Turning the focus back to our KATH Member-in-the-Spotlight, this time we present 2013-14 KATH Board Member, Jake Gibbs, who represents Kentucky Community & Technical Colleges. (See past KATH Spotlight articles by clicking here.) Jake has been a Professor of History and Academic Ombud at Bluegrass Community & Technical College since 1988. His graduate degrees, both the MA and MLS are from UK, and his BA is from SUNY Brockport.
Fields of Interest: History of Books and Printing, History of Science, History of Socialism and Anarchism, Irish History.
Interest in history: In high school I never dreamed I’d end up in history. I was mostly interested in science and math. History was memorizing names and dates; easily done but uninspiring. At SUNY Brockport I started out in physics. I took a couple of history classes to fill a requirement and found it way different than high school. I took a few more classes and discovered some exceptional teachers: Kempes Schnell, Susan Stuard and John Kutolowski. While at Brockport I also developed an interest in philosophy and that became my second major. I went to graduate school without a clear idea of what area to study. After fumbling around a bit I found the history of science people, Bruce Eastwood, Eric Christianson and John Scarborough. It was a pretty good fit, bringing together my interests in history and philosophy with my physics training.
After history graduate school I went to the library school at UK for a Masters in Library Sciences (MLS). There I developed an interest in the history of books and printing. I’d always been interested in radical political movements and while working on the MLS discovered the rich tradition of the radical press.
Current Project: After a decade of work I’m nearing completion of a history/bibliography of the Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books. This series of inexpensive paperbacks was published from 1919-1978. It was designed for self-education for working people. The 2,300 titles cover reprints of great literature, socialist tracts, sex education, science and math works, and how-to books ranging from How to Build a Greenhouse to How to Conduct a Love Affair. The project has been great fun. I’ve examined collections of the books in 22 libraries ranging from Yale to Northridge State, CA and met fellow eccentrics around the country who collect the works of the Haldeman-Julius Company.
Book Recommendation: I read a lot of fiction and occasionally I come across good historical fiction. I think Kevin Baker’s novels about New York City are exceptional. My favorites are Paradise Alley which deals with the Irish Famine and the Draft Riots of 1863, and Dreamland, a story of Jewish immigrant workers that culminates in the Triangle Fire of 1911.
What do I value about the profession: I prefer the life of the mind to the life of the back. When I was young I thought I was destined to a life of manual labor. Teaching sure beats that, in my estimation. I get to talk about what I’ve been reading to a captive audience and the captives seem to have fun. I love to read and it’s wonderful to have a job that requires that I do lots of it and almost all it of my choosing.
Other passions: I am a passionate urbanite. I grew up in northeastern city with a rich ethnic experience. Now I live in a historic Lexington neighborhood. I have a car but rarely use it. I walk to work, the library, YMCA, the movie theater, and various restaurants and coffee shops.