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Q&A: Professor Emeritus Dr. Jack Fisher on "Preparing thee Soil for UC San Diego"

2022-09-fisher-book.pngWe often feature surgeon-scientists within the scope of this newsletter, but it's not every day we're able to feature a surgeon-historian-published author. Jack C. Fisher, MD, FACS, is the Edward A. Dickson Professor Emeritus of Surgery at UC San Diego and the author of a new book, "Preparing the Soil for UC San Diego: Land, Thoroughfares and Local Expectations." As Dr. Fisher notes in the book, the phrase ‘preparing the soil’ is taken from Army Corps of Engineers protocol for removing ordnance from military firing ranges prior to certifying sites for new construction -- which is exactly what happened on what is now the UC San Diego campus following World War II. 

This month's Q&A is a conversation with Dr. Fisher about his new book, which was published for the UC San Diego Emeriti Association and describes the political will and creative land use required to create UC San Diego in the wake of war – and on the brink of an exciting technological future. Mary Walshok, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Programs at UC San Diego, describes Dr. Fisher's book as "an invaluable resource for San Diegans wanting to understand their city’s contemporary economy as well as for urban leaders worldwide."

Q: Describe for us your special interest in history.
JF: I have always read far more history than fiction. I listened to historical works on tape as I drove between our teaching hospitals for 25 years. That is a lot of history. Then a campus colleague urged me to formalize my interest, so after retirement, I became a student again and earned an MA in U.S. Political and Economic History.

Q: What prompted you to write "Preparing the Soil for UC San Diego?"
JF: I explain in my ‘acknowledgments’ why existing histories of the campus get the land acquisition story wrong because authors didn’t have in hand the actual deeds, which I struggled to obtain following a solid year of effort. UC Regents must have feared that I might be some kind of Woodward or Bernstein trying to muckrake our campus’ development.

Q: What were the surprises that emerged from your research for this book?
They were the same as what surprises readers now: The enormous role San Diego played throughout World War II, with more than 50 military installations in our county alone. Also surprising is The major role Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) played in wartime research.  I knew something about our campus's heroes but nothing about its villain, one UC Regent determined to site the campus anywhere else but La Jolla. I also learned how San Diego leaders harbored very different ideas about what kind of new university the city deserved or needed.

Q: Why is it important for faculty and staff at UC San Diego to know about the history of UCSD?
JF: I would say 'inspiration' and 'pride.' No university in history has grown so fast with such a record of achievement as UC San Diego, Not just its founding component, SIO, but its campus science and humanities departments, and, of course, its fledgling medical school that has now expanded into a major medical (and surgical) center. It is a Success Story with capital letters.

Q: What are your fondest memories from your time with the UC San Diego Department of Surgery?
During medical school in Buffalo, NY, I could identify with academic surgery as a career. I was able achieve my goals fully here at UC San Diego. Of course, I recall the tens of thousands of patients over the course of several decades, but what I remember most fondly has been and continues to be the residents I helped train. Also important are the hundreds of medical students who were exposed to the breadth and depth of reconstructive surgery and what it can accomplish for the physically deformed.

Q: How is writing a history book similar to or different from performing surgery?
Surgery is applied biology, and it is based on evidence leading to principles. History is much the same: A narrative based on evidence that needs to be culled from sometimes very obscure sources. Until your question, I had never thought about this, but one similarity is that it took a lot of years (clinical and research) to prepare me for my teaching career. It also takes a lot of research to write a valid historical narrative. People think the research is the work of any history. But that is not so. Research is the fun of it,  and writing is the work. 

Let me add one more thought:  Every one of my years of career preparation were great fun; I wouldn't want to trade away any of them.