SAN DIEGO — His work and his search to replace the reams of historical documents that were lost in a Normal Heights fire have saved Prof.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 his North Mountain View Drive home, where Nasatir and his wife, Ida, had lived for more than 33 years, along with the estimated half a million historical documents that Nasatir has collected since 1924.
Considered a leading U.S. historical researcher and expert on California and Mississippi Valley history, Nasatir, 80, 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.
Book May Be Salvaged
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: Calendar 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 recently at the campus 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 San Diego State's Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies.
"I was rather surprised--totally surprised," he said of the endowment.
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 he had given them for thesis or dissertation research.
"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."