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Meredith Cohen

Professor Meredith Cohen Discusses Rebuilding and Restoring Notre Dame Cathedral

Meredith Cohen

Meredith Cohen

Feelings of grief and despair were felt across the globe on Monday, April 17, 2019, when a devastating fire erupted at Notre Dame Cathedral. Individuals around the world collectively mourned the state of the 850-year-old Paris landmark, posting photos and exchanging memories of the cathedral.

After officials began to assess the damage, it became clear that it will take multiple experts to develop a plan to restore and rebuild the structure, including conservators, engineers, and art historians.

Meredith Cohen, associate professor of medieval art and architecture in the UCLA Art History Department, is a specialist in Gothic architecture of Paris and high medieval Europe (c. 1000 – c. 1450). Below are some statements that she gave to various media publications regarding the Gothic building’s significance and the complicated question of how to rebuild and restore Notre Dame.

Cohen explained to Slate that the building is “the origin of our concept of Paris as a center of art and culture.” It was constructed over the course of three centuries, beginning in 1160, and “symbolically transformed the city into the center of European culture during the medieval period through its display of the new and innovative Gothic architecture and its singular architectural and artistic ambition.”

Not only did Notre Dame symbolically and culturally transform the city, but it also represents “an extraordinary feat of mankind” because it was built by hand during a time without heavy machinery. Cohen also notes that the building was “a kind of utopian vision for people in the Middle Ages, and they really wanted it to last forever.”

With most of the building’s structure still intact, Cohen told Slate that the cathedral itself is “the artwork” and that “all the other works of art attached to church are different details of it.” She expressed concern over the loss of the “Forest,” the cathedral attic’s wooden frame with beams that were each made from an individual tree.

Speaking to National Geographic about the wooden structure, dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, Cohen added that it was a “rare example of medieval engineering.” She also stated that the cathedral’s choir might be missing some key features, including some sculptures and graffiti that medieval worshippers etched into the choir stalls.

In her LA Times response to the current debate on how to rebuild and restore the iconic cathedral, Cohen puts forth another question to consider: “Should you fake history or create something of our time?” She suggests a design that acknowledges the building’s status and relevance in the 21st century, which could mean replacing the 19th century spire with something different instead of replicating it. As a more modern addition to the cathedral, Cohen reminds the public that this spire is a piece of the cathedral’s layered history. “A carbon copy is a false history because you can’t re-create the past. It would still have a completion date of 2019.”

The question of how to rebuild and restore the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral will not be answered overnight. As a symbol of Paris’ history, this process will require a collaborative effort between various experts and stakeholders looking to preserve the history and cultural significance of this beloved architectural structure.

The Humanities Division would like to thank Professor Cohen for sharing her insight with the public in the aftermath of this destruction.

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.

Chicano Studies Research Center wins diversity award

Throughout its 50-year history, the Chicano Studies Research Center has advanced diversity in the arts through scholarship, museum exhibitions, archival collections, public programs, community partnerships, professional development and policy-related research and advocacy.

Labor activist Dolores Huerta fires up crowd at UCLA

“How did we get so upside down?” the activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers asked an enthusiastic audience. Her talk, UCLA’s sixth annual Winston C. Doby Distinguished Lecture, was Feb. 28 at the Fowler Museum’s Lenart Auditorium.

UCLA receives $1 million for Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali postdoctoral fellowship in Iranian linguistics

Named for the renowned linguist Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali, the fellowship will promote research on the linguistic heritage of Iran, focused on Persian and Iranian languages.

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.

UCLA receives $5 million to establish center for the study of Hellenic culture

The center, which will be housed in the UCLA College, will build on the university’s strengths in Hellenic studies and support research across disciplines ranging from archaeology and classics to languages and digital humanities.