I turned in a rough draft of my thesis to my adviser last night (yay!). Now, I’m incredibly proud of all of the work that I’ve done this past year. And I’ve learned a lot about Wendell Smith and Jackie Robinson during the course of my research. But I’m not kidding myself that anything about my research is ground-breaking. Maybe someday I’ll dig into the Wendell Smith and Jackie Robinson archives and write a book about it. But all of my thesis research was done using books, articles, and digital archives. And, unless inspiration strikes me in the next couple of weeks, I probably won’t be blazing any new trails with my insights. And I’m ok with that. Really. I am.
It’s a master’s thesis, not a doctoral dissertation. The expectation is that you will be standing on the backs of giants.
My friend Vicki ? Her master’s thesis actually was fairly ground-breaking. Two years later and I’m still ridiculously proud of her.
Anyways, I was talking to a coworker today about computer backup strategies (this isn’t a boring computer story, I promise!) and I realized that I have made a contribution to the historical record. And it was with my computer skills, not because I found some groundbreaking document in a file box somewhere.
A long time ago, at a job far, far away. I did desktop support at a university. One of my responsibilities was to support the laptop of a Very Important Academic (VIA). Now, the thing that you need to know about universities is that the vast majority of tenure track faculty members think that they are The. Most. Important Person EVER. And very few of them really are.
Adjunct faculty? They tend to be stacked five to an office and forced to share one Windows 98 PC while making two thousand bucks a semester. Adjuncts are happy when you smile at them and give them a new computer mouse that isn’t covered in black mold like the rest of their office. The fear of ending up as an adjunct somewhere is pretty much the entire reason that I don’t want a PhD.
Anyways, I did computer support for VIA. And VIA actually was important. Very. He had a health scare and it was reported on by major news outlets. I’ve heard through the grapevine that the university archives group is now responsible for backing up his computer, because they don’t want to lose any of his documents, emails, etc. Unlike the people who would go crazy if you couldn’t recover an excel spreadsheet that they never bothered to save in the first place, this guy’s documents really are that important.
Because he was a) very important and 2) very aware of the fact that he was very important, I was always cautious when working on his computer. So, when he had an issue that necessitated completely erasing everything from his computer, I decided to tread carefully. I copied all of his files to a temporary share, but I also used a computer program called Ghost to take a complete backup of his laptop. Using the files that Ghost created, I could recreate the state of his computer exactly the way it was when I made the backup. The work I did on his laptop went fine, but I kept the Ghost files, just in case.
Fast forward a month or so, and we have done some reshuffling in our department. I am no longer supporting VIA, he is now another coworker’s problem. And coworker does something stupid. Like, really stupid. Like, so epically stupid I almost can’t believe someone who would do something that stupid consistently remembers to breathe in oxygen and then breathe out carbon dioxide.
Coworker deletes a large computer file without double checking what that file actually was.
Guess what? Coworker just deleted years of VIA’s archived emails. We could talk about why there wasn’t a backup of VIA’s emails kept on a network share somewhere, but I’ll summarize it as: University Politics. And the fact that someone thought that VIA could be responsible for backing up his own documents folder.
(That someone was definitely not me).
Coworker then tells everybody who will listen that it is my fault that VIA’s emails are gone. Why? I chose to put the file that coworker deleted in VIA’s documents folder. Why did I put this file in VIA’s documents folder? I was assured that the documents folder was being backed up properly. It… was not. But coworker just assumed that the large file in VIA’s documents had to be a duplicate of some other file somewhere. But he never bothered to double check. He went ahead and deleted it.
While coworker was cursing my name and telling everyone that his mental deficiencies were all my fault, I was retrieving the backup that I had taken of VIA’s laptop. I hand the backup to coworker and say, “Here are all of VIA’s files from a month ago. It might not be everything, but it’s almost everything.” Coworker looks me straight in the eye and says, “Why would you backup all of his files like that? And why would you keep them?”
Dude, you just deleted years worth of important emails. And then you told everyone it was my fault. And then I fixed your mistake as best I could. And you want to know why I would keep a backup of very important documents?
Seriously, do you occasionally breathe in oxygen and then hold onto it in your lungs for a while until someone pokes you in the ribs to remind you to breathe out again?
Long story short, the vast majority of the emails were right there, where I said they would be. And the campus archivist took over backing up VIA’s documents, so this will hopefully never happen again. Coworker never thanked me. Because, of course .
So, future historians. If you go digging through VIA’s archived emails and you find just the right quote to tie your doctoral dissertation together?