MESA Undergraduate Education Award

James L. Gelvin

University of California,
Los Angeles

2015 Recipient

James L. Gelvin

James L. Gelvin


The MESA Undergraduate Education award honors individuals in the “craft of undergraduate teaching”, showcasing pedagogical and curricular achievements in Middle East Studies.

This year we had several worthy nominees, and after careful examination of the submission materials, the committee determined that one candidate—nominated by no fewer than five separate individuals from around the country—deserved this year’s award for his commitment to excellence in undergraduate education through his award-winning teaching and his publications that make teaching Middle East Studies teaching easier for the expert and non-expert alike.

Dr. Gelvin's books that are aimed at a lay audience, including The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: One Hundred Years of War, The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know, and The Modern Middle East: A History, have been crucial for so many teachers of undergraduates in Middle East Studies for over a decade.  His books are accessible, engaging, witty and highly useful teaching tools, with maps, photos, timelines, primary sources, biographical sketches, and suggestions for further reading. 

The excerpts below, taken from the various letters nominating James Gelvin for the undergraduate teaching award, capture the spirit of the consummate undergraduate educator:

“His ability to engage pressing contemporary issues with his characteristic care, insight, and analysis mark him not only as an outstanding historian but also as an insightful and innovative teacher.”

“He took the most complex topics and simplified them, never excluding the human experience of history. He taught us in the same manner as he writes all of his books: with simplicity and clarity.”

“Beyond professor Gelvin’s teaching style and technique, what matters most to me, and why I am so honored to be writing this letter is that he concerned himself with me. He cared that I learned. Not mere information, but a different lesson, to train and expand my mind. And to take it one step further – to put it to good use.”

“I hosted a radio show on Middle Eastern politics in Los Angeles for six years. My technique at work: the manner in which I structure my shows, identify the problems, isolate the issues and conceptualize my questions, is …based on Professor Gelvin’s teachings and structuring of arguments and thoughts.”

“While a PhD student at UCLA, I served as a Teaching Assistant and Reader for courses that used [James Gelvin’s] books – students found them eminently approachable, well-reasoned, easy to follow and informative in clear narrative prose.”

“Although over one hundred students were enrolled in the class, he always made time for their questions and encouraged discussions (and jokes) without hurrying the material along, a common tendency in crunched 10-week quarters...”

“In both the large lecture hall and the small seminar setting, Gelvin's teaching was outstanding. He prepared diligently, communicated clearly, and organized his lectures and small group discussions in a manner that maximized student comprehension and retention.”

 “Professor Gelvin's dedication to teaching is evident in his insistence on offering extra courses as overload to his department’s regular expectations, sometimes up to six courses per year. His focus on teaching extends even to the youngest undergraduates, whom he engages in at least one freshman seminar each year. But his devotion to his students is clearest in his daily interactions.… Dr. Gelvin has made a habit of remaining outside the lecture hall after his classes, welcoming students and engaging them in conversations about the course and the issues.”

In short, as a committee, we select Professor James Gelvin for this MESA award due to his outstanding commitment to the practice and substance of undergraduate teaching, through his classroom performance, his training of future generations of undergraduate teachers, and his well-received undergraduate textbooks. This award recognizes the importance of undergraduate education, an activity to which so many MESA members devote time and creative energy. James Gelvin’s accomplishments as a teacher and the teaching materials he has produced for others exemplify the kind of undergraduate teacher this award is meant to recognize. Congratulations.

2017 Review Committee
Maia Carter Hallward (chair), Kennesaw State University
Mimi Hanaoka, University of Richmond
Stephen Tamari, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

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