In this week's edition, we speak with Derrick E. White, a visiting associate professor of African and African American Studies and History at Dartmouth College. White’s research focuses on modern black history and sports history. In his most recent book, Blood, Sweat, & Tears : Jake Gaither, Florida A&M, and the History of Black College Football he explores the legacy of black college football, taking as its central figure one of the most successful coaches in its history, Jake Gaither.
What is your book about?
History & African and African American Studies
Where did you get your ideas for this book?
My book is about the development and greatness of football programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?
My research consists primarily archival research and the examination of historical newspapers. I could not live without the digitization of black newspapers.
What do you think the library of the future will look like?
The core of my research involves reading large amounts of historical documents. For my book, I read thousands upon thousands of pages of government and non-government documents at various archives and pieced them together to formulate a larger historical narrative and argument. While historians used to take notes or make copies at the archives, now our research is more digital; we take photographs of the documents and time at the archives is often a mad dash to gather as much material as possible. I then convert the photographs to PDF’s, read them and take notes—this is the most generative portion of my research process and it’s where I get my main ideas and develop my arguments. I have a very set system for how I do my writing. I read through my notes and compose a massive outline (often over 100 pages) for each book chapter that includes every piece of evidence or quote that I plan to use. For my first draft, I write up the outline—I find a blank page very intimidating and knowing that I have the outline to work from is extremely helpful for me—and then I edit, edit, edit, and edit more. So I suppose a camera is perhaps the most useful tool, though my archival trips are also fueled by a prodigious amount of coffee and I rely heavily on my cats’ company while writing.
What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?
Every writer must have a soundtrack.
And finally, what do you read for fun?
I read mysteries for fun. Books by Harlan Coben, David Baldacci, and Barry Eisler provide a respite from my research areas in African American and sports history. These authors are masters at setting scenes, character development, and pace.