Looking Back

Two Ball State history professors take an interpretive look at student life, academics, alumni and administration.

This story originally appeared in the Saturday, Oct. 20 issue of the Ball State Daily News.

Ball State's history has remained untouched since Glen White's "Ball State Story" was written in 1967.

Now two professors are revisiting the past with "Ball State University: An Interpretive History."

As one of the major instigators of the project, Provost Warren Vander Hill felt the university needed a historical account that was not journalistic, like White's effort, and also not simply a compilation of dates and names.

What resulted is an interpretive account of the Ball State story written by Anthony Edmonds and Bruce Geelhoed, two of the university's prominent history professors.

The idea for the book began in the early '90s, when Vander Hill contacted Edmonds and Geelhoed and asked for their cooperation in the project. Vander Hill and the Alumni Association had been discussing the need for a new historical account of the university, since the last one had left over forty years of the university's story untapped.

In conjunction with the university's 75th anniversary in 1993, Edmonds and Geelhoed began preliminary research on a project that would take them eight years to complete.

According to Geelhoed, the authors tried to achieve balance in their work by dividing the history into sections that included academics, student life, administrative policy and a section devoted to Ball State alumni.

"We wanted those who read the book to understand that these four elements we included in the text are our interpretations of what we felt were important to the history of the university," Geelhoed said. "That's why we titled the piece 'An Interpretive History,' because it's in no way a comprehensive or definitive text."

Edmonds said that neither him or Geelhoed wanted their work to be another catalog of names.

"We wanted to create a work of serious history that put Ball State into a larger state, national and even international historical context," he said.

Both Geelhoed and Edmonds have published books in the past and Geelhoed said he began this project with the idea in mind that writing a historical account of the university would not be that big of a task.

Reality set in when both he and Edmonds began research for the story. The two authors spent hours of their time analyzing Ball State archives, interviewing over 100 individuals affiliated with the campus and handing out several hundred questionnaires for faculty and student response.

"We soon found ourselves flooded with information," Geelhoed said. "We questioned what we really wanted to focus on, and what we felt could be left out of the book."

The content Edmonds and Geelhoed chose for the book is divided chronologically into chapters that begin with the institution's early start to develop into a university in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"There was a twenty year period during which the university tried to give itself a name," Geelhoed said. "It wasn't until 1917, when the university's normal school efforts ended and the school became a university, that the real history of Ball State began."

Geelhoed said the second chapter of the book focuses on the '20s, a time period he feels is the single most important 10 year span in the history of Muncie.

"When you think about it, before that time there was really nothing here in Muncie," he said.

The development of the university under the Ball family, along with the construction of Ball Memorial Hospital in the later half of the decade, helped Muncie to become a leader in higher education and health services at the time.

The succeeding chapters of the text are divided into passages covering the hardships and adversity the university underwent during the Great Depression and World War II, followed by a section devoted to the era of John Emens' 1945-1968 presidency.

"The Emens' years were a very important time period for the university," Geelhoed said. "The '60s was a decade when Ball State emerged into its present form and the emphasis from a teacher's college to a complete university was made."

The remainder of the historical account focuses on a period of destabilization for the university -- in which Ball State has four presidents in six years -- followed by the 16-year long tenureship of President Emeritus John Worthen.

Vander Hill, who was involved in the editing of the book, said he found the information Edmonds and Geelhoed researched and included in the story interesting.

"I've had the chance to read it, and I think it's a fine book," he said. "It allows you to learn a lot about why Ball State is the way it is, and how it developed to become the institution it is today."

Former president John Worthen also has high praises for the newly released text.

"I think Tony and Bruce did an outstanding job on this book," he said. "It's an excellent interpretation of our school's history, and it was badly needed."

Edmonds said he hopes that those who read the book will view it in a broader historical context. Realistically, most of the book's readers will have some connection to Ball State, and we want them to know this institution better, he said.

The book, which cost $29.95, went on sale this week at the Ball State Bookstore, and will soon be available at Bracken Library for students to check out.

"I don't expect students to buy the book, because it does cost a lot of money, but I hope some will check it out of the library," Edmonds said. "After all, the students are a crucial part of the book itself, and I think reading it might help them understand themselves a little better."

Now that these two professors have written the history of the university, where do they see Ball State in the future?

"I think you can look at Ball State's history and say it's always been good, and that this university will continue to be a great place where students are given the chance to improve themselves."

Edmonds said he feels that the outlook for the university is a positive one.

"I think Ball State will continue to be successful, in part because of its emphasis on undergraduate teaching, but also in part because its students are getting better," he said. "I am certainly glad to be a part of it."


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