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How Los Angeles became the capital of incarceration

For the last several years, UCLA history professor Kelly Lytle Hernández has been reaching into Los Angeles history, back before the city was even city or California was even a state, to unearth evidence of how local and national governments, police and jail systems operated as a formalized machine of conquest and elimination targeting native, poor and non-white people.

$5 million gift from Meyer Luskin establishes research center for history and policy at UCLA

Thanks to a $5 million gift from longtime supporter Meyer Luskin, UCLA will establish the Luskin Center for History and Policy, the first academic research center on the West Coast devoted to using history to publish knowledge that promotes solutions to present-day issues.

Meyer Luskin

The new center will foster teaching, research and collaborations across campus and beyond the university that will direct historical insights to shaping policies and solving problems.

“I believe we can use history to better our lives,” said Luskin, the chairman, president and CEO of Scope Industries. “The best way to choose the path to the future is to know the roads that brought us to the present.”

The Luskin Center for History and Policy will be a pioneer in translating historical research into tangible and accessible sources of knowledge. The center will support policy-oriented projects developed by UCLA history faculty and their colleagues across campus, host visiting scholars and postdoctoral fellows and provide funding for graduate students. It will also sponsor new courses that will train students to analyze historical events and apply their knowledge to current issues.

“Meyer Luskin has given UCLA the means to build a new pathway to using historical knowledge for the greater good,” said Scott Waugh, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost. “Situated in a global university with a public mission, the new center is well placed to have a decisive impact, from the local level all the way to the international level.”

The history department can already cite at least one recent example of the influence of historical research on public action. In 2015, Zev Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor and now a senior fellow in history at UCLA, led a project examining the city’s bidding process for the 1984 Olympics. The resulting position paper was distilled into an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times and contributed to the decision by the Los Angeles City Council to delay a vote on the Olympic bid until all its provisions could be properly debated.

Stephen Aron, the Robert N. Burr Department Chair of the history department, said the center would be a hub for collaborative projects engaging researchers from the social sciences and the humanities as well as campus units including the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“My goal is to make history matter more to more people, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than through this center,” Aron said. “We are indebted to Meyer for his generous and visionary action.”

Initially, the center will be under the direction of history professor and former department chair David Myers, working closely with Aron.

“There is a new urgency to understand and apply our historical knowledge to today’s world,” said Myers, holder of the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History. “The new Luskin Center will be a national trend-setter in bringing many different angles of historical perspective to bear on key issues in the country — and world — today.”

Myers said the center would help develop new forms of teaching to equip students with the historical tools to make sense of the world around them and thrive in any number of careers.

Luskin, who graduated in 1949, and his wife, Renee, who graduated in 1953, are among UCLA’s most generous supporters. In 2011, they donated $100 million — the second-largest gift ever to the campus — to support academic programs and capital improvements. The gift was equally divided between the UCLA School of Public Affairs, which was renamed in their honor, and the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, which opened in 2016. Luskin co-chairs the UCLA Centennial Campaign Cabinet, serves on the campaign executive committee, and is a member of the UCLA Foundation board of directors.

Addressing graduates at the 2014 history department commencement, Luskin said, “The study of history creates important knowledge — but equally important is how you assemble and use that knowledge.”

Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World established at UCLA

UCLA has established the Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World, the first center in the Western Hemisphere that aims to advance the knowledge of ancient Iranian languages, history and religions.

Anahita and James Lovelace

The Pourdavoud Center was named for the late Professor Ebrahim Pourdavoud, a pioneering scholar of ancient Persia, and was made possible by a gift from his granddaughter, Dr. Anahita Naficy Lovelace, and her husband, James B. Lovelace.

“My grandfather devoted a lifetime to the study of the history, languages, religions and culture of ancient Iran. I am so grateful that Jim and I have the good fortune to be able to honor and extend the impact of his important contributions,” Lovelace said.

The mission of the Pourdavoud Center is to engage in transformative research on all aspects of Iranian antiquity, including its reception in the medieval and modern periods, by expanding on the traditional domains of Old Iranian studies and promoting cross-cultural and interdisciplinary scholarship. The center will complement UCLA’s well-established doctoral program in Iranian Studies – founded more than half a century ago in 1963 – which attracts 1,000 students from all over campus to its courses each year.

