A Childhood Interest Evolves into Profession

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It all started with a copy of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”      “I was given a copy of the book when I was a child, and I think that sparked my fascination with the Middle East,” said Laura Bier, an assistant professor in the School of History, Technology and Society. “Not to mention, when I was growing up, something was always happening in the Middle East including events like the oil boycott by OPEC in 1973 or the Iranian revolution.” A year of studying abroad in Egypt only increased her interest in the area. Bier went on to earn both a master’s and PhD in history and Middle East studies, opting to focus on the history of the modern Middle East, with a specialty in modern Egypt and the history of Middle Eastern women. One of her current projects is on a biography of an iconic Egyptian belly dancer and movie star, Tahia Karioka, whose life spans much of the twentieth century.“She had amazing life experiences, including being imprisoned several times for political activism and being married 14 times,” Bier said. “I’m interested in what her life has to tell us about modern Egyptian history.” Recently, The Whistle had an opportunity to learn more about Bier and her time at Tech.How did you end up at Georgia Tech? Tech is my first teaching gig. I started in 2005, fresh out of graduate school at New York University.What is the greatest challenge you face associated with teaching, and how have you dealt with it?      One of the challenges is that in any given classroom I have people with widely varying experiences with and levels of knowledge with the Middle East. Some students have almost no experience with this part of the world, and others may be Middle Eastern or have spent time travelling there. I aim to create opportunities for students to learn from each other — putting those with no experience together with others who have more familiarity and getting them all to understand that dealing with the region as scholars and historians puts everyone on the same page. Everyone can read the same historical sources and formulate an opinion about them.    What do you do to make learning more engaging for students?   I bring in a lot of Middle Eastern voices, in the form of memoirs and documentaries. I also try and relate the subject material to their lives or put issues in terms they can relate to. Finally, I try and show them that history is a full contact sport — there are disagreements in interpretations and history is political. So, I encourage them to think of themselves as historians engaged in a process of historical interpretation.What piece of technology could you not live without as an instructor?YouTube.Best place to grab lunch? Mostly, I eat at my desk, but I was thrilled when Zaya came to the Student Center —their falafel is divine. Tell me something unusual about yourself.I used to play the bagpipes. Name a few books you are reading.Fiction is my guilty pleasure. Right now, I’m reading “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver. For work, I’m reading a biography of a woman who owned a nightclub in Egypt in the early twentieth century.  If you weren’t in your current line of work, what would you be doing?Writing mystery novels or about food.



  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Amelia Pavlik
  • Created: 09/20/2011
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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