Dr. Nagl to teach Modern Middle East next year

Dr. Nagl speaking at the Thanksgiving Assembly, 2019 – photo courtesy of Communications

Days in March slowly slip through. Before students look forward to the upcoming Spring Break, they need to make one major decision concerning the following school year: course selections. Some students noticed a change made to history elective Modern Middle East History, previously taught by Upper School History teacher Mr. Timothy Lengel. Starting in the second semester of the coming academic year, the course will welcome its new instructor: the Ninth Headmaster of the Haverford School, Dr. John Nagl.

“One of the conversations Dr. Nagl and I had was just how much he missed being in the classroom,” Upper School Head Mr. Patrick Andrén said. “In his heart, he’s a teacher. Now that he is finishing the middle school project, and we have a completed strategic plan coming out, he found himself with a little more time, so next spring he is going to be offering a senior elective on the modern Middle East.”

Due to recent changes in schedule arrangements, Mr. Lengel will not be able to teach this class.

“I found that to be an appalling lack in our curriculum,” Dr. Nagl said, “especially considering the importance of the Middle East and the fact that we’ve had that course for a while

Not only is Dr. Nagl an expert in international relations, he also served as a military strategist in fields of counterinsurgencies, specifically on strategies in the Middle East. His professional experience in both the Iraq War and the Gulf War will certainly aid him in teaching this course.

“It’s a course that’s going to involve a bunch of my personal experience in the Middle East, and I find that it takes a more talented teacher to bring to life events of which an individual does not have personal experience,” Dr. Nagl said. “My question to myself is: can I use my knowledge and bring to life an important part of the human experience to people who have not experienced it?” 

Dr. Nagl will also make some adjustments to the course based on Mr. Lengel’s syllabus for the course.

“I don’t know if I’m going to continue to do the country studies that Mr. Lengel did,” Dr. Nagl said. “I will spend more time on the conflicts of the Middle East. The ones that I know personally: Desert Storm Operation, Iraqi Freedom Operation, and Operation Enduring Freedom.” 

Another major change to the course is the textbook choice. According to Dr. Nagl, some of the texts used in the course will be selected from his personal work.

“It is highly likely that I will use my book, Knife Fights, as one of the core texts of the course. I will be surprised if we don’t spend some time with The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which I helped to write, Dr. Nagl said. “I’m reminded what a thrill it was for me at West Point, to have one of my professors sign his book, and how cool it was to learn from somebody who had literally written the book.”

Meanwhile, students may experience an innovative learning experience. In order to fit Dr. Nagl’s busy schedule, the course will apply a concept called “asynchronous teaching.”

“I was grateful to have Ms. Snyder’s help on this,” Dr. Nagl said. “The teacher teaches, and the students don’t necessarily have to be learning at the same time. This will be the form of teaching for this course. If I’m on the West Coast, I may not be able to do it synchronously, so I may hang some readings on Canvas, for instance. And then possibly have the kids lead a discussion over Google Meet.” Dr. Nagl said.

The history department will offer Modern Middle East as a senior elective. An estimate of the number of open places is around fifteen students.

“I’m looking for seniors and maybe juniors who are interested in history and are thinking about careers in public service; perhaps they are interested in war and how war shapes societies; they are interested in the terrorism that will remain an inescapable future of your entire life,” Dr. Nagl said.

“My hope is that the guys will have a better understanding of how the conflicts of my lifetime are likely to shape the world of yours.”

Head of School Dr. John Nagl

The prevailing issues in the Middle East continue to be one of the U.S.’s top concerns. As future members of the global community, Haverford students may become involved in these issues and potentially create profound impacts.

“My hope,” Dr. Nagl said, “is that the guys will have a better understanding of how the conflicts of my lifetime are likely to shape the world of yours.”

Author: Jingyuan Chen '23

Jingyuan Chen has written for The Index since 2019. His news piece “Inside the middle school construction project” and his opinion “What can the U.S. learn from Chinese media censorship?” each earned a Silver Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Writing Awards.