“At UCLA, we recognize that the study of ancient cultures is more important today than ever,” said David Schaberg, dean of humanities in the UCLA College. “It reveals the rich tapestry of human history and identity, and allows us to understand and uphold the highest values our forebears espoused.”

Schaberg said he was confident that the Pourdavoud Center would inspire lively intellectual and cross-cultural discussions among students and scholars throughout campus, as well as members of the Los Angeles community.

“UCLA’s location in the principal metropolitan center for the Iranian-American community is ideal for the Pourdavoud Center,” he said.

The Pourdavoud Center will host lectures, seminars, workshops and conferences. It will also provide grants to established and emerging visiting scholars to generate and disseminate innovative scholarship on ancient Iran.

The center will draw on a wealth of campus resources including: the departments of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Classics, History, Art History, and Asian Languages and Cultures; the Indo-European Studies program; the Cotsen Institute for Archaeology; the Asia Institute; the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies; and the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. Moreover, extensive collections of medieval Persian manuscripts and late antique Iranian inscriptions will be available to scholars working at the Pourdavoud Center.

UCLA’s Iranian Studies program, led by Professor M. Rahim Shayegan, is home to the largest and most comprehensive doctoral program of its kind in the Americas and is the only one to cover the entire spectrum of Iranian Studies across disciplines, linguistic boundaries and periods. Its distinctive strengths are Old and Middle Iranian philology, ancient Iranian history and religions, archaeology, and the study of classical Persian literature.

“We are very grateful to the Lovelaces for providing us crucial resources to revive the study of Iranian antiquity,” said Shayegan, holder of the Jahangir and Eleanor Amuzegar Chair of Iranian Studies. “A research institute of this magnitude can have a transformative impact on the fortunes of the whole discipline, decisively reversing its decline and reinforcing its foundation.”

Shayegan, who will guide the Pourdavoud Center as it launches its inaugural year, said that the center would launch in the spring with a two-day international workshop focused on strategies to strengthen the field of ancient Iranian studies and to bolster institutional links among other centers of excellence.

Ebrahim Pourdavoud

Ebrahim Pourdavoud (1885-1968) was a dedicated scholar who pioneered the first Persian translation of the Avesta, the holy book of the ancient Zoroastrian religion. Over a span of 67 years, he conducted extensive research on ancient history and ancient Iranian languages, and trained many scholars and Iranists.

According to Shayegan, Pourdavoud profoundly affected Iranian society by resurrecting and identifying ancient Persia as a positive force for societal progress in contemporary Iran.

“The late Professor Pourdavoud greatly admired the ability of ancient Iranian universal empires to embrace diverse ethnicities, religions and languages, while allowing their individuality to thrive within a cohesive state structure,” Shayegan said. “This innate tolerance was, and still is, of great appeal, and a research center named after Pourdavoud ought to pay heed to this spirit of openness to the world.”

Lovelace, who spent the first 18 years of her life in Tehran, has fond memories of childhood visits to her grandparents’ home.

“Our grandfather would typically receive us in his study, where he spent most of his time,” she recalled. “He was surrounded by his beloved books on ancient Iran, in different languages, alongside encyclopedias, reference books, dictionaries and books on a variety of related subjects. Though a formal man, he was very warm and lighthearted at the same time. He had a wonderful sense of humor and always looked for ways to engage us, his grandchildren, during these visits.”

“I am grateful to my grandfather and my parents for giving me such wonderful early exposure to the ethos of ancient Iran. I have found this immeasurably helpful both in my personal as well as my professional life,” she said.

As for the gift to UCLA, Lovelace said that she was impressed by the caliber of the program of Iranian Studies and faculty, and that she anticipated the field would thrive in such a vibrant setting.

“With new tools for discovery and expanding opportunities for exchange of ideas, it behooves us all to work together to keep our ancient civilizations alive and relevant for future generations,” she said.

Lovelace is a clinical psychologist practicing in Los Angeles. She holds a bachelor of arts in psychology from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from The University of Texas at Austin. A native Californian and graduate of Swarthmore College, James Lovelace is an equity portfolio manager at Capital Group, a global financial services company based in Los Angeles.

