Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jodi Magness

While some people have a hard time memorizing a five-minute speech, professor Jodi Magness can talk passionately about religious studies for more than an hour - without using so much as a note card.

About 200 students, some of whom resorted to sitting on the floor of Murphey 116, listened intently Tuesday as Magness narrated a tale about the Roman siege of Masada, a site of ancient palaces in Israel.

And although many typically consider history lectures dry and trite, Magness' unique teaching style of using vivid anecdotes kept students on the edge of their seats.

"You constantly want to know what she's going to say next," said freshman Ben Liebtag, who is taking "New Testament Archaeology" with Magness.

Magness, who has been teaching at the University for five years, said she knew she wanted to become an archaeologist at age 12 and dedicates all of her spare time to learning about the subject.

"That's pretty much what I do 24/7," said Magness, who has a bachelor's degree in archaeology and ancient history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a doctorate degree in classical archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania.

She said she hopes to retire doing exactly what she does now - digging for ancient artifacts and writing and teaching about archaeology.

Magness, who has written four books about archaeology, spends her summers in Israel digging for ancient artifacts.

Students said she is so passionate and knowledgeable about the subject that they sometimes have a trouble keeping up while taking notes.

"She has hands-on experience of everything," said junior Allison Beck. "If Jodi says it, that's what I believe."

And her credentials make her class a one-of-a-kind experience.

Magness said she is the only person in the U.S. with a doctorate degree in classical archaeology who has a full-time appointment in a religious studies department.

Magness said that she never anticipated becoming a professor but that she thoroughly enjoys sharing her love of archaeology with students.

"I just like to get people excited about archaeology," she said. "It's inherently interesting stuff that everybody can relate to."

Magness gained most of her teaching experience as a professor at Tufts University for 10 years. Although she said coming to UNC from Boston was a big transition, it didn't take long for her to adjust.

"The students here are wonderful," Magness said. "They love the fact that they're at UNC. It's almost universal that everyone who is here is where they wanted to go."

The sentiment seems to go both ways. Freshman Jonathan Hecht said Magness has a way of making the subject come to life.

"Jodi Magness is wonderful in every shape and form," he said. "She's on the Discovery Channel every other day. It's a privilege being in the same room with her."

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