“A Ph.D.’s Reverie: The Letters” is the second of three books by Charles Francis Guittard, a grandson of legendary Baylor professor Dr. Francis G. Guittard. “Frank” Guittard (1867-1950) was the founding chair of Baylor’s history department who served in that capacity from 1910 to 1948.
Thomas A. DeShong, a former Guittard History Fellow, served as co-editor of the soon-to-be published volume, referred to from this point on as simply “The Letters.” Charles Guittard hopes that DeShong will also serve as a co-editor of a future third work, to be titled “A Ph.D.’s Journey: The Life & Times of Frank Guittard.” The current book, “The Letters,” represents the first published work DeShong has edited.
What follows is an interview of Thomas DeShong done by Randy Fiedler. In the first part of interview, we explore DeShong’s background, training and work at The Texas Collection. The second part of the interview is devoted primarily to DeShong’s work as co-editor of “The Letters.”
————————————RF: Mr. DeShong, what sparked your interest in history?
TAD: Since I was a youngster, I have been interested in history. I think what draws me to the subject is the element of story — the human element. Stories of the past have so much to teach us about our own lives, what makes us “human,” and our place in the world. Growing up, I was drawn to naval history though I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and have only been to the ocean a few times in my life. History allows us to step into the lives of others and experience novelty. As I grew older, my tastes changed. I still like reading military history, but I also enjoy American religious history.
RF: I understand that your first connection with Frank Guittard’s family letters was processing the Guittard papers at The Texas Collection at Baylor. How did you end up being involved in that project?
TAD: In 2013, Jonathan Riddle, a former Guittard Fellow and a graduate intern at The Texas Collection, had begun processing the Francis Gevrier Guittard papers. It was a fairly large collection, so by the time Jonathan had almost finished the project, he was set to graduate. I volunteered to finish the processing of the collection not only as a favor to Jonathan, who was a friend of mine, but as a silent thank you to the Guittard family and their generosity towards me. I completed the physical preservation of the documents and drafted the finding aid utilizing notes Jonathan had left for me.
RF: How did you learn to be an editor? Did you read books or take courses?
TAD: I never read books or took courses on editing, and I do not consider myself a professional editor by any means. However, writing has always been one of my strengths. I have never been one to enjoy public speaking, but with the written word, I find it easier to express myself. I was fairly well-read as an adolescent and expanded my vocabulary in that way. Also, as anyone in my family could attest, I always had a pencil and paper in hand for writing down thoughts, taking notes or making lists. My writing improved in large part due to my history degrees at Messiah College and Baylor University. For those who do not know, history is a rather writing-intense discipline. That being said, I believe that anyone’s writing can always be improved. Throughout my schooling, I almost never handed in the first draft of a writing assignment. There is always something that can be improved whether that be word choice, sentence structure, transitions, etcetera.
RF: Did you have any role with respect to the first edition of the book “A Ph.D.’s Reverie” — the predecessor to “The Letters” that was basically an illustrated poem with notes?
TAD: My involvement in the first edition of “A Ph.D.’s Reverie” was limited. Charles bounced some ideas off of me and asked me to read over the poem, but I was not nearly as involved in the project as I was for the second edition.
RF: Did you have to take special courses or training for any of your positions at The Texas Collection?
TAD: I worked at The Texas Collection a number of years — from 2011 to 2013, and then from 2016 to 2019 — and have held several positions, including graduate assistant, archival assistant, project archivist, and finally, library information specialist III. To work at a special collection, the staff and faculty come from a variety of different educational backgrounds including English, journalism, museum studies and history. A Master’s of Library and Information Science is typically recommended to advance in the field, but master’s degrees in related fields coupled with relevant experience also help. Like many jobs in academia, training workshops are available to keep one’s skills up-to-date and to remain cognizant of what is happening in the field.
RF: How did your job at The Texas Collection tie in with your interest in history?
