A day in the life
Amal Ghazal, associate professor
I want to make my students think as if they’re historians, regardless of the topic. I want them to understand how we arrive at different points of view. I want them to seek ways to understand the broader context for why things happen.
Breaking down stereotypes
Associate Professor Amal Ghazal’s students know she’s passionate about what she teaches in her Middle Eastern history classes. She grew up in Lebanon and studied at the American University of Beirut before moving to Canada to do her master’s degree and PhD.
“Since I’m from the Middle East, I’ve always felt personally invested in what I’ve been studying and what I teach,” she says.
Ironically, Dr. Ghazal had no interest in entering a history program. She didn’t find it interesting in high school and wanted to major in business at university. But business is highly competitive in Beirut and she was told it might be difficult to be accepted into the program.
“A friend told me to apply to something not as popular, so I’d have a better chance of getting accepted, then I could switch to business later,” she says. “He suggested history as a temporary measure. But after taking a couple of History courses I said, ‘Wow, I’m not going into business.’ My family wasn’t happy because we had a family business that they wanted me to go into. They didn’t think a History degree would put food on the table.”
Her history degree has not only allowed Dr. Ghazal to put food on the table, she also incorporates it into her teaching. One of her more popular courses is called Food for Thought: History and the Culinary Cultures of the Islamic World.
“It studies the cultural aspects of the Middle East,” she says. “It’s about understanding the history and cultures of the region through food. We also look at how different food items became nationalized. Is baklava from Greece or Turkey? It depends on who you ask.”
There is a cooking session at the beginning of term that allows the students to connect with each other and understand the social aspect of food as part of the region’s culture. They include food as part of their presentations throughout the term, and explain to their classmates why they created their particular menus.
Dr. Ghazal’s favourite class is her second-year Modern History of Iraq because it allows her to show her students how the entire region is interconnected.
“Many students come to class thinking of stereotypes of the region, but by the end of the term their ideas have changed about the culture, the politics, the religion, and they also begin to understand how much the West influences the Middle East,” she says. “I engage the students in a lot of debate. They begin to understand there is such variety in the region.”
Lebanon’s business community may be losing out, but Dal is richer for bringing Dr. Ghazal on board in 2006. And she couldn’t be happier with the History department.
“We collaborate with each other,” she says. “It’s a very friendly place. It’s a relatively young department and we connect with our students in a very close way. We’re not distant from them, we engage with them. It’s intellectually enriching to be in this department.”