Dr. Bethany Walker teaches many different courses, but her specialty is Middle Eastern history and archaeology. She speaks Arabic and has studied or done research in countries including Egypt, Israel, Syria and Yemen. She has also been traveling to Jordan for more than 10 years to help direct two archaeological projects. Students have the opportunity to go with Dr. Walker as part of a summer class that gives them University credit while they get hands-on experience at a real archaeological site.
You are being profiled because students say you’re a great teacher. What do you think makes a teacher great?
You have to love your subject. If you pull that passion into the classroom, your enthusiasm gets passed on to your students. There’s lots of laughter in the classroom. I like that!
How do you make history come alive for your students?
I try to make things that happened a long time ago tie back to something happening today. For instance, I am teaching a class on the medieval Middle East and we’re talking about political events that happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago in a world that seems very different from our own. So I ask them questions to put them there: If you were a military leader, how would you have handled that situation? In that time period and community, what would have been the challenges for your family? In other words: Put them in the shoes of the people we’re talking about.
You take students to the Middle East to do research. Tell potential students about the sites they might visit.
I’ve got two archaeological projects in Jordan. One is a medieval site with a 14th-century castle; it’s called Tall Hisban. In the late 1990s we started excavating the castle’s storeroom — and it was intact! There was an earthquake that brought the ceiling down and preserved the room. When the army moved out they left everything behind. So we have pieces of weaponry, lamps, coins, shelves full of pottery — it is magnificent! It is one of the best collections of Jordanian military material from the high Middle Ages. I have a separate project in northern Jordan, in the lush green hills near the Sea of Galilee. It’s an archaeological environmental project, so we work with soil scientists, environmental scientists and anthropologists.
What happens to artifacts you or students discover? How are these objects used to teach Missouri State students?
The Jordanian government is generous in collaborating with foreign scholars. Everything technically belongs to the people of Jordan but many objects are given on loan to the scholars who excavated them. Anything museum-worthy, in perfect condition, generally stays in Jordan. We get to take other items home. As a result, I’ve got a really large collection of Jordanian antiquities here in Strong Hall. We’ve developed a curriculum around that collection so our students can be trained hands-on in archaeology with actual artifacts.
Do undergraduate students participate in the research?
All the time! Students may be involved in everything from the excavation of the objects in Jordan to studying objects once we bring them home and contributing to research that is published.
Some of your students may have never left the country before. What do you tell students worried about traveling?
Jordan is a very safe, stable country and a strong U.S. ally with secure borders. I have been working there since 1998 and have never had any problems. And it’s beneficial for students to form ties around the world: Americans may have many misconceptions about the Arab world and people in the Middle East may have many misconceptions about America, so it’s good for people to meet each other. We see none of us are stereotypes — we have a lot more in common than we may have believed. Researchers form ties that are kind of like family ties, especially if you’re going back year after year after year. Those kinds of relationships are beneficial for both nations involved.
Other than amazing research opportunities, why is Missouri State a great choice for students interested in history or archaeology?
One thing really special about the University is that students with lots of interests can make connections with different departments around campus, giving them a very rich educational experience. I have worked with students who are majoring in art, geology, geography, religious studies and more. Students who have the ability to draw, to take good photographs and make maps have all contributed to work I have published. Students aren’t restricted to just one area of study — they can see how many subjects relate to each other.