In Memorium Deborah J. “Misty” Gerner

from PS Vol. 40, no. 1 (January 2007) pp. 163-164

Professor Deborah J. Gerner, known to colleagues and friends as “Misty,” died on June 19, 2006 at her home in Vinland, Kansas, after a long struggle with cancer.

Gerner earned her doctorate in Political Science at Northwestern University, and taught at Birzeit University, the University of Iowa, Hamilton College, and the American University in Cairo. In 1988 she joined the Department of Political Science at the University of Kansas, where she eventually became full professor. Her substantive research interests initially focused on arms trade, foreign aid, nationalism, and American foreign policy in the Middle East, and more recently addressed questions of conflict and conflict resolution, human rights, and democratization. Her work in these areas was informed by her expertise in Middle East politics in general and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular. She was author of One Land, Two People: The Conflict over Palestine, published by Westview press in 1980 and updated in a second edition published in 1994, and editor of Understanding the Contemporary Middle East, published by Lynne Rienner in 2000 and revised in 2003 with assistance from Jillian Schwedler. As a member of the Quaker Working Party, Gerner was also a core contributor to When the Rain Returns: Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel (2004). Her articles have appeared in American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, International Studies Quarterly, and Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Two qualities emerged in Gerner‘s early work that remained constant throughout her career. First, she stressed the use of multiple methods: neither case studies nor quantitative evidence alone would suffice to adequately explore hypotheses. Second, she was able to bridge subfields by tying together broader questions of comparative politics (such as nationalism, social movements, conflict, and area studies) with questions resonating in international relations (such as comparative foreign policy and international dimensions of conflict).

Gerner's focus on the nexus between quantitative/qualitative as well as comparative/IR propelled her into the world of events data analysis of politics—in particular, conflict and mediation in the Middle East—a field in which she helped pioneer new methods, new theories, and new empirical findings. Along with Philip Schrodt, Gerner developed the Kansas Events Data System (KEDS), an automated content analysis package used to create large amount of events data from machine-readable news sources. While many in international relations had used events data for over twenty years, researchers had been hamstrung by the lack of updated, replicable data sets.

Gerner and the KEDS project were instrumental in making the creation of such data feasible. Yet, a key reason KEDS succeeded was Gerner's contribution of region-specific knowledge. For any quantitative data, validity is the major concern; Gerner‘s Middle East expertise and her training in IR ensured that the KEDS data was both valid and useful for theory testing. Gerner and Schrodt secured multiple National Science Foundation grants and authored numerous publications in top journals throughout the 1990s and 2000s relating to the creation and analysis of events data concerning the Middle East. The substantive topics tackled with this new tool ranged from the development of early warning predictors to studies of reciprocity in conflicts to studies of third party mediation in conflicts. Gerner‘s recent work grew out of a new project on mediation entitled CAMEO (Conflict And Mediation Event Observations), which uses the successor program to KEDS (named TABARI) to chart conflict mediation by state and sub-state actors.

Tireless even when dealing with metastatic cancer that developed in 2002, in 2005 Gerner began work on a three-year collaborative project (with six colleagues at four universities) funded by the National Science Foundation that utilizes multiple methods to explore the relationship between repression and dissent in the Middle East. In December 2005, she traveled to Palestine and Israel to undertake field research for her portion of the project.

Among her many contributions to her profession over the years, Gerner was active in the Palestinian American Research Center (PARC), the Middle East Studies Association, and numerous human rights organizations. She was particularly active within the International Studies Association, serving as vice-president, two-terms as treasurer, and co-organizer of the 1995 annual meeting. Gerner also served for six years on the editorial committee of Middle East Report, the quarterly published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), where she was later elected to the board of directors.

In addition to her original and innovative contributions to the field, Gerner was an outstanding teacher in the classroom—one of the most popular and respected undergraduate teachers at the University of Kansas. She often used case-based teaching methods in her courses and was the author of six case studies for the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. She was also the recipient of multiple teaching awards, including the prestigious W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in the fall of 2000.

Jon Pevehouse, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Jillian Schwedler, University of Maryland, College Park