To learn more, please visit the Pourdavoud Center’s web site.

Become a citizen scientist and help preserve California’s biodiversity

Would you like to become a volunteer citizen scientist helping to document and analyze California’s rich biodiversity? If so, you can be among 1,000 volunteers who will collect 18,000 samples of soil and aquatic sediment from across the state through a new University of California program called CALeDNA that intends to revolutionize conservation in California by the end of this year.

UCLA acquires major collection of Sephardic Jewish past

Symbolic key from the 1932 dedication of L.A.’s Temple Tifereth Israel (courtesy of STTI Archive)

The UCLA Sephardic Archive has acquired one of the most significant collections ever assembled chronicling Los Angeles Sephardic Jewish history. The materials tell of the migration of Sephardic Jews to California from the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa at the turn of the 20th century; the shaping of Sephardic culture in Los Angeles; and Sephardic Jews’ contributions to the Jewish and urban fabric of L.A.

Marking its first major acquisition, the archive partnered with UCLA Library-Special Collections to acquire the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel (STTI) archive, which includes a rich trove of photographs, papers, audio-visual materials and rare books dating to the mid-19th century. Many are written in the endangered language of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), the language of Mediterranean Jews descended from the medieval exiles from Iberia.

Launched in 2015, UCLA’s Sephardic Archive is the first of its kind in the U.S. and aims to be one of the world’s largest collections—as yet unseen—of Sephardi Jewish life. An early focus will be on the local Ladino-speaking community, whose immigrant pioneers came to L.A. from modern-day Turkey and the Balkans in the early 20th century. The archive will then be expanded to include L.A.’s North African, Persian and other Middle Eastern Jewish communities.

“UCLA is the ideal institution to safeguard and steward a collection of such enormous significance,” said Sarah Abrevaya Stein, director of the archive, professor of history and holder of the Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies. “We are in L.A., which is home to one of the oldest and largest Sephardic communities in the country, and we have the world-class resources to pioneer a comprehensive and invaluable archive of Sephardic culture.”

Jerusalem rabbinate’s 1912 recognition of the L.A. Sephardic Jewish community (courtesy of STTI archive)

Most archives and libraries dedicated to preserving documents and objects of the Jewish past have focused on European Jewish histories. In contrast, UCLA’s archive will span the southern Mediterranean and Middle East. Made possible by a lead gift from the Sady Kahn Foundation with additional support from the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies Community Advisory Board and the Maurice Amado Foundation, the archive complements UCLA’s unparalleled academic expertise and course offerings related to the study of Sephardic Jewish history.

Chris Silver, UCLA doctoral student in Jewish history and the archive’s project manager, said that the recent acquisition of the STTI archive would launch UCLA’s efforts in the most meaningful way, given its connection to the local community (the Temple is located on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood). The STTI archive was created in 1981 and stewarded by Maurice I. “Bob” Hattem, a descendant one of the earliest founders of the Sephardi communidad in L.A. The diverse collection includes institutional records, research papers, newsletters, pamphlets, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings. The archive also possesses an impressive audio-visual collection of reel-to-reel, cassette and VHS tapes.

According to Stein, time is of the essence. “Materials held in these collections can be acutely vulnerable and at risk of being lost forever—often languishing in garages and other facilities ill-equipped for preservation,” she said. “It is imperative to collect, preserve and make them available for scholars and members of the community.”

The UCLA Sephardic Archive hopes to reverse the historic neglect of these primary source materials.

19th-century Ottoman birth certificate of a Sephardic Temple congregant (courtesy of STTI Archive)

Michael Hattem, son of Bob Hattem and member of STTI and the archive’s community advisory board, said, “The partnership between STTI and UCLA will keep the rich heritage of Sephardim alive for generations to come.”

After gathering and cataloguing the materials, Stein and her researchers plan to create a visually rich and historically informative interactive exhibit available online to users all over the world. The digital exhibit will be accompanied by a temporary physical exhibit at the Sephardic Temple featuring items drawn from the STTI archive and marking the community’s centenary anniversary. Finally, the archive will serve as a research resource for UCLA graduate students writing their dissertations on related topics and for community members interested in learning more about their past.

To learn more, please go to the archive’s webpage.