U.S. Department of Education awards Middle East study-abroad grant to MSU

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

Assistant Professor Kate McClellan and Associate Professor Jimmy Hardin pictured at Mississippi State University’s Cobb Institute of Archaeology. (Photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Two well-traveled, cultural researchers in Mississippi State’s College of Arts and Sciences are receiving a prestigious federal overseas-study award.

A nearly $80,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program recently was designated for James W. “Jimmy” Hardin and Kate McClellan. They are, respectively, associate and assistant professors in the university’s Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures.

Administered by the federal agency’s International and Foreign Language Education office, the Fulbright-Hays program supports international training, research and curriculum development programs in modern foreign languages and area studies for teachers, students and faculty.

The MSU grant will fund a five-week seminar project examining connections among museums, memory and heritage in the Middle East.

Last fall, an interdisciplinary academic minor launched by MSU in Middle Eastern studies became the first of its kind for undergraduate students in the Southeast.

Hardin and McClellan will travel during the 2017 summer to the neighboring nations of Israel and Jordan. Joining them will be a diverse group of MSU faculty members and undergraduate and graduate students—including an ROTC representative—as well as teachers from Starkville High School.

“As an undergraduate, study abroad was one of the best things I did,” said Hardin, a 1988 MSU anthropology graduate.

When the project is complete, the group will “bring all of their knowledge and experience back to the classroom in a way that is going to be really unique,” he added.

In addition to meeting representatives of different cultures in both countries, Hardin said the Mississippi travelers will work with Israeli and Jordanian staff members and students at museums, archaeological sites and other cultural and educational institutions.  

An archaeologist who has excavated for decades throughout Israel, Hardin is leading that part of the project. In addition to an MSU bachelor’s degree, he holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Arizona.

McClellan, leader of the Jordan excursion, has lived and worked in the Middle East for many years, most recently conducting six months of research in that country. She is a magna cum laude anthropology graduate of Oberlin (Ohio) College, with a master’s and doctorate in the major from the University of Michigan.

In preparation, team members will be learning basic phrases in Hebrew and Arabic. The orientation process also will include an in-depth tour of the university’s Cobb Museum of Archaeology and sessions on how to use the well-known campus repository in post-trip educational activities.

The hands-on Middle Eastern trip will include workshops, lectures and excavations, among other activities. All participants will be sharing their experiences through blog posts and lesson-plan preparations.

Though at peace since 1994, Israel and Jordan entered a state of war when the former earned international recognition as a separate nation in 1948.

As Hardin explained, “We will be introducing seminar participants not only to more accurate depictions of the cultures, languages and history of the Middle East, but also to various ways in which the construction of collective memories through museums and other heritage institutions are integral to understanding the highly contested relationship between these two countries.”

Beyond direct educational benefits for all involved, he and McClellan agreed the project also should be regarded as a significant MSU response to the growing need in Mississippi for new courses in Middle Eastern studies at both secondary and post-secondary levels.

Providing professional development for secondary school teachers in the social sciences and humanities is a key goal of the project, Hardin emphasized.

McClellan also joined Hardin in expressing appreciation for MSU’s continuing commitment to career preparatories such as this to help students succeed professionally in an increasingly globalized world.

MSU students interested in participating in the Israel-Jordan seminar project may contact Hardin at 662-325-3826 or jwh1@ra.msstate.edu.

Complete details on the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays grant program can be found at www2.ed.gov/programs/iegpsgpa/index.html.

For more on MSU’s interdisciplinary studies in the Middle East, see http://middleeasternstudiesmsu.weebly.com. Other information on the anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures department is found at www.amec.msstate.edu; the Cobb Institute of Archaeology, at  www.cobb.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.