Professor brings passion for Middle East history, discovery to classroom
Assistant professor Kevin Jones' career encapsulates the power of discovery in the liberal arts.
As the Middle East expert in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences history department, Jones teaches a three-part survey on the region, a course on the Arab-Israel conflict and an Honors course on religion, nationalism and revolution. The combination reflects an ongoing scholarly journey that all began in Jones' earliest days of college.
Kevin M. Jones
Assistant Professor of History
- Franklin College of Arts and Sciences
- Ph.D., History, University of Michigan, 2013
- B.A., History, Wake Forest University, 2005
- At UGA: Three years
"My first day as an undergraduate student was Sept. 11, 2001," Jones said. "The Middle East was in the news, and as an undergraduate I took some classes to try and better understand it."
A philosophy major at Wake Forest University, Jones gravitated toward history as a second major before committing to the discipline as his primary academic focus.
"When I started taking courses on the Middle East, at first I was more interested in learning more about the history of Islam," Jones said. "But when the Iraq War began—I was a junior—I became more interested in the history of imperial encounters in the region. I wrote for the student newspaper and became more interested in Iraqi history, and now 20th-century Iraq has become my specialty."
After his doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, Jones completed a one-year fellowship at the George Washington University Institute for Middle East Studies. He has spent time living in Egypt and Yemen, experiences that can find their way into the classroom.
"It gives me some stories to share," Jones said. "When we talk about the Arab Spring uprisings for example, I was in Egypt until about six months before the revolution. Students have a lot of interest in hearing what it was like, how unexpected it was.
"Attending house parties in Cairo six months prior to the revolution and hearing young people in their 20s lament that ‘a revolution could never happen here,' because people are too ambivalent or not invested enough in the political situation is a reminder that revolutions can happen quite unexpectedly," he also said.
Jones' expertise includes the first half of 20th-century Iraqi history, through 1963.
"It's little bit hard to find the right terminology to describe it because Iraq was an independent country but it was still very closely tied to Britain," Jones said. "Most Iraqis felt they were still living under colonialism, as they were living under a monarchy that had been put in place by the British Empire."
Jones finds that students are perhaps more open to thinking critically about historical episodes of colonialism.
"When we start by talking about what France did in Algeria, what the fascists did in Libya, students tend to have an easier time thinking about the disastrous impact of colonialism on the social fabric of the Middle East," he said.
Jones' knowledge of Arabic is a crucial part of his scholarship that adds currency to his teaching.
"Perhaps it is a holdover from my liberal arts education, but when I choose primary sources for the students, I really try hard to cast a wider net than certainly the Middle East history courses I took as an undergraduate," he said. "I'm less interested in reading state documents and treaties, and so I try to add selections from literature, poetry and memoirs, a varied body of sources so people see a variety of voices and perspectives."
For his book project on 20th-century Iraqi history, Jones integrates his own translations into the historical archive informing his book.
"Part of the work is on poetry and the history of poets in social interaction with dissidents, so it will include a social and cultural history of poets and the interactions in society," he said.