Bert de Vries, Professor, History and
Director, Archeology minor
B.S., Physics and Engineering, Calvin College
B.Div., Calvin Theological Seminary
Ph.D. Mediterranean Studies, Brandeis University
Specialties: Near Eastern Languages and Literature. Thesis: “Style of Hittite Epic and Mythology”
Research and professional interests
Prof. de Vries’ history writing is informed by his specialization as an archaeological architect. He works on sites in the Near East and counts studies of rural towns, churches, forts, baths, and agricultural landscapes among his favorites. Current research focuses primarily on Umm el-Jimal, a Roman-to-Islamic era town in north Jordan (http://ummeljimal.org) and also on the agricultural ecology of the Palestinian Highlands.
To give broader meaning to these specific field projects, he engages in collaborative interpretation of significant “moments” in Near Eastern history from the Paleolithic to the present, involving twenty Norwegian, Palestinian, and American scholars based at the University of Bergen: “Global Moments in the Levant.” A major underlying motive in this research is the question, “How do local people live, cope, and find security in the face of external forces ranging from the powers of empire to the necessities of environment?” This question enables him to use the past to comment on the present with frequent short articles on conflict, peace, and reconciliation in places like Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Prof. de Vries likes to engage students by integrating this research into his courses and taking students out of the class room as research assistants and participants in field work.
Current major research activities focus on the publication and presentation of the results of the Umm el-Jimal Project, collected in numerous field seasons spanning several decades. This includes writing on the vestiges of pagan, Christian, and Islamic religion at the site. Both these results and the site itself will be presented using the latest innovative techniques in site presentation, both on the ground and virtual representation in electronic media.
To implement the latter, two multi-media documentation seasons are being conducted at Umm el-Jimal in Jordan (Jan. 2009 and Jan. 2010) in partnership with Open Hand Studios, a media consulting team, and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. These seasons also serve as a field school and overseas interim for Calvin students.
“Global Moments in the Levant” involves annual publication workshops at the University of Bergen in Norway (2005-2010). Besides numerous articles by participants, the result of this collaborative project will include the publication of two books, the first, summarizing the various individual and collaborative contributions, is in press, and the second, focusing on broad interpretations, was set up in May 2009. Other collaborative work has included annual fall workshops in Ramallah or Amman, hosted by Birzeit University (Ramallah), and focusing on study of landscape and society in the West Bank.
One research project, “The Lower Jordan River Basin,” was concluded in October 2008, and a new one, “Enabling Local Voices,” a study of the roles of women and gender in Palestinian society, is beginning October 2009. All these projects are funded by the Norway Research Council, and de Vries participates in them as an outgrowth of the Calvin College - Birzeit University Partnership for teaching and research he initiated in the late nineties.
A spinoff of these research activities is study of the role of archaeology in current events. This includes the recent writing of a book chapter, “Archaeology and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” In April 2009, Prof. de Vries participated in a conference “Archaeology, Politics and the Media” at Duke University, which focused on the legal issues surrounding the exploitation of archaeological sites and artifacts, especially places around Jerusalem.
Life outside of Calvin College
Prof. de Vries, a passionate peace activist, seeks and teaches alternatives to war in the Middle East, like a March 2009 “End the War” Teach-in in Grand Rapids. In April 2009 he helped organize No More Victims of West Michigan, dedicated to the medical treatment of children injured by the wars in Iraq and Gaza.
To get away, he gardens, hikes wilderness trails, reads fiction, and travels a lot. Recent favorite authors include Amin Maalouf (Leo Africanus), Salman Rushdie (The Enchantress of Florence), Nadime Gordimer (The Pickup), Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake), Jose Saramago (Blindness) and Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian). Besides trips to Norway and the Middle East for research, frequent destinations are the Guatemala highlands and southern Nevada to stay connected with children and grandchildren.
Prof. de Vries is director of the Archeology minor program.
He is active in the operation of ACOR, The American Center of Oriental Research, a research institute in Amman, Jordan, and regularly organizes sessions of scholarly presentations at the national meetings of ASOR, the American Schools of Oriental Research.
See a partial list of Bert de Vries' publications.
Involvement in global movements.
Calvin-Birzeit Partnership teaching and research.