A University of Southern Mississippi associate professor of history whose areas of expertise include the history of religion in Medieval Europe has been chosen by the Mississippi Humanities Council for its 2008 Humanities Teacher Award.
Dr. Phyllis Jestice, chair of the Southern Miss Department of History, will receive the award at the MHC Awards Dinner Feb. 27, at which time she will also receive a $500 honorarium. As part of the award, Jestice will give a public lecture on a humanities topic related to her discipline.
“It (award) is a wonderful validation of a department that prides itself on its teaching,” she said. “History has a great reputation for producing good teachers, and we put a lot of effort into teaching.
“Of course, I have an advantage in that I teach the particularly old stuff since I’m a medievalist, and students tend to find that material exotic. And I love it myself. Yes, I think my passion translates into the classroom; I get that on student evaluations all the time.”
Jestice will examine the impact of the crusades on today’s Middle East for her public lecture Nov. 20, titled “Crusades and the Middle East: The Use and Abuse of History” at 5:30 p.m. in Liberal Arts Building’s Gonzales Auditorium, Room 108. The lecture will also reflect her study of the growing popularity of pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 11th century, considering its implications for the concept of "Christendom" in Western Europe and its role as a forerunner of the crusade movement.
She contends that the historical facts concerning the impact of the crusades have been manipulated to show the Islamic civilization as an underdog going against a superior European enemy, when she says the reverse is the case.
“It’s a modern myth created to show Islam as being pushed down by Europeans bullies, but Islam was one of two dominant civilizations along with China at that time, and it’s a basic fact of history that they won the crusades conflict,” she said.
Senior Tyler Meador, a Southern Miss history major from Bogue Chitto, says Jestice has a talent for bringing history to life in the classroom. “She presents the material in a way that makes you feel as if you were there during that particular time in history,” he said.
Jestice's scholarly publications and research include her most recent book, “The Timeline of Medieval Warfare.” She has also produced a monograph, “Wayward Monks and the Religious Revolution of the Eleventh Century,” an “Encyclopedia of Irish Spirituality” and several articles on topics in the religious history of Europe. Her work has also broadened to embrace comparative religious history, most notable in editing a three-volume encyclopedia, “Holy People of the World: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia.”
She also translates from both German and French, and has published translations of Whalen Lai and Michael von Brück's “Christianity and Buddhism,” Gerd Althoff's “Otto III,” Nikolas Jaspert’s “The Crusades” and one on the modern martyr Pierre Claverie.
Teaching interests have also led Jestice not only to introduce a course on premodern warfare, complete with a catapult-building contest, but to write the chapters on naval warfare for “Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World” and “Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World.”
Jestice’s colleague, veteran history professor Dr. William K. Scarborough, said the recognition from the MHC is well-deserved. “She’s an excellent teacher who still finds time, despite her administrative duties, to turn out a lot of scholarly research,” he said. “I have nothing but the highest praise for her.”
Dr. Phyllis Jestice
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.