As lifelong learners, Jesse and David Rainbow have much in common with the students who attend The Women’s Institute of Houston. The brothers, raised in Strathmore, California, a small town in the state’s agricultural center, learned from the land, not merely from textbooks. Growing up, the grandsons of a seed salesman had agricultural jobs, Jesse working in the orange and olive groves, while David was dairy farming.
College was a jumping off point for Jesse, who attended the University of Houston Honors College on a scholarship, majoring in history. He also studied Spanish, and took a special interest in Near Eastern languages and civilizations. “It was a wonderful place to be a student,” he recalls. “What drew me in at 18 was the curriculum. It’s an intellectual community, where the faculty learns with the students.”
David, today a Russian scholar, tried a couple of different approaches to college, and in between, worked as an engineer aboard a merchant ship in the Pacific. Later, as a student at Fresno Pacific University, he visited Russia for the first time. “I felt like I was studying a totally different world,” David says. “It hooked me.” He graduated from Fresno Pacific, completing an honors thesis on Vladimir Lenin’s role in the Russian Revolution.
Following college, Jesse and David both took a step back from academia. But the yen for more knowledge kept tugging on the brothers. Jesse, a high school history teacher, took humanities classes during the summers. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to know,” he notes. “When I ran out of things to study, I decided to go to grad school.” Jesse received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, where he was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
After college, David headed back west, and for the next two years was a cowhand on a ranch in western North Dakota, where, like Jesse, he felt a similar draw to continued learning. “I started taking courses from the Teaching Company,” David says. “When I found myself listening to their CDs in my tractor, I knew it was time to go back to school.” David earned an M.A. in European intellectual history from Drew University, a Ph.D. in Russian history from New York University, and was a postdoctoral Fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies at Columbia University.
The brothers are now assistant professors at the University of Houston Honors College. Jesse teaches courses in ancient Near Eastern History, Religion, and Medicine. He has written on topics such as scribal culture in the ancient Near East, ancient Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, and the place of magic and divination in the Bible. He regularly leads archaeological study trips to Israel, Turkey and Italy. David teaches and writes about modern Russian and Eurasian history. He is writing a book on Siberian regionalism from the 1860s-1930s, and is editing a book on the history of race in Russia.
Jesse is looking forward to teaching his first WIH class, “Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs,” this fall. “At Harvard, some very inspiring teachers piqued my interest in the ancient Near East,” he notes. His study of the Hebrew Bible included comparative study of other ancient Near Eastern civilizations, including Egypt. “We’ll be getting inside the Egyptian way of thinking,” he explains, “telling the stories about the people who lived and died.” Jesse will focus on 8-10 significant figures, from Ramses the Great to Cleopatra, telling their stories in interesting and compelling ways. He plans to use a lecture format, employing lots of images and photos.
David, who taught a WIH class on the Russian Revolution this past spring, will offer a fall class on “Forced Exile in Modern History,” looking at significant points in time where people were forced to leave their homes for political reasons. He will focus on six cases in the last two hundred years: Britain, Tsarist Russia, France, the United States, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
David says he is excited to return to WIH, “where the students are extremely engaged. It’s a self-selected group, and people ask good questions.” David appreciates the perspectives of students, who have rich life experiences. “Teaching the Russian class, it was great to talk with people who know about Russia, who are immigrants or are the children of immigrants.”
Although the brothers are busy teaching, writing and raising families, they enjoy spending time together, particularly combining their academic interests with a love of travel. This summer they are taking 16 of their Honors College students to Russia, visiting St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Jesse Rainbow’s class, “Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs”, begins on September 7, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.
David Rainbow’s class, Forced Exile in Modern History, begins on October 19th, 2017 at 10 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.