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Photo of Professor Stephanie Jamison.

Professor Stephanie Jamison to share how she finds women in ancient, often patriarchal, texts

Photo of Professor Stephanie Jamison.

Stephanie Jamison

For four decades, UCLA’s Stephanie Jamison has been somewhat defiantly seeking the stories of women among some of the oldest texts in the world. Jamison’s expertise lies in Indo-Iranian, especially Sanskrit and middle Indo-Aryan languages with an emphasis on linguistics, literature and poetics, religion and law, mythology and ritual, and gender.

Jamison will share some of what she has unearthed on April 3 as she delivers UCLA’s 126th Faculty Research Lecture titled “Looking for Women Between the Lines in Ancient India.” They will be names and stories of women we have likely never heard of before.

“It is often said that the kind of scholarship that I do, which is very traditional examination of written language, cannot be used to study women and marginal groups, because it’s just not there,” said Jamison, distinguished professor of Asian languages and cultures and also Indo-European studies in the UCLA College.

But Jamison would argue that the tools employed through traditional philology (the study of language in literary texts and other written records) are actually well suited for digging beneath the surface of text for exactly those stories, even among the works from colonialist and patriarchal cultures.

Even back as far as 1500 B.C. in India.

For 15 years, Jamison and her co-author Joel Brereton worked on a translation of the “Rig Veda,” India’s oldest Sanskrit text. Published in 2014, theirs is the first full English translation in well over a century of the text that is considered crucial to the understanding both of Indo-European and Indo-Iranian cultural prehistory and of later Indian religious history and high literature.

It’s an era and a place that essentially has no archaeology to help interpret meaning, so we are completely dependent upon text for context, Jamison said. She often summarizes philology as the work of “text and context.”

“In the Rig Veda there was a debate going on underneath the surface about the place of women in religious life,” Jamison said. “There are very enigmatic snatches of narrative about women or female goddesses or demigoddess and they are being deployed by two different sides of the debate as examples of either the terrible or wonderful things that will happen if you let women in. But none of this is actually conveyed on the surface.”

So looking for and finding women in these ancient texts requires burrowing in as deeply as possible, she said, starting with a very close attention to grammar, literary devices and rhetorical devices, alongside trying to uncover the religious system and whatever we can uncover about history.

Jamison was trained as a historical and Indo-European linguist, and earned her doctorate from Yale in 1977. She’s been teaching at UCLA since 2002. She regularly teaches courses in Sanskrit, Middle Indo-Aryan, and old Iranian language and literature, Indo-European and Indo-Iranian linguistics, and undergraduate courses on classical Indian civilization.

Jamison said she also enjoys teaching in a freshman cluster course called “Neverending Stories: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Myth.”

The Faculty Research Lecture — a UCLA tradition since 1925 — is free and open to the public and will be held on April 3 at 3 p.m. in the Schoenberg Music Building.

Photo of Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

The parallels of female power in ancient Egypt and modern times

Photo of Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA.

 

Over the course of 3,000 years of Egypt’s history, six women ascended to become female kings of the fertile land and sit atop its authoritarian power structure. Several ruled only briefly, and only as the last option in their respective failing family line. Nearly all of them achieved power under the auspices of attempting to protect the throne for the next male in line. Their tenures prevented civil wars among the widely interbred families of social elites. They inherited famines and economic disasters. With the exception of Cleopatra, most remain a mystery to the world at large, their names unpronounceable, their personal thoughts and inner lives unrecorded, their deeds and images often erased by the male kings that followed, especially if the women were successful.

In her latest National Geographic book, “When Women Ruled the World” Kara Cooney, professor of Egyptian art and architecture and chair of the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, tells the stories of these six women: Merneith (some time between 3000–2890 B.C.), Neferusobek (1777–1773 B.C.), Hatsepshut (1473–1458 B.C.), Nefertiti (1338–1336 B.C.), Tawroset (1188–1186 B.C.) and Cleopatra (51–30 B.C.).

As we ponder Women’s History Month, and look forward toward a U.S. presidential primary campaign that includes more women candidates than ever before, we asked Cooney about themes of female power and what Egypt can illuminate for us.

Your book illustrates that Egyptian society valued and embraced women’s rule when it was deemed necessary, but these are not instances of feminism. Their attempts to rule was really about keeping the set structure in place.

