Bert de Vries

Bert de Vries


  • 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”


Professor de Vries retired from teaching in the History Department in May 2013. He will continue to administer the Archeology minor program at Calvin, teach archaeology, and direct the fieldwork and publication of the Umm el-Jimal Project during his retirement. 

Bert de Vries, a passionate peace activist, seeks and teaches alternatives to war in the Middle East. In April 2009 he helped organize Healing Children of Conflict 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 Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book), Michael Chabon (Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), Erin Morgenstern (Night Circus), Margaret Atwood (Year of the Flood and Madd Addam), Michelle Orange (Running for Your Life) and Alexandra Fuller (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight). 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.

Academic interests

Bert de Vries’s 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 and also on the agricultural ecology of the Palestinian Highlands.

From 2013 to 2017 this combined process of site preservation and community development will continue, especially the cooperation with Al Hima to implement the work of Al Jawhara and to complete the design and construction of the Heritage Center. These activities will be enabled and expanded through the following new grant-funded programs:

  • Continuation of Preservation and Presentation of House XVII-XVIII at Umm el-Jimal, Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation (U. S. State Department), with field work to be completed in the spring of 2014. A volume documenting and analyzing the work on this building is in preparation.
  • Empowering rural women in Mafraq Governorate through the management and preservation of the Umm el-Jimal’s archeological site in Jordan as income-generating activities, a UNESCO, UN Women and Umm el-Jimal Project Partnership, 2013-2016. This project focuses on the enabling of an already existing Women’s Cooperative at Umm el-Jimal, whose members will be trained and enabled to work in heritage and antiquities alongside al Jawhara.
  • Urban Transformation in the Southern Levant, a collaborative project involving Geography, Archaeology and History Departments at Birzeit University in the West Bank and Bergen University in Norway; with major roles for both the Umm el-Jimal Project and its partner Open Hand Studios, 2014-2017, NORHED (Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development). The research framework is a comparative study of the urban transformation processes at selected sites in Palestine and Jordan, including Umm el-Jimal. B. de Vries is a member of the senior collaborative team.

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.

Professor 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.

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. 

Read Bert de Vries's posts on Historical Horizons, the history department blog.

Research and scholarship

From 2009 to 2013, Professor de Vries and a team of archaeologists and students conducted site documentation field work at Umm el-Jimal for the creation of a virtual museum on the website, as well as on-site tour facilities and a community heritage center. This fieldwork was partly funded as a component of the Global Moments in the Levant Group Research of the University of Bergen. In 2011 the work was funded by a Site Preservation Grant from the American Institute of Archaeology. In 2012 he oversaw the preservation of Byzantine/Umayyad Complex XVII-XVIII at Umm el-Jimal funded by a grant from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP). In 2013 financial and logistical support from Al Hima, a Jordanian NGO for sustainable community heritage development, has enabled the formation of an Umm el-Jimal Cooperative Association, Al-Jahwara Al-Sa’diyya (“The Black Jewel”) which will oversee self-sustaining projects in site maintenance, heritage preservation and tourism services, based in the newly planned Umm el-Jimal Heritage Center. See the Umm el-Jimal blog for the latest updates.


