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Rearview Mirror: Odds, Ends, and Starting New

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Where we debrief what’s to come for this nearly two year old series.

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The Insubordinate Seniors of 1901 on the Tech Tower steps.
Georgia Tech Archives/Georgia Tech Photograph Collection (https://history.library.gatech.edu/items/show/1114)

After a spell of senior design, the whole coronavirus situation, and some time to reset and think, it’s more than past time to come back to my favorite column, Rearview Mirror, and dive back into what makes Tech so special. This week, we talk some odds and ends before we jump back into the relentless arc of Tech’s historical narrative.

Post-Draft Note: Please bear with me as this history column takes a personal turn - this is, after all, a Tech website, not a Jake website - before we get back into discussing the history of Tech, as I think the anecdotes illustrate the points I’m trying to make pretty well.


I am putting in good practice for when I am a father with my prolific use of dad jokes, even as I find myself yet but a college senior. Coming with that turf, I am a frequent over-user of of the same tropes and humor. Perhaps my most frequent, at least among a crowd of current Tech third years, is bewilderment that the solar eclipse, the 2017 Tennessee-Georgia Tech football game, and that fall’s campus unrest all happened within a few short weeks of each other, and, for students of that age bracket, their first semester on campus. That was truly a time it felt like we were in the midst of living history. It was before the birth of this particular Tech history column - dare I say the only Tech history column - but it was pretty easy to feel like the events of that month were destined to be written down on some dusty book some day, to be pulled out by a professor or alum interested in reminiscing or learning about Tech’s olden days, or perhaps by my theoretical spiritual successor. Might I say it’s a rare find indeed to encounter kids on campus with opinions about the Cocking Affair, someone like Gen. Leonard Wood, or folks that were even aware of, let alone worked up about, the whole Heisman’s Grey Devils shenanigans of last fall.

Of course, all that inquisitiveness about the fall of 2017 kind of pales in light of our current scenario. One day, people will turn around and ask kids like me, at Tech and otherwise, in bewilderment, “all that happened during your senior year of college?” And we’ll all sigh, remembering the commencement we didn’t have, the handshakes from Institute presdients we didn’t get, or the Ramblin’ On we didn’t do, and say simple, “yup.”

Commencement at every school is a funny thing. For something that seems universal, each school, college, institute, academy, and university has its own quirks that go along with it. To give a personal example, my high school alma mater, for 149 years, graduated with the men in suits (traditionally black) and the women in dresses (traditionally white), with a red rose, which was mirrored by the junior highs in town, as well. Each class tied a ribbon around a positively ancient ax, and handed it on to the next class. It hurt to see my brother graduate as the first class in a cap and gown last year, but it was really hit home by a friend, who remarked that she was disappointed because she wanted to go out in a white dress like three generations of her family before her. While I can’t say I have that kind of tie to either Oak Park or Georgia Tech, it certainly feels empty to not walk across the stage in McCamish Pavilion - a place I’ve long jokingly call my “home away from home” in the winter months - to greet Dr. Ángel Cabrera, decked in a giant metal medallion of the school seal, chained around his neck by the initials of everyone who has proceeded him, just as every student, particularly every mechanical engineer, since 1888 has done before me. Even the Insubordinate Seniors of 1901 - infamous for skipping the first day of classes of the 1901 winter quarter, being suspended by noted disciplinarian Cpt. Lyman Hall and forced to come back for the fall quarter that year - still graduated, even if it was late. Current events are unprecedented, even if they aren’t wholly unfamiliar (see: 1890, 1918, 1957, etc.), and that has led us to our current situation. But, enough about current events. I am sure we’re all well and familiar with them now.

The reason this column has been spotty lately is due to a combination of factors. It amazes me I was able to put out three lengthy features per week in consecutive fall semesters, because this one, featuring senior design and the start of graduate classes - which, in the sake of closure on the above topic, at least alleviates the lack of formal graduation somewhat, at least in my fortunate case - has been brutal. It’s been incredibly hard to balance the weight of organization presidency, classwork, and doing the research necessary to make this column the product I crave it to be. It’s my favorite to write, and I’ve had spells where I write columns for the sake of writing them, rather than making them as thorough and deep-diving as I want them to be. That isn’t fun to do, and it’s not a good product. I also received some wise and rather humbling guidance from a professor this fall. When asked, point blank, what kind of research I’ve been doing on the topics at large, outside the specific interest of Tech history and sports, I really didn’t have a great answer for him. So I’ve been reading, trying to broaden my knowledge through historical analysis from historians in the area of interscholastic, amateur, college, and professional sports outside of Tech, filling in the gaps in my knowledge of American history - I long was interested in history “at large” but rarely went into things like society, specific places and people, etc. - and the history of the world. I’ll have some reading recommendations late, but, in as short as I can describe it, that’s why I’ve stepped away a bit, but I will add that there are several in the works for our typical content pattern. Though Rearview gets the least in gross viewership numbers - I look at those more than I care to admit - I get, proportionally, far more feedback and positive interactions from them, so those will continue, for sure. The most humbled I’ve ever been as a writer was logging in one day to check the comments section and seeing a user perma-quote taken from a Rearview. I aim to write things that people want to hold onto, not to put out 1,200ish words every Thursday at 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. To proceed from here, there’s really three things I have in mind to discuss:

