Bert de Vries

Service to ACOR: Director (1988–1991) and Trustee (1995–2021)

Professor Bert de Vries (1939–2021) was a passionate educator, historian, archaeologist, and social activist. He was director of ACOR from 1988 to 1991 and served on ACOR’s board from 1995 until his passing in March 2021.

Bert’s legacy resists brief description. He can surely be said to have dedicated his life to peace, exchange, and understanding. During half a century of research and excavation in Jordan, Bert touched the lives of countless students of many national backgrounds and became the beloved “Abu Boutros” to generations of community members in Umm al Jimal, Jordan, which he considered his second home. Born in 1939 in the Netherlands, Bert immigrated to Canada in 1952 and later graduated from Calvin College with a bachelor of science in physics and engineering, followed by a bachelor of divinity from Calvin Theological Seminary. Always eager to learn, Bert went on to pursue a PhD in Mediterranean studies at Brandeis University, where he specialized in Near Eastern languages and literature. He served as professor of history and archaeology at Calvin University from 1967 until 2018, when he became professor emeritus—although he never truly retired.

Bert first traveled to Jordan in 1968 to serve as an architect surveyor at Tel Hisban. In 1972 he received an Albright Fellowship and moved to Amman with his wife and children. The de Vries family quickly took up active roles in the community, such as by establishing a program to support Palestinian refugees. Bert was involved in architectural documentation at Rujm el-Malfouf South, the Schneller School tower in Marqa, and at Tell Siran on the University of Jordan campus. His greatest archaeological legacy is the Umm al Jimal Archaeological Project in northern Jordan, near the Syrian border. He assumed the directorship of ACOR in 1988 and left in 1991 during the Gulf War, but he remained involved with ACOR both as a board member and through the Umm al Jimal Project until his passing in 2021.

Bert’s memory and teachings will remain cherished by the ACOR community. He exemplified the best qualities in the life of an academic researcher: always curious, humble, and eager to learn. Among his legacies at ACOR is advocacy and practice of an approach called “community archaeology,” of which the Umm al Jimal Project shines as a superb international example. As the modern town of Umm al Jimal grew around the ancient site, he engaged local community members in the preservation and presentation of the site in the face of conflict and destruction across the border in Syria. Bert worked with local Jordanians and Syrians to help support refugees and their host community. Another of his legacies is the ACOR Newsletter, which he founded in 1989 to keep heritage enthusiasts around the world informed about goings-on in Jordan. As director of ACOR, he was involved in cultural resource management initiatives in Ayla/Aqaba, the Amman Citadel, Pella, and Umm Qais, and he led frequent tours and picnics for the Friends of Archaeology. As he reflected back on this time, Bert wrote, “We are still amazed how much got packed into those three years but realize that the intensity of involvement made every year the equivalent of two or more.” He joined the board in 1995 and maintained active involvement in the center’s leadership well into his later years. He encouraged removing the word “oriental” from ACOR’s name, writing with Morag Kersel in 2018, “While we cannot change the colonial origins of archaeological practice, we can change the everyday injustice that accompanies the continued use of ‘oriental.’”

Bert once commented that as “ACOR transitioned from a temporary service organization to an institute serving growing numbers of foreign and local scholars, it never lost this aura of humanity, personal dedication, and hospitable service.” There is perhaps no one who better exemplified these traits than our long-serving board member and friend, Bert de Vries.

We encourage you to learn more about Bert’s life and legacy through the following:

De Vries, Bert. “ACOR 1988–1991: Reflections by Bert de Vries.” ACOR Newsletter vol. 20.1 (summer 2008), pages 11–12.

De Vries, Bert. “Why Umm el-Jimal Should Be Included in Tour Packages and Itineraries.” ACOR public lecture, July 2017.

Lumb, Ashley. “Unearthing the Past: ACOR from 1988 to 1991 through the Lens of Bert de Vries.” 28 January 2020.

Remembering Bert de Vries.” Historical Horizons (Calvin University Historical Studies Department blog).29 March 2021. 

The following is a recording of a memorial service for Bert, held on April 3, 2021, in Grand Rapids, Michigan:

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