From Kerouac to the Crusades: Dr. Shockro’s Search for the Past – Fall 2015

By: Colleen Baxley and Emily Cardenas

Dr. Shockro was born and raised in Attleboro, MA. Growing up, as a non-committed folk music lover, she was attracted to the humanities, specifically English. Her love for Jack Kerouac inspired her to enter her first year at Brandeis University as a declared English major. It was not until she took a course on the Crusades that she realized that her time would be better spent studying history. A combination of great professors and enticing course work, including an imitation archaeological dig, helped Dr. Shockro find her home in searching for the past.  

Dr. Shockro, when asked about her college experience said, “ Don’t use my cliched phrasing, but I do feel like I found myself in college….” She immersed herself in the medieval world, taking up the task of learning Classical Latin, Medieval Latin, German and Greek. Feeling fully prepared for graduate life, Dr. Shockro began her Phd at Boston College where she did her dissertation on the writings of Bede, a Doctor of the Church and “Father of English History.” Her specific focus was on The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in which she attempted to understand the cultural context of the time period in order to understand the fullest possible meaning of the text rather than just the literal meaning. Speaking on the fact that today’s writings are filled with colloquialisms and overarching cultural understanding, Dr. Shockro sought out to find those same nuances in medieval works. The fact of the matter is that we do not fully understand a work’s full meaning because we were not part of the intended audience.  To prove that these things did exist within the text, Dr. Shockro went painstakingly through each line of the text to find these widely understood references of the time.

When asked on whom she would like to meet if she could go back in time, while she would love to meet Bede, she would also enjoy being with the common people of the medieval world, rather than the elites. As the writers of the time were usually wealthy or powerful meeting common people and seeing how it is that they lived their lives would be of more interest to the Medievalist. Claiming that she would like to spend her day in the past with those of the lower classes, she mentioned that having any drinks would likely be a bad idea as the beer was “foul”, along with the water, so she would opt for a meal or a snack over any beverages offered.

Sharing her knowledge of the distant past, prompted our interest in her more current research, where you can see Dr. Shockro’s lasting love for literature. Looking at biblical commentary and sermons along with other works, Dr. Shockro picked up on illusions of the medieval world which one would not understand today. This approach produces a more authentic and genuine picture of what authors intended for their audiences. Particularly looking at saints lives Dr. Shockro is again going line by line trying to find the full meaning of these texts. These sources express the severity of the afterlife in the medieval world by projecting the possibility of the most holy of men falling into the hands of evil, while those of less than perfect morality can find their way into God’s graces.

She has been working on a secondary project for the past six years where she has been examining “Abbreviated Salters,” which are works written by monks that explain the commonly interpreted meaning of the Book of Psalms. As Dr. Shockro explained, these books are, “…like the sparknotes of the Book of Psalms, the super abbreviated version. It’s like a line to make you remember it, because of course you’ve read it before….” In examining these “Abbreviated Salters,” Dr. Shockro discovered that one particular line in psalm 137:9 had been left out, distorted or replaced by another line. In said psalms, mothers are encouraged to “knock the sin” out of their children by smashing their heads against rocks. Obviously to be taken as a metaphor, Dr. Shockro described this line as being a suggestion for ridding oneself of sin early on in life. The question she then had was why was this line being replaced in the “Abbreviated Salters?” This process has taken six years because of the limited historical sources available.

On the topic of medieval sources Dr. Shockro admits to having a bias for histories written as stories, while still seeing the value in broad textbooks. She says that there is an opportunity for students to see the larger trends in history, in using these narratives, while also recognizing the struggles of the individual. Her favorite book to use in her courses is Peasant Fires by Richard M. Wunderli. Discovering the book through her teaching assistantship during her graduate studies, Dr. Shockro initially read the book to facilitate a discussion with an undergraduate class. She said that the book is an interesting description of post-plague Europe in which the individual’s perception of day to day life changed. Dr. Shockro said that Wunderli had scarce historical sources to tell the story of Hans, the main character, but was able to expertly produce a detailed account where one can, “…see all of these different forces at work between the church hierarchy, the popular piety… the government, visionaries, ideas about God being involved in the world, feeling God’s presence….”

Being the Medievalist of the History Department here at Merrimack College, Dr. Shockro has an obvious inclination towards the ancient and medieval subjects, but when asked which course is her favorite to teach she responded with the unexpected answer of Senior Seminar. The Senior Seminar for History majors is one with a requirement of intensive research and writing that, for many students, would seem almost torturous, and while it is something that is certainly a lot of work it is also very rewarding experience. Touching on the fact that one of the reasons that she enjoys being at Merrimack is that she truly enjoys getting to know her students because of the class sizes, when it comes to the Senior Seminar class, she is really able to watch students go from knowing nothing about a topic to, at the end of the two semesters, them being the expert in the room. The experience, she said, was a gratifying one and is looking forward to being able to teach it again soon.

Considering her love for teaching Senior Seminar, we asked Dr. Shockro if she had any advice for students pursuing history. To start, learn to read carefully. She said that once you know what you like, understanding content and critically reading for full interpretation is very important for someone wanting to study history. Secondly, write over the summer. Dr. Shockro claims that students just assume writing is a small feat but in reality they don’t realize what their research is missing unless they continually write and then rewrite. She says that one should not be afraid to delete portions of work and then continue on because, unfortunately, rejection is the standard. Dr. Shockro warns students that, “…being accepted is the exception so you have to want it so much that you don’t take rejection personally and understand it may not work out in the end but that it’s all good.”

Dr. Shockro spoke on the troubles undergraduate students often have in choosing a major saying there is a sort of pressure that this choice, “….kind of dictates the rest of your life. Because where you go, once you start building on that, you don’t go back.” Openly admitting that history was not her first choice, Dr. Shockro urges students to explore all of their interests to find the right fit for them. She expressed what truly enticed her about history:

I think the thing that gets me is it shows us that there are so many other possible worlds…that there are so many other ways you can live completely fulfilling lives in a world so totally unlike my own that is as rich and as full and as satisfying, yet totally different. There can be valid other ways to live and I think that sometimes is hard for us to imagine that there is anything other than this and the past shows us that there are so many other valid worlds that you can inhabit and find totally happy lives in….

This notion resonated with us seeing as we all, in some way, have had the same feelings about history. There is a passion that is evident in Dr. Shockro’s lectures that is infectious.  We truly saw the same compelling personality and joy outside of the classroom, while getting to know the person behind the lecture.


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