Dr. Joel Shrock is associate provost, Dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Science, and a history professor at AU. He is the published author of “The Gilded Age: American Popular Culture through History,” as well as various journal articles on topics such as violence in youth fiction and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement. He has served at AU since 2005.
Q: What aspect of history do you find most fascinating to research or to teach?
A: I have a lot of teaching interests, but I think what I love so much about it is that I just find it endlessly fascinating. The stories about our past just tell us so much about who we are now and how we’ve gotten here, and if we don’t understand how we’ve arrived then we are operating in a vacuum. We won’t understand the decisions we make right now and how they’ll affect the future.
Q: You recently went on a trip with President Pistole to China. What did you gain from that trip and what experiences did you have there?
A: The president is interested in attracting more international students to AU, and he is really focused on China. I am one of the experts on campus about the curriculum—particularly the liberal arts core curriculum—so I went with him on this trip because we were meeting with some high schools and some universities to try to make connections, and I was there to help talk about the curriculum. We had a good time there. China is just a fascinating place to visit. We were in Shanghai, which is really just a massive city. It’s bigger than Chicago and New York combined. Much of our time there was spent trying to figure out how to communicate with our taxi drivers to get where we needed to go and trying to find our way around this giant mega-city, and then trying to get back. I also talked the president into eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken. There’s no coleslaw and mashed potatoes there—just rice or salad as your side. I don’t have any current plans for another trip, but if the president asks me to go to China again, I certainly will.
Q: What led you to the position of associate provost and what are your responsibilities in that position?
A: As AU has reorganized and people have taken the retirement initiative and left, some of the responsibilities that were with the former vice president—a position that was eliminated—we had some administrative areas that needed leadership. The provost asked if I would take on some administrative units that were not academic. When I became associate provost—which occurred this past summer in July—I took on other administrative units that include Tri-S, assessment, summer school, education support services and the units that report to educational support services like the Kissinger Learning Center and disability support services. In addition to being an academic dean, I also have those administrative units that report to me as well. It’s a full plate, but we have very good department chairs and directors of those units, so they all run very efficiently. They just need me to bounce ideas off of, to evaluate them, to give them ideas and to communicate with the upper level administration like the provost and the president. I give them the support they need to run, and move obstacles to allow them to run efficiently.
Q: Are you working on any research or future publications right now?
A: I am working on an article right now about one of my research areas, violence in juvenile fiction—specifically gun and firearm use—in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It’s titled “Boys With Guns.” I’m almost ready to send it out—I just need to do some editing and then send it out to a journal for review, which should take six or seven months.
Q: What works have you published in the past and what was the writing and publishing process like?
A: I wrote a book titled “The Gilded Age,” which came out in 2004, and I just had a chapter come out in “Print Culture: Histories Beyond the Metropolis,” which was published in 2016. It is a long process [to publish a book], and it just depends on what topic you’re on. I have another book that I’m working on right now, which is an expansion of my analysis on violence in children’s fiction. It’s slow going—I became associate provost right when I was going to start working on some of the material. When you get a PhD, you’re really trained to write manuscripts, and all of your graduate training is focused on that, especially in the history field. Other academic professions are more focused on journal articles than books, but not ours. You come up with a premise, set the theoretical foundations and parameters of your argument, and then you research and start to write. Think of it as one big paper at a time. All you need are five or six chapters, 25 to 30 pages each, and then you need an introduction and conclusion and you’re done—that’s a book.
For an article on crossover reading in Muncie, a librarian found 11 years of library records for the Muncie Public Library from 1891 to 1902. The records were of everything anyone had checked out during that time. I have some friends at Ball State who got a grant to digitize it and put it in a searchable database. I was invited to be in the group of scholars that gave input. I started doing research on it almost immediately, and they had a conference about it on print culture and invited me. We then published all the findings in 2016. You can Google the database, What Middletown Read, and search it as much as you want.
Q: If you could pick one current global event that students should turn their attention to, what would it be?
A: I think one of the things that I always encourage students to focus on is the Middle East. It is an area that is at the crux of defining what the 21st Century will be. It’s at the heart of oil, and is incredibly unstable—we fought two wars there within the past 20 years. It is an area that is incredibly misunderstood in the United States. If you’re going to pay attention to things, pay attention to Syria, Iraq and Iran. What’s happening in Syria is a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions and we should be paying attention.