Visiting assistant professor Eric Welch never thought that asking for a library card would end up sending him halfway around the world to archeological digs in Israel.
“I wanted to come home during my last year at Penn State,” Welch said. “I sent an email to K-State and an email to KU about my situation and [asked] for library access so I could do my research and finish up my dissertation. K-State never answered the email.”
After asking for library access in 2014, Welch was approached by John Younger, director of Jewish Studies at the University. Excited to have an archeologist at arm’s length, Younger asked Welch if he would be interested in teaching the archeology of Israel.
Originally from Manhattan, Welch said he developed a strong sense of wonder for the people who occupied the land before he did. Fascinated by the thought that he could pick up an arrowhead in his backyard and cement the idea that the lives and cultures of the indigenous peoples before him were real, Welch said he knew he wanted to study the people instead of the “stories and fairy tales.”
“Part of it was the idea that the stories were actually real,” Welch said. “I grew up in church with all the Bible stories and background, and it blew my mind that I could find artifacts that showed there were actual people there.”
The summer after his first year of his master’s program, Welch said he was so enthralled by the idea of discovering 3,000-year-old pottery that he and his then-fiancée packed up and took a trip to Israel just to volunteer with a dig. That was almost 11 years ago, and Welch says he’s taken only one summer off from digging — for the birth of his daughter.
“I guess that was worth it,” Welch said with a grin.
After a decade of studying ancient Israel, all Welch wants to do now, he said, is share the experience with others.
“This summer will be our fourth year with the Office of Study Abroad taking KU students to Jerusalem,” Welch said. “And the students do everything: It’s not like we're going to push you out of the way if you discover something.”
Students from every major each year are taken to Israel where they help excavate and document artifacts with other student from around the world. The “teaching digs” allow students to gain hands-on experience with real results and what Welch describes as “invaluable experience.”
Diona Southcott, a senior from Watertown, NY, studying anthropology, said the trip was one of the highlights of her time at the University, and it wouldn’t have been the same without Welch.
“I came here specifically for archeology, and when I told my friends that, a couple of them told me about this really cool archeologist,” Southcott said. “I sat in on a couple of his classes, and after that I was hooked.”
Southcott said Welch was able to get her scholarships that covered almost the entirety of her trip to Israel and that the experience was exactly what she needed moving forward after graduation.
“Witnessing the clash of cultures, meeting all the different types of people and archeologists and just being there was very exciting,” Southcott said. “Eric’s enthusiasm and encouragement has been helpful as well, and I wouldn’t feel so optimistic about my future if it weren’t for him basically telling me to shoot for the stars.”
Welch said any student is welcome to join him over the summer and that if he could get just one student “crazy enough” to go with him, “it would be worth it.”
— Edited by Cody Schmitz