  1. Rearview, regardless of weekly content, will be moving to the Monday 8:00 AM publishing slot previously filled by Yellow Jacket Roundup until college non-revenue and club sports exist again, since writing is a great Sabbath activity that really helps bridge the gap between rest and the week to come, and I always have a sizable block of time to make a quality product.
  2. I have my entire library of resources in one place for the first time since August of 2016, so look for perhaps more general sports and college history in this space, either to facilitate columns, or to provide separate backstory for events that unfold at Tech.
  3. There’s multiple “alternate” content options to explore, and, aside from regular columns, i would like to take looks at some current event-type content, specifically the development, funding, and construction of a garage/permanently viewable glass display for the Ramblin’ Reck in conjunction with the new Student Center project, since I think that is something that readers of this column in particular would enjoy, and adapting the fantastic suggestion in the comments that do a power rank/broad look at great sports, non-sports, wacky, etc. events in Tech history. Perhaps that will be for a Power Rankings article and not here, but, regardless, I see the suggestion, I love it, and I look forward to including it in some form or fashion around here.

It’s times like these that I think it’s plainly evident why history matters, and why it’s important to look back on the past for comfort, knowledge, and improvement. There’s a lot of opinions out there, and a lot of facts. It’s important to know one from the other, and remember that only in our own quests for learning and self-improvement can we stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us. This is not only why we study the history of sports and our Institute, but why we study engineering and the sciences, why we study communication and literature. The collective mental capacity of Georgia Tech, as it stands now, does not exist without the firm foundation it has been built upon, and the same applies to the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, and, indeed, the nation and the world. I encourage all of you to pursue and peruse the things that interest you and drive you, in a time you may find yourself at home with time to spare and uncertainty on how to spend it. And it is with that - the pursuit of put-off projects and the desire to do something productive - that I announce my current project:

Rearview Mirror: A Rambling Engineer’s History of Georgia Tech

I’m writing a book, and these columns serve as the base it is being built upon. I’ve waited a long time to make this announcement - I think within three weeks of starting this column back in 2018 I knew that that was my long-term goal. It’s been a slow process since then - a lot of fits and starts and putting things on the back burner - but it’s time to let you all know. It may not be all that soon, but, some day, it will come. I think the draft is somewhere in the early 1960s, but, somewhat ironically, with the lack of comprehensive sourcing post-1985, it’s been getting slower and slower as the chronology rolls on. Fortunately, we’re in living history now, though, so hopefully personal sources will start to come in handy. Anyways thanks for reading this every week and thanks for the support. My goal was to be done with it by the time I graduated, but, well, class and health and work came first, but it’ll happen. It’s just a matter of when, not if.

With the spirit of research and broadening horizons on my mind and a full bookshelf on my left, here’s what’s been on the top of my pile the last couple months in terms of book recommendations:

Sports:

  • War Fever, Randy Roberts and John Smith
  • The League, John Eisenberg
  • City of Dreams, Jerald Podair
  • Scandals of ‘51, Charley Rosen
  • Friday Night Lights, H. G. Bissinger
  • Creating the Big Ten, Winton Solberg
  • Rising Tide, Randy Roberts and Ed Krzemienski

Tech:

  • Jackrabbit, Bill Chastain
  • Griffin, You Are a Great Disappointment to Me, George Griffin

American History:

  • Nature’s Metropolis, William Cronon

European History:

  • A Mighty Fortress, Stephen Ozment
  • Four Princes, John Julius Norwich
  • The Discovery of France, Graham Robb
  • Rites of Peace, Adam Zamoyski
  • The Enemy at the Gate, Andrew Wheatcroft

Literature:

  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Personal Development:

  • Leadership Fitness, Homer Rice

Anyways, that’s a pretty broad sample, but I’m happy to supply some more if so inclined. Thanks for sticking through a long one this week. We’ll be back next Monday with the next developments from Edwin Harrison and the Hill.

A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column.


If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading the latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.