Studying Egypt is a study of power, and specifically of how to maintain the power of the one over the many. That story also always includes examples of how women are used as tools to make sure the authoritarian regime flourishes. This is the most interesting part to me because then the whole tragedy of the study, of the book, is that this is not about feminism at all. It’s not about feminists moving forward, it’s not about the feminist agenda. It’s not about anything but protecting the status quo, the rich staying rich, the patriarchy staying in charge and the system continuing. We still do this, us women. Women work for the patriarchy without thinking about it, all the time. In the end, did women rule the world? Yes, they did rule the world but did it change anything? No.

I want to look at our world the same way. It doesn’t matter if we have a female president. What matters is how people rule and whose agendas are served.

People who have been to Egypt probably know the name Hatshepsut and maybe Nefertiti, but clearly the most pervasive female cultural Egyptian reference is Cleopatra. Why is she the one? Do we just have more materials related to her?

No, it’s because when you are successful, you can very easily be erased. Cleopatra failed in her efforts to hold on to power and hold onto native rule in Egypt. When you are a failure, it’s aberrant, strange and it spins a good tale. It’s a great story, failure. Whereas success is doing what everyone did before you and what everyone will do after you. It’s the same and nobody cares. It’s the same as being a successful female in a meeting or a successful female who shares a great idea with her boss and her boss takes that idea into the meeting while she sits there meekly, letting the boss take it for his or her own because it’s a successful, great idea.

So it’s the women who are the greatest successes in the story who are the most successfully erased. The women who did it all wrong and didn’t leave their land better than when they found it, who are remembered as cautionary tales. That’s our cultural memory. That’s why everyone can pronounce the name Cleopatra and no one has any idea how to pronounce Hatshepsut. She is not in our cultural memory. It doesn’t serve our patriarchal system to add her to it.

But remember, in the Egyptian mindset Cleopatra wasn’t a failure. She fought Rome and lost, but in the Arabic sources Cleopatra is remembered as an adherent to Egyptian philosophy, a freedom fighter against Rome and as a learned patriot to her people.

Book cover of When Women Ruled the World

How does the framework of Egypt’s long and relatively well-documented history and culture inform our perspectives on power as American citizens, a country of such a comparatively short history and governance?

Egypt is such a gift. When I get asked — and I do — “Why bother devoting your life to this place that’s been gone for 2,000 years and studying people that are as old as 5,000 years?” the answer is that Egypt provides me with 3,000 years of the same cultural system, religious system, government system and language system. I can follow them through booms and busts, through collapse and resurgence and see human reactions to prosperity and pain. That’s really useful. We are in this infancy of 250 years and we think we are so smart, we think we are post-racial, post-sexist and all of these things. But we’re not. Egypt is a huge gift to compare the situation that you are in to the past to see how you might better face the future.

It must be difficult to unearth women’s stories because of the ways in which historical records from around the world largely excluded information about them.

That’s the frustration of working with Egypt. We can’t forget that this is an authoritarian regime. It’s not a competitive place where I can get a speech from a competitor and try to understand a different viewpoint and agenda. It’s my responsibility as a historian of this regime to try and break it down and see what the truth is between the lines. For these women in power it’s even harder because so many of them were erased when their stories did not fit the patriarchal narrative. My job is to be a historical reconstructionist without being a revisionist. I’m interested in seeing how people work within a system and why we are so opposed, even hostile, to female power.

Why are we so hostile to female power?

The stereotype is that the female is going to use emotionality, her own and others, to manipulate and lie, to shame and guilt people into doing something. The man somehow won’t do that. He will be a straight shooter.

There is the idea that there is the masculine emotionality and a female emotionality. This female emotionality, which many men also bear, is the reason we don’t allow them to wield power because they’re happy, sad, up, down. They feel too many emotions that cannot be allowed.

The men that we ask to lead must suppress those emotions and show this even-keeled strength or only anger and no other softer emotions and then only strategically. We demand a kind of emotionality from our leaders that I find quite stunted and I want to know what the evolutionary biology of that is because a lot of this is a knee-jerk reaction to what serves us better in a short-term, acute time of crisis. I think we all need to discuss what it is about that female emotionality, of connecting with our own emotions and others or even manipulating our emotions for our own gain, that is so problematic.

As of now, six women have announced Democratic presidential campaigns for 2020. What does our historical knowledge of what happens to women when they seek power bode for the coming election season?

I get rather cynical about it, to be honest. Already I see the dialogue revolving around deceit and not being a straight shooter.

