stretch at all to take some of what he is saying and say, that is SAIS, this is APL, that is the School of Engineering. Very early on it became obvious to me this document would be a unifying factor for the whole thing. The whole idea of the book was really for the first time to look at Johns Hopkins as a whole, which apparently hasn't been done before."
In its 280 pages, the book will contain close to 400 images from throughout the years and also include a chronology.
Photos incorporate the dedication of Peabody in 1866, the infamous theft of the Maryland Terrapin before the 1947 Hopkins-University of Maryland lacrosse game, the first blue-baby operation and the initial operation to take place in the surgical amphitheater at the hospital.
Warren said many photos have never been seen before, and even the familiar images are on such a large, dramatic scale that people will be able to see details that they never knew were there.
"The book is full of incredible photos, each of which has a wonderful story to tell," Warren said, adding that some of the photos, she was exhilarated to discover, were taken by her own father, Marion Warren, a frequent contributor to Johns Hopkins Magazine.
Another magazine connection is the book's designer, Gerry Valerio, the periodical's former art director. Copy editor Jane McWilliams, who worked with Warren and Valerio on the Washington and Lee project, has assisted Warren's research effort.
Publication of the book is scheuled for October. When it is unveiled, Warren said, she thinks people will be able to open up a book that shows a very humanistic side to one of the country's greatest institutions.
"This book is a way of reminding people just how important this institution is to them. And how better do that then to have something sitting on their coffee table day and night that they can leaf through?" Warren said. "It is a book full of personal reminiscences, from people just like them."