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Historian Replacing Data Lost When Home Burned

October 21, 1985|KATHLEEN COOLEY | Times Staff Writer

His work and his search to replace the reams of historical documents that were lost in the Normal Heights fire have saved Prof. Abraham P. Nasatir's sanity, he says.

More than three months have passed since the blaze roared up the canyon and consumed the North Mountain View Drive home, where Nasatir and his wife, Ida, lived for more than 33 years, along with the estimated half-million historical documents that Nasatir has collected since 1924.

Considered a leading U.S. historical researcher and expert on California and Mississippi Valley history, the 80-year-old Nasatir said he knows that many of those documents and letters from French, Spanish and British archives--which he hand-copied and translated himself--will never be replaced.

Fortunately, not all was lost in the blaze, he said. The edited version of a book he had been working on for 12 years with Mesa College Prof. Gary Monell will probably be salvaged, he said, thanks to a computer print-out of an earlier version.

"Just about four years of work on the project gone to hell," he said of the book, titled "British in California: Calender of Material Relating to California in the British Archives," a reference book designed for scholars and historical researchers.

"But I'm back to work on it, thank God," he said. "The work has saved my sanity."

A professor emeritus of history at San Diego State University, Nasatir was honored Saturday at the university where he taught history for 50 years.

About 300 former students and friends attended the function where university officials announced they were endowing a professorship in modern Jewish history in his name. The professor, when hired, will teach at SDSU's Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies.

"I was rather surprised, totally surprised," he said of the endowment.

On Saturday, while Nasatir was enjoying the homecoming with former students, some of whom graduated in 1931 from what was then the State Teachers College, he was busy asking them whether anyone had saved copies of documents from his private collection, which Nasatir had given them for a thesis or dissertation.

"I saw a lot people I've lost contact with," he said. "And, yes many of them said they had copies they had made from my collection.

"We're not going to rebuild the whole thing," Nasatir said of his private library that went up in smoke. "You can't replace everything."

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