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Williams International

Magnus Bernhardsson, Professor of Middle Eastern History

Magnus Bernhardsson is an Associate Professor of History at Williams and is Chair of the International Studies Program. He came to the United States from his native Iceland in 1990 to receive a Master’s degree in comparative religion at Yale, later receiving a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history, also from Yale. He specializes in the history of Hashemite Iraq during the first half of the 20th century.

How did you become interested in Middle Eastern History?

I lived in Africa as a little boy and we traveled all across North Africa and the Middle East. So I have felt a personal connection to the region. I didn’t start studying it seriously or academically until I was working towards my Masters degree in comparative religion.

Why did you decide to come to Williams? Why did you come to the U.S.A.?

I came to the U.S.A. to pursue graduate work. First I was  going to stay only two years and get a Master’s degree and return back home to Iceland. But then I went on to get a Ph.D. and have now lived here for a total of 22 years. After my Ph.D. I got a job at Hofstra University in New York and taught there for 4 years. My wife and I had always talked about moving to a smaller community and especially a college town. Then Williams advertised in 2003 so I jumped on this opportunity and fortunately I was lucky enough to be hired.

Why is it important for Williams students to have an awareness of international issues?

Each Williams student should have the awareness and the self-confidence to consider the world their stage and the globe their sanctuary. Our problems today are global problems that need macro solutions. Williams students should be at the forefront tackling these problems and capitalizing on the various opportunities.

I lived in Africa as a little boy and we travelled all across North Africa and the Middle East. So I have felt a personal connection to the region. I didn’t start studying it seriously or academically until I was working towards my Masters degree in comparative religion.

Why is it important for Williams students to have an awareness of the modern Middle East?

This is a region that is often in the news and grossly misunderstood. Unfortunately, the region has been a site of conflict and discord for the last 50 years and today there are considerable financial and military issues at stake there. We need new approaches and new thinking in the region and in approaching the region. I hope today’s generation of Williams students will be at the forefront in that regard.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I have lived on four continents and probably visited about 50 countries in my life. But there are two places that I would really like to visit. The first is Japan and the second are the Galapagos Islands. I have always been intrigued by Japan, especially since Japanese culture shares many similarities with my native Icelandic culture, and from pictures it looks like a beautiful country. I also like their cuisine!