Recent Presentations
  •  “Multi-faceted Approach to Conservation at Umm el-Jimal,” with Muaffaq Hazza. Twelfth International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany, May 7, 2013.
  • “A Concentration of 100,000 Syrians: Za’atari Refugee Camp at Umm el-Jimal, Jordan.” University of Gent Development and Conflict Graduate Field Program, at ACOR, Amman, Jordan, April 5, 2013.
  • "From One Desert Society to Another: Archaeology and Community at Umm el-Jimal, Jordan, and Las Vegas, Nevada." Repeat of Oct 25, 2012 paper at Calvin History Department Colloquium, March 13, 2013.
Ancient History and Archaeology; Umm el-Jimal Archaeological Project
  • Umm el-Jimal House XVII-XVIII Preservation AFCP Project blog,
  • Website version 3 completed Sept 2013, with Open Hand Studios.
  •  “Archaeology and Community at Umm el-Jimal.” Chapter in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan XI: Changes and Challenges (Amman: Department of Antiquities of Jordan, 2013): 81-91.
  •  “Archaeology and Community in Jordan and Greater Syria: Traditional Patterns and New Directions,” Near Eastern Archaeology 76.3 (2013): 132-140.
  • “Community and Antiquities at Umm el-Jimal and Silwan: A Comparison.” Chapter in Archaeology, Bible, Politics and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24 2009, eds. Eric M. Meyers and Carol Meyers. (Eisenbrauns Inc., 2012): 161-186.
  •  “Be of good cheer! No one on earth is immortal”: Religious Symbolism in Tomb Epitaphs and Architecture at the Umm el-Jimal and Tall Hisban Cemeteries."  Chapter 16 in The Madaba Plains Project: Forty Years of Archaeological Research into Jordan's Past, edited by Douglas R. Clark, Larry G. Herr, Øystein S. LaBianca, Randall W. Younker. Sheffield: Equinox, 2011: 196-215.
  • Review of Petra–The Mountain of Aaron I: The Church and the Chapel, byZbigniew T. Fiema and Jaakko Frösén. Pp. 447, b&w figs. 323, color figs. 69, graphs 1, tables 45, plans 1. Societas Scientiarium Fennica, Helsinki 2008. American Journal of Archaeology 114.1 Online Review (January 2010).
  • With S. de Vries, L. Koning, S. Oord, D. Roukema, M. Workman, P. Christians, J. DeKock, C. Mulder, T. al-Hunaiti, M. al-Fayez, B. Lücke and M. Hazza, “Site Presentation in Jordan: Concept Design and the January 2009 Documentation Season at Umm el-Jimal.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 53 (Amman 2009): 364-370.
  • “Between the Cults of Syria and Arabia: Traces of Pagan Religion at Umm el-Jimal.” Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan X. Amman: Department of Antiquities of Jordan, 2009: 177-191.
  • “Site Presentation in Jordan: Concept Design and the January 2009 Documentation Season at Umm el-Jimal.” ACOR Newsletter, vol. 20.2 – Winter 2008: 5-7.
  • “Paradox of Power: Between Local and Imperial at Umm El-Jimal,” Ch 53. In Crossing Jordan: North American Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan, dited by Thomas E. Levy, P. M. Michèle Daviau, Randall W. Younker and May Shaer. Equinox Publishing, Ltd, 2007.
  • & Elizabeth Osinga, “The Temples of Petra: Changes in Nabataean Temple Design in the Context of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires,”Minds in the Making 2:4 (2005-2006).
  • "Umm el-Jimal: A Frontier Town and Its Landscape in Northern Jordan,” Vol I , Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supplementary Series 26 (1998).
Current Events
  • “With Prejudice and Forethought: The View from Lebanon,” Minds in the Making Vol. 2, Issue 4 (2005-2006).
  • “The Guns of August 2007,” Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought (Oct 2007): 4-5.
  • “The New Mercenaries,” Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought (Dec. 2007): 14-19. A review essay discussing J. Scahill, Blackwater and seven other books on America’s outsourcing of its overseas military ventures to mercenary corporations; re-published in Minds in the Making (Calvin College, Winter 2008).
  • “Seeing the ruin of Gaza from the Ruins of Umm el-Jimal.” Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Opinion. February, 2009: 3-4.
Limes Arabicus Project, Project Architect
  • Four chapters and 59 drawings in: S. Thomas Parker, The Roman Frontier in Central Jordan: Final Report on the Limes Arabicus Project, 1980-1989, 2 vols. Dumbarton Oaks, 2006.
    Bert de Vries, 59 drawings – maps, architecture and balk sections – with Chs. 2-14;
    Bert de Vries, Victoria Godwin, and Andrea Lain, “The Fortifications of el-Lejjun,” Ch. 6, pp. 187-212; Bert de Vries and Andrea Lain, “The Legionary Bath,” Ch. 7, pp.213-227;
    Bert de Vries, Andrea Lain and Robert Schick, “The Lime Kiln,” Ch. 10, pp. 241, 246;
    Bert de Vries, “The Water Mills in Wadi el-Lejjun,” Ch. 13, pp. 271-274
Wadi el-Far’a Project, Co-director with Kamal Abdulfattah
  • Abdulfattah, Kamal and Bert de Vries eds., Wadi el-Far’a Project Report: An Environmental Assessment of the Wadi el-Far’a Watershed. The Lower Jordan River Programme Publications 8 (Ramallah: Birzeit University 2006), pp. i-iii; 1-193.
    The chapters, reporting on the landscape research conducted in the West Bank from 2000-2003, are written by the research team, eight recent Palestinian graduates of Birzeit University and eight recent American graduates of Calvin College.
  • Wadi el-Far’a website, including draft of above report.

In the news


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