Dr. Joel Shrock has been at AU since 2005, beginning as an assistant professor of history before being promoted to full-time professor in 2012. At AU, he leads courses in modern U.S. and Middle Eastern history. Since 2014, Shrock has been the dean over the School of Humanities and Behavioral Science and, since 2016, he has served as the associate provost. Shrock is a published author—in 2004, he wrote “The Gilded Age: American Popular Culture through History”—with another manuscript underway. He has also written multiple academic articles about rape in silent film, the Vietnam Antiwar Movement and print culture.
What first brought you to AU in 2005 and why have you remained?
I taught at a number of colleges and universities, but I knew I wanted to find a Christian liberal arts institution. I was living in Muncie and working at Ball State University Honors College all set to do a national job search. Fortunately, this position opened and I was hired. I was looking for a place just like AU without knowing AU well. It has been a wonderful fit.
What motivates you every morning to come to AU?
I love academia. I love my subject. I love the people I work with. I love working with students. Look at what we get to do. It is awesome.
How can AU students relate to your 2004 book, “The Gilded Age: American Popular Culture through History”?
“The Gilded Age” looks at popular culture and explores many topics students would find interesting, including youth culture, advertising, food, fashion, leisure and the arts. For example, two of the great family acting dynasties in the Gilded Age were the Drews and Barrymores. Eventually, the families intertwined when Georgina Drew married Maurice Barrymore. The current actress Drew Barrymore is the great granddaughter of Georgina Drew and Maurice Barrymore.
What should readers expect from the manuscript you are currently preparing?
Once I find the time to complete the work, it is a study that explores the boyhood and violence in Gilded Age fiction.
Why are you a professor of history?
I always loved the study of history and when I realized I was talented enough to do it for a living I jumped at the chance. I have always liked the research and teaching aspects of the job.
What do you have to say about the notion, ‘History doesn’t make people; people make history’?
I would say don’t get caught up in arguing about pithy sayings. The reality of history is always complicated as historians try to reconstruct the past using evidence. Trained historians understand it is actually both, not either-or. Context determines the boundaries of people’s lives and responses. History does not exist separate from people.
What is it about modern Middle Eastern history that interests you enough to teach it at AU?
I guess I will ask a question back. How is it not interesting? It has been a compelling region for 5,000 years. The region was one of the early birthplaces of civilization, writing, complex societies and religion. From here sprang the three great Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It saw the rise and fall of great civilizations and has become the focal point of the global oil trade. How could I not be interested?
As the Middle East continues to be a place of controversy in U.S. foreign affairs, are there any historical signs of resilience for stability in the Middle East as it relates to American interests?
This is so difficult to answer. Here is what I know. Until the modern world moves on from fossil fuel dependence the region will continue to hold U.S. interest. The Carter Doctrine is still in effect and states that the U.S. will use military force to protect its interests in the Persian Gulf. Our economy is so dependent on petroleum that this is unlikely to change until either the oil reserves are diminished or the reliance on fossil fuels ends.
As to stability, that is very difficult to predict, and we would have to decide what stability means. Does this mean a stable situation that benefits the U.S. economy or a situation with strong, stable governments indifferent or hostile to U.S. interests? These are not necessarily the same. Also, the situation changes frequently and just changed recently as the U.S. abandoned a long-time ally. I see no future where U.S. interests are not threatened by Iran, Russia, Turkey, Syria or non-state actors like Hezbollah or the Islamic State.
What is it about modern U.S. history that interests you enough to teach it at AU?
Again, I love U.S. history and I find it intrinsically interesting. How did we get where we are? How were people like us in the past and how were they unlike us? What does it mean to be a just society? How has our society changed? These are all fascinating questions that I get to explore.
Is there something that history can teach AU students about how they should conduct themselves while in college?
History has lessons for everyone and can give us an appreciation of where we are and what this institution stands for. Let me give you an example. AU admitted students from its very inception regardless of race or sex. African American minister S.P. Dunn was a charter member of the board of trustees. Additionally, in 1927 the college hired Jamaican alumna Amy Lopez as a professor of English.
To provide some context for how rare this kind of move was, remember that the first public KKK cross-burning in Indiana occurred in Anderson in 1922. While large parts of our state and city were committed to racial prejudice and discrimination, Anderson College chose a different, Christian path. Go to the Department of English and you will see on the wall a photograph of Professor Amy Lopez. We all should continue to embrace the love that is exemplified by Jesus and was modeled to us by those who came before us in this good place.
Recently, a copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence was donated to AU. What is there to know about it?
Alumnus Everette Humphrey donated this document to AU. Humphrey is an amazing collector and has donated many artifacts to various departments on campus. He is donating the artifact in memory of Aubrey and Cilia Lydick, who were instrumental in helping Humphrey complete his education at Anderson College. The Declaration of Independence Humphrey has donated to AU is a special hand-engraved print put out by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Do you or AU have any plans to display the Declaration of Independence? And why would that be significant?
We will get the Declaration of Independence framed by the same Indianapolis company that framed all of the Warner Sallman paintings and we shall choose some significant location on campus where it will be displayed.
Could this copy of the Declaration of Independence offer any lessons to AU students when it’s on display?
I certainly hope that this amazing and beautiful copy of the Declaration of Independence reminds students of our nation’s values. How can these words not be inspiring: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”