Getting to know Prof. Jake Frederick

Kayla Wilson

Assistant Professor Jake Frederick led a somewhat unusual life before entering academia. While he now specializes in colonial Mexican history, his path to becoming a professor was unconventional, to say the least.The path, as described by Frederick, was “the long road of turning into my father.”

The son of novelist K.C. Frederick, he began his education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he received a degree in English after discovering that was where he had the most credits.

In the years between his bachelor’s and his master’s, however, Frederick worked a series of literally odd jobs: an ambulance worker in Boston, a staff writer for a newspaper where he earned “$12 a week,” in a factory where they made cake frosting tube tips, in a sporting goods store, a scuba repair shop, teaching kayaking, and “because I was an English major, I delivered pizzas.”

He was also a forest firefighter. “I never grew out of that thing little boys have,” he said. At one point during this stint he was sent to Mexico to fight fires because “there was so much smoke coming into Texas that the Texans complained to the U.S. government.”

After realizing that he “didn’t want to be 40 years old and still jumping out of helicopters,” he returned to school, this time for history, attending Penn State for his master’s and doctorate.

While at Penn State he was unsure of which historical avenue he would pursue, first considering “the history of science and technology from a military perspective.” His advisor specialized in colonial Mexico, and soon, so did Frederick.

“I knew I wanted to teach,” he said. “I was always in an instructor position in anything I was doing.”

Before coming to Lawrence, Frederick taught at Penn State and the University of North Florida. Having applied at both Lawrence and SUNY Fredonia, which “felt like a place that has gone past,” he took up his position in the Lawrence history department in 2006.

“The faculty made me feel welcome here,” he said of the interview process, adding that they seemed “happy to have me here.” In addition to his teaching duties, he is also the faculty advisor for VIVA.

Frederick describes teaching as “acting with information involved.” In the classroom, he is partial to the gory bits of history, priding himself on the fact that “no one leaves my class without knowing how to excise a human heart with an obsidian knife.”

Despite being a lot of fun, he is a self-described “stern and mean grader.”

“I do my damnedest,” he said.

He is currently at work on an article about the position of blacks in colonial Mexico, which he will deliver as a paper in Tulsa in two weeks.

Outside of the classroom, Frederick still enjoys outdoor pursuits. “As soon as I can buy myself a canoe, I will,” he said. He also enjoys fly fishing, which may partially explain why he loves the novel “A River Runs Through It.”

While he doesn’t always have the time to read, he is “always listening to a book on tape on my iPod.”

His current listen is “Rant: an Oral Biography of Buster Casey,” about a man whose weapon of choice is rabies. This fits into Frederick’s enjoyment of books about epidemic disease.
However, Frederick does make time to watch “The Simpsons,” and he also watches reruns of “the X-Files” and has just finished the series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

It comes as no surprise that he is a big horror-movie fan. “The best movie ever,” Frederick said, “is ‘Jaws.’ And that is not my opinion — that is a fact.