Meet an expert in royal armor and medieval military technology

Kelly DeVries, Ph.D., professor of history, designated historical accessor for UNESCO
Kelly Devries sits on a stone wall overlooking a harbor, with a stone fort in the background
DeVries looking over the Tower of St. Nicholas in the harbor of Rhodes.

Kelly DeVries, Ph.D., professor of history, joined the Loyola community in 1991 as the medieval expert in the history department. He teaches medieval and pre-modern studies to undergraduate students, has published 35 books and more than 80 articles, and appeared in the media to discuss his research involving medieval military technology and to comment on the historical accuracy of Game of Thrones.

DeVries completed his undergraduate degree in humanities with a focus on Medieval Studies from Brigham Young University; he holds a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto, Centre for Medieval Studies. Every year he leads tours to medieval sites for the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, England. DeVries has also served as a historical consultant for the Royal Armouries, which is the United Kingdom’s National Museum of Arms and Armour for 17 years.

Loyola magazine recently sat down with DeVries to learn more about his recent designation as a historical accessor for the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

What does your new role as advisor for UNESCO entail?

Being nominated and receiving this role is quite an honor. I’m serving as an accessor for five medieval world sites for the World Heritage Convention, which is through UNESCO. Every year, UNESCO recognizes sites around the world that are historical and archaeological sites worth preserving. When sites are designated, there are certain restrictions on how they can be excavated, commemorated, and handled. The siteswhich can be castles, caves, bridges, etc.typically bring in tourism to the various cities where the historical landmarks are located.

In my role, I’ll be studying and classifying five medieval fortified sites in Europe. I’m working on reports to submit for why the sites should be preserved. I’ve always supported UNESCO. They hold the history of the world by preserving international historical and archaeological landmarks, so I’m looking forward to working in this role.

What was your involvement with Game of Thrones?

Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin read one of my books, and before the series ever came out, I was asked by Foreign Affairs magazine to write an article on how medieval Game of Thrones was. While not directly involved with the series, I was the one they went to for information on the nature of the show and some historical background.

Can you share your experience writing a book with Julie Andrews?

I was the historical consultant for the young adult novel Dragon, by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, her daughter. I reviewed the manuscript and told them what to beef up and provided research for them. It was a wonderful experience to contribute to this book in this capacity.

What do you like about working at Loyola?

I really enjoy the students. I enjoy talking with my students and developing a deeper connection with them. I challenge my students to visit five cities including New York, Paris, Florence, Venice, and Istanbul before they die, and I love when they call me years after graduation to tell me about their travels. Loyola has been very generous and kind to me. I wouldn’t have a career without Loyola, and the students have been receptive to my work. I take great pleasure in working for the Jesuits. 

How does Loyola’s mission speak to your work?

I try to instill Jesuit values and the desire to learn in my history courses. I teach my students how to think critically and communicate and write effectively.

One of the nice things about teaching at Loyola is that it doesn’t feel like a job. I get to be a facilitator of conducting research and teaching others about what I enjoy about my studies; it allows me to travel throughout Europe, complete research, and write about history.

Kelly Devries and others standing atop a green grassy hill
DeVries leading a tour of castles for the International Medieval Congress, pictured with group along the border of Wales and England.

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

My students know a decent amount about me already. I share with them that I’ve dressed in Henry VIII’s armour, slept in the Tower of London (where I went out at midnight to look for ghosts, but I didn’t find any), and they know I’m well-traveled. For some reason, my work has drawn international attention, and I’ve given talks in almost every European country. This year I’ve spoken in Coimbra, Portugal; Gorizia, Italy; Athens, Greece; and Leeds, United Kingdom. It is nice to see the international support of my reputation. My students enjoy that I can show them where I’ve been and talk about my experiences. It helps them learn class material. 

What are your interests and hobbies?

“Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby,” George Bernard Shaw said in Pygmalion. So, I have done that. I like movies, traveling, and most of my free time is spent reading and writing. My favorite movie is Casablanca and my favorite medieval movie is the 1938 edition of Robin Hood.