The last time I was asked to write about how I spent my summer was in middle school. I wrote about the friends I made at summer camp, canoe trips, and spending time at my parents’ country home. This summer, I also hope to spend time with friends, visit my parents’ country home, and do some kayaking on the Huron River. But I also have to evaluate tenure portfolios, advise graduate students, lead a summer workshop, run a Judaic Studies Center, and write a book. Did I mention the kids?
So, like many of you, I find it maddening when friends and family assume I’m on summer vacation just because I’m not teaching. I have to admit, though, that it doesn’t help my case when I decide to blow off work on a gorgeous Wednesday and go for a bike ride instead. I generally try to keep to a 9-5 (ish) weekday work schedule, but I do deviate from it to take advantage of a nice day. When I do, I try to make up for the lost time by working through a Sunday or into an evening when I don’t have much else to do. There are two dangers of having such a flexible schedule: one is that I don’t get any work done; the other is that I waste away the summer sitting in front of a computer. I am equally capable of falling into both traps.
For many years, I spent much of my summers travelling. I would work in archives or libraries in Russia and Israel, or do oral history and linguistic fieldwork in Ukraine. For the last two summers, though, I have mostly stayed put. I have tens of thousands of pages of archival materials in electronic copies on my laptop. Thanks to international agreements that have facilitated archival duplication, I can do research in provincial Ukrainian archives while sitting with the dog on my back deck in Ann Arbor. I don’t even need to make a run to campus to check a fact, since so much of the university’s library collections are available through Hathitrust or Google Books. When I notice a document is missing on my hard drive, I can even instantaneously Facebook Message the research assistant I am working with in Ukraine. Hours later a PDF pops up on my screen with the missing evidence.
But when I open Facebook, I also see pictures of friends and colleagues on the beaches of Tel Aviv, the bridges of Budapest, and the canals of St. Petersburg. I momentarily regret that I am here sitting in the offices of Ann Arbor. Technological advances that let me do so much work from my own office or even from my back porch have probably helped make my summers more productive and have left more time for visiting family, or enjoying the fresh air of a Michigan summer. Still, I sometimes miss the stale air and musty smells of the basement archives and stately libraries in which I used to summer.
Jeffrey Veidlinger is Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies and Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.