Books sit on shelves stacked to the ceiling. The smell of leather and paper permeates as the books hover, intimidate and pour their knowledge into the center of an office, where Alexander Mikaberidze, professor of history and social sciences at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, types away at his desk. Here is where you will find him grading papers, updating assignments or talking to someone about everything history.
Mikaberidze engages the minds of his students and unfolds a reality to history. He tells stories of everyday people making decisions and how every choice can impact the course of history. In his own life, many of the choices Mikaberidze has made have carried the same effect. It was these moments that led him to sharing and teaching about what he knows best, the human experience.
“My initial profession was law. In fact as a kid I wanted to be an astrophysicist,” Mikaberidze said. “But, Georgia (Country) at the time didn’t have a good astronomy school. The only other option was to go to a place in Russia, and I didn’t really want to do that. So okay, if not astrophysics, then well what else, maybe law.”
Mikaberidze attended Tbilisi State University in the capital of the country of Georgia and obtained his Master’s Degree in International Law in 1999. Soon after, he began to work for the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. During this time, he mostly worked on cases involving human rights issues. It was in the same year that he decided to obtain a new book that made the claim that Napoleon was assassinated during his exile. This, he described, was a turning point in his life.
“I looked at this book online, aw dang $50! My monthly salary at the time was $7 and they weren’t actually paying me on time. So, I emailed the author and asked if he could mail me a copy,” Mikaberidze said. This whim actually paid off for him as the author, founder of the International Napoleonic Society, Ben Weider, responded and sent him a signed copy. He would later introduce Mikaberidze to a circle of authors who cover Napoleonic studies. This chance encounter led to the opportunity for Mikaberidze to write a review.
“Being a rather cocky guy in my youth, I sent it out to a newspaper in Belgium. And even though it was written, I’m embarrassed to admit, in really poor English, they actually edited it, fixed up and published it,” Mikaberidze said.
Weider read his review and was enamored. He contacted Mikaberidze and invited him to an international conference of historical studies in Tel Aviv. Mikaberidze initially turned down the offer due to is inability to afford the trip. Weider refused his dismissal and offered to pay for the trip to Israel, all while providing a per diem of $100.
“That was more than I was making a year! So how could I say no to that! I jumped on a plane and flew down there and they allowed me to give a speech at the University of Tel Aviv. After the speech, I clearly did a good job and Americans came over and said; ‘We have an offer for you to come to the United States. We will pay for every cost if you want to work in this field.’ I was like really! Every cost covered? It was at Florida State University. Of course, I jumped on the train,” Mikaberidze said.
Mikaberidze found his love for history at the age of 10 when he stumbled on a book written about Napoleon. The book followed Napoleon’s life and described his ascent to becoming the emperor of France. This intrigued Mikaberidze at a young age and is what inspired him to further his studies in the subject. Because of the Georgian Civil Wars of the early 1990s, he struggled to find copies of the books he wanted to read. In order to remedy this, Mikaberdze would copy the books from the local library by hand and built his own personal library.
“I liked reading about people and their exploits,” Mikaberidze said. “I still have those actually, notebooks full of my copied books and I studied, and the more I studied. I found that I loved the emphasis on the human experience.”
“He is certainly vivacious. He has a lot of energy! His lecturing style really brings you in,” said Christopher Pace, cell molecular biology major and history major at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
“In order to really effectively communicate the importance of history you have to be a good storyteller,” Pace said. Storytelling is something that Mikaberidze describes as a useful tool that helps illustrate the moments in history to his students. He attributes his teaching style to the lack of taking education courses or classes in educational theory. This, he feels, benefited his animated style of teaching. Expressing and telling a good story is something that Mikaberidze finds natural.
“Georgia has a whole culture that revolves around storytelling. My relatives will get together at the dinner table. Where Georgia is famous for the toasts, and each toast is like a story, you can’t just say cheers and drink, you have to tell a story. You have to craft it. If you focus on the human experience, as opposed to dates and numbers, students enjoy it much more. I don’t care about when or how many. It’s more of a question of why? Why should we care?” Mikaberidze said.
Many of his students speak positively about their experience and are drawn in by the way he relates the material to current events.
” I think that he would effectively be able to transport them (students) into the time and help you understand why these things happened. I would definitely recommend his class to my peers,” Pace said.
Having written and edited several books on historical studies, Mikaberidze divides time between his wife and two boys, teaching and his most current book project, ” The Global History of the Napoleonic Years.”
” Book writing is like engaging in a relationship with a person, where you are passionately in love. Then you can’t wait to marry, then it goes through its stale moments, then in some cases you start to dislike your partner, and then it ends up in a complete divorce,” Mikaberidze said. “But once you overcome it, then you look at each of the books on the shelf as a child you produced.”
His publications are in circulation with many historical societies, which has caught the attention of scholars at Cambridge University. Currently, Mikaberidze has been asked to lead a group of renowned scholars to research and write articles pertaining to the study of the Napoleonic era. He is also working diligently to finish one of four projects in the hopes of having it published by Oxford University Press at the beginning of next year.
Mikeberidze received his Ph. D in history from Florida State University in 2003 and was hired to teach at his alma mater. Soon after, he taught briefly at Mississippi State University before finding his home at LSUS in 2007.
“ As a traditional historian, you actually face challenges in finding places that welcome this kind of research. LSUS is one of the very few places where I’m given all the facilities and support that I need. It’s truly amazing to have the support of your colleagues, or if you need to go overseas for research, you can ask for institutional support and you’ll get it. I truly cannot express how thrilled I am to be here,” Mikaberdize said.
Depending on the time of day, the clicks of a busy keyboard or an animated history presentation can be heard echoing into the hall on the fourth floor of Bronson Hall. As history writes itself daily, here is where you will find Alexander Mikaberidze who, through his own experience, shares what he knows best, the human experience.