TAD: As a staff member at The Texas Collection, I was surrounded by history every day. A large part of my job involved dealing with patrons and assisting them in their research. My fellow staff members and I pointed out potential resources, from both the archives and the library, that could prove useful to their studies. I was also responsible for managing The Texas Collection’s serials holdings for a time. By acquiring, processing and binding periodicals from Baylor University, Waco, McLennan County and the state at large, I played an active role in preserving history for future students and scholars.
RF: Let’s talk more in depth now about the work you did with Charles Guittard to edit the new book. Did Charles ask you to research anything initially for “The Letters?”
TAD: While the majority of my time on the project involved editing, I spent a few lunch hours helping Charles research. Using materials at The Texas Collection, I found photographs of former Baylor presidents and a panoramic of what the campus would have looked like in the early 1900s. I also answered the occasional question and did some fact-checking in relation to the evolution controversy of the 1920s and the potential relocation of Baylor University from Waco to Dallas, an idea that gained significant momentum in the late 1920s.
RF: What did your role as co-editor of the second edition of “A Ph.D.’s Reverie (The Letters)” entail?
TAD: I scanned a few images for the second edition, but most of my contributions to the project came from editing Charles’s drafts. Typically, Charles would send me his latest form of a particular section, whether that would be the preface, the letters with editor’s notes, the epilogue, etcetera. I would then — but with respect only to Charles’ commentary and not those of the letter writers — edit the work, making comments on grammar, word choice, transitions or even questions that I as a reader might have for the author. When I am editing, I never want to make the changes for someone. I always give the author the final say in whether to accept a suggestion or not. Once I had finished proofreading the document, I would send it back to Charles and wait for the next revised version.
RF: Would you like to edit other manuscripts from other authors going forward after you finish up with Charles’s manuscripts?
TAD: I am definitely open to the possibilities. I find great satisfaction in editing. I enjoy helping others to refine their work — to find ways to improve. I am not sure whether I will edit manuscripts in the future, but I am always willing to help out friends and colleagues who need a second set of eyes.
RF: You started helping Charles with research years before your work as co-editor of The Letters. How did you happen to start helping him originally with research for a book?
TAD: I first started working with Charles back in 2012 and 2013. It is quite a long story looking back on it. He was looking for some assistance with research at The Texas Collection, and I believe he lived in Houston at the time. I took the project on as a side job to earn enough money to buy an engagement ring for my future wife, Rachel. As a recent graduate of Baylor’s history program, I was well-versed in research methods and what sources were available at The Texas Collection, particularly as I had recently helped Jonathan Riddle process Francis Guittard’s personal papers. Charles and I maintained email contact over the next few years, even after my wife and I moved to Wyoming. I would receive the occasional email from Charles if he had an idea to share or an update on the book project. In 2016, Rachel and I returned to Waco. After briefly helping him with the first edition of “A Ph.D.’s Reverie,” I became much more involved in editing the second edition.
RF: What about Frank Guittard’s life has been interesting to you?
TAD: There are so many aspects of Frank Guittard’s life that I find interesting. As I have told Charles on a number of occasions, Frank is somewhat of an “everyman.” Elements of the American dream abound in his life story. He rises up from poverty, pursues an education to better himself, and tries to change the world around him. He strives to teach his family, especially his children, the lessons he has learned and the mistakes he has made. And lest we forget, Frank and I share a deep appreciation for history and the important role it plays in American society. Yet, at the same time, Frank’s story, just like everyone’s, is unique. How many of us have been sent away from our families out of economic necessity? How many people have earned their doctorates beyond the age of 60?
RF: I understand you have a challenging new position with the W.R. Poage Legislative Library at Baylor, and are no longer with The Texas Collection.
TAD: Yes, I was offered the position of processing archivist in April 2019.
RF: How do you like your new position?
TAD: It has been a blast thus far. My director and fellow staff members are very supportive. While processing Congressional collections can be a bit challenging and daunting at times, I am excited to see what the future holds. Naturally, I miss my time at The Texas Collection. I learned a lot from the faculty and staff there, particularly pertaining to the fields of archives and library science. But I find solace in that I am just a few minutes’ walk from Carroll Library.