School News

Embodying Lifelong Learning: History Teacher Bret Windhauser

There is no teacher’s lounge at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School. There is a “Teacher’s Workroom” and, despite it having a coffee maker and comfy couch, it’s usually empty.

An exploration of the life of first-year teacher Bret Windhauser might help you to understand why. Bret teaches three sections of Global History and a spring elective in Latin American Studies. This fall he was the assistant coach for cross country, and in the spring, he will help coach track and field. He is a faculty sponsor for the Gender & Sexualities Awareness club and ECO-SAS, the school’s environmental group. As the International Student Coordinator, he helps to care for our students who are farthest from home and introduces our school community to those students and their cultures. Bret is also a VERY active researcher and academic.

Bret recently presented to the Middle East Studies Association ia panel called “New Perspectives on the History of the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula, 19th-20c.” An article he authored on how criminal groups and the government co-produced the infrastructure of Baghdad will be published this spring in the Journal of Illicit Economies and Development. He has also been appointed to the Strategic Hub for Organised Crime Research, a group of academics, practitioners, and policymakers who comprise a collaborative network of experts working to improve understanding of and responses to serious and organized crime.

Bret’s interest in studying smuggling and organized crime began when he was working in a migrant camp in France. An initial curiosity about human smuggling quickly grew into an appreciation for how everyone relied on smugglers for even the most mundane goods, like cigarettes or ibuprofen. Bret became increasingly interested in how smugglers work in tandem with governments to provide services to populations. “I was surprised by how understudied these topics are,” says Bret. “When people talk about smuggling, they tend to think of drug smuggling. Smugglers are portrayed as villainous people who are trying to destroy society. But most smugglers are normal people who engage in this shadow economy because it’s a way to get goods to their communities more cheaply.”

Eventually, Bret’s attention was drawn to Iraq, a central hub for a lot of smuggling in the Middle East, his area of interest. Bret was interested to learn that legitimate groups in Iraq engage in smuggling, including members of the Iraqi army. “There are definite examples of soldiers in the official army who buy their weapons illegally because they can get better quality arms cheaply,” Bret notes.

Prior to holding a B.A. in International and Global Studies with an emphasis on the Middle East and an M.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Bret felt that his understanding of Iraq was lacking. “My educational career began in a post-9/11 world and so I always learned about Iraq through the lens of US activities. I have been interested to discover the country through its own lens.” Bret’s curiosity has been enhanced by the availability of the Svoboda Diaries, primary source documents written in 19th- and 20th-century Baghdad that are now available as a digitized resource. The diaries deepened his interest in Iraq and how historic smuggling networks continue to affect modern-day Iraq.

The presence of the electronic resource is particularly valuable because Bret is a scholar of Iraq who has never been to Iraq. “My undergraduate and graduate work was focused on the Middle East, and I spent five months living and studying in Jordan,” Bret explains. That ability to take a strong set of tools and experiences and use them to explore new topics makes Bret a perfect role model for SAS students and a living embodiment of the school’s core value that the future will belong to creative, lifelong learners. “Curiosity and discovery are essential to an effective classroom. I see my role as an educator to be to facilitate my students' intrigue and teach them how to critically analyze the world around them.”

Now, if we could just get Bret to study how snacks get smuggled into McCrory Hall…