Again, it’s that double standard that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a man. It’s interesting to see how people are judging women based on emotionality and how much of that they show, how ambitious they seem to be and how duplicitous they may or may not be.

That possibility for deceit is something we are quite obsessed with for female candidates. The possibility of lies by the female is that much more powerful than the outright, absolute fact of deceit by a male candidate or leader. That is very interesting to me. The female is assumed to be a liar, but when a man lies he’s doing it for a reason and he’s on my side so I’m cool with it.

We’ve been discussing racism for some time but we do not discuss our hostility towards females in power. Unless we start to talk about it and openly discuss it, it won’t change.

A Photo of Morvarid Guiv and her husband Rustam Guiv

Zoroastrian Studies Graduate Fellowship established at UCLA

A Photo of Morvarid Guiv and her husband Rustam Guiv

Morvarid Guiv and her husband Rustam Guiv

Thanks to a gift in 2018 from the Trust of Morvarid Guiv, the Morvarid Guiv Graduate Fellowship in Zoroastrian Studies has been established in UCLA’s Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World. Named after the late Iranian philanthropist Morvarid Guiv, the fellowship will support graduate students studying the Zoroastrian religion, its ancient history, languages, and scriptures. The gift secured additional matching support from the UCLA Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match program.

The Zoroastrian religion is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world and was the dominant faith of the Iranian World (including Asia Minor and Central Asia) prior to the rise of Islam. The fellowship enables UCLA’s long-established doctoral Program of Iranian Studies to attract and train new generations of experts exploring the many facets of this influential, ancient Iranian religion that continues to thrive today—further reinforcing UCLA as the premier destination for scholars working on ancient Iran.

“It is a great privilege to host this timely fellowship that so wholly complements the mission and aspirations of the Pourdavoud Center and its eminent eponym,” said M. Rahim Shayegan, Director of the Pourdavoud Center. “The Morvarid Guiv Graduate Fellowship will not only strengthen the study of ancient Iran at UCLA, but also ensure that future generations of scholars pursue research in the languages and history of this remarkable religion.”

Born in Iran, Morvarid Guiv and her husband Rustam Guiv were successful businesspeople who helped Zoroastrian communities by building schools, low-income residential projects, and Zoroastrian community centers. When they immigrated to the U.S., they founded Zoroastrian community centers in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Graduate students awarded the fellowship will benefit from the presence of a strong faculty specializing in ancient Iran and the ancient world at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, and from the unparalleled resources of the Pourdavoud Center, the first research institution in the Western hemisphere that aims to advance the knowledge of ancient Iranian languages, history and religions. Named for the late Professor Ebrahim Pourdavoud, a pioneering scholar of ancient Persia, the Pourdavoud Center aims 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. Professor Pourdavoud was the first scholar to translate the Avesta, the Zoroastrian sacred scriptures, into Persian.

In memoriam: Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, 88, renowned Indo-Europeanist and literary scholar

Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, a world renowned linguist, Indo-Europeanist, anthropologist and literary scholar who was a member of the UCLA community for the past quarter-century, died on October 7. He was 88.

Image by Rodrigo Fernandez

“He was one of the intellectual titans of the 20th century,” said Ronald Vroon, chair of UCLA’s Department of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Languages and Cultures. “There probably isn’t a Slavist or Indo-Europeanist alive today who has not engaged with his work in some fashion.”

Ivanov joined the Department and the Program in Indo-European Studies in 1991 and was designated distinguished research professor following his retirement in 2015. He held many distinguished positions, including the director of the All-Union Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow, chairman of the Department of Structural Typology of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., and chairman of the Department of the Theory and History of World Culture and professor of the Philosophical Faculty at Moscow State University.  He also served as head of the Commission for the Complex Study of Creative Activity of the Scientific Council for the World Culture at the Academy of Sciences and as president of the artistic translation section of the Moscow division of the U.S.S.R. Writers’ Union.

Ivanov received numerous awards, including the Russian Presidential Prize for Contributions to Russian Art and Literature in 2004, and was a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences as well as an honorary member of the Linguistic Society of America and fellow of the British Academy. He received doctorates from both Moscow State University and the University of Vilnius. He was the author of more than 15 books and 1,000 journal articles and was the editor in chief of Elementa: the Journal of Slavic Studies and Comparative Cultural Semiotics.

He is survived by his spouse Svetlana and his son Leonid.

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.