Director's Message

Willeke Wendrich

UCLA is a public university and that brings a responsibility for us who work here to be part of the public debate. Archaeology is a discipline that allows us to see both the longue durée and short-term events. Our work has the power to show the particularities of day-to-day experiences in the past. It also enables us to analyze what happens in the present within a deep historical perspective. Studying the materiality of everyday life urges us to ask ourselves how our time will be perceived in the future: what will the material reflection will be of the America that we live in today? Will future archaeologists see a dramatic widening of the wealth gap and increase in social stratification, characterized by palaces surrounded by green grassy parks with small holes in them? Will future bioarchaeologists conclude that a decline in age-at-death can be linked to a sharp deterioration of the health of large groups of the population? How will future anthropologists characterize the 21st century nation state?

 

This age, which we already identify as the Anthropocene, shows a sharp degeneration of the diversity of species, contrasted by an increase in the diversity within the human species on the American continent. Related to that, I have been wondering how our present lived experience influences the way we interpret the past and I cannot but conclude that there is a considerable shift. As an archaeologist trained in post-processual archaeology, I have always been careful with using the term “objective” and certainly the term “truth”. I would shudder when colleagues used these words freely and, in my opinion, naively. Yet, since two years, I have landed in a philosophical crisis and, in spite of my well-founded reservations, I now feel that there actually is an objective or at least an intersubjective truth, that is based on facts. Evidence can be debated, but should never be disregarded, warped, or denied. Civilized human society is founded on an informed and tolerant discussion. It is rooted in the weighing of information that can be checked independently. Throwing out all rules of debate in exchange for personal or political gain is unethical and potentially dangerous. Rendering intellectual, fact-based criticism as suspicious, and those who wield it as enemies, is the pursuit of tyrants. We need to bring the grand narratives of oppression, inequality, injustice, and even just the stories of inattentiveness and lack of empathy, under the attention of those who have forgotten the past, or consider it inconsequential. History does not repeat itself, but historical events allow us to analyze where human behavior has serious negative consequences. We do not have to agree, as long as we keep listening.

 

The Academic year 2018/2019 sees the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and its forays in past and present society as lively and active as ever. We are celebrating the arrival of six incoming students: Alba Menedez Pereda will work with Professor Stella Nair; Maryan Ragheb is advised by Professors Willeke Wendrich and Kara Cooney; Kellie Roddie is a student of Professor Richard Lesure; Baisakhi Sengupta has Professor Monica Smith as advisor; Rachel Wood will work with Professors John Papadopoulos and Sarah Morris, while Zichan Wang is a student of Professors Lothar von Falkenhausen and Min Li.

We will be welcoming Professor Jason de Leon (anthropology) and the IDP is joined by two additional faculty members: Professors Sharon Gerstel and Meredith Cohen, both based in the Art History Department. In the past year Professors Elizabeth Carter and Jeanne Arnold retired and we are looking forward to a seminar on Near Eastern Archaeology to Celebrate Liz’s career and accomplishments.

 

Space upgrades continue steadily: the former Channel Island Laboratory (Fowler A340) is the new research and finds processing home for Prof. Jason de Leon. The Experimental Laboratory (Fowler A419), and the Ancient Architecture Laboratory (Fowler A332) are in the process of receiving modest facelifts as well.

 

And then there are our celebrations of students and postdocs who have made a flying start in their academic careers: Kristine Olshansky (PhD 2018) has been named the Director of the Armenian Archaeology Laboratory at the Cotsen Institute and with a postdoctoral fellowship; Chelsey Fleming (PhD 2016) has accepted a position as a researcher at Google; Ellen Hsieh (PhD 2017) recently has obtained a position at National Tsinghua University in Taiwan; MaryAnn Kontonicolas (PhD 2018) has accepted a position at Ex Consultants; Debby Sneed (PhD 2018) is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University; Trevor van Damme (PhD 2017) has accepted a year-long Visiting Assistant Professorship at the University of Victoria; Chenghao Wen (PhD 2018) has received a job offer for a permanent research position at the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing; Brett Kauffman has been given the position of assistant professor (tenure track) in the Department of Classics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Carolyn Arbuckle Macleod has obtained a one-year postdoctoral position at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver; Sonali Gupta-Agarwal will be starting a postdoctoral position at UCLA, through a generous gift from Mr. Phil Shugar. Congratulations to all, and we also celebrate our postdoctoral researcher Alan Farahani with his tenure track position at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

May this list of budding careers be our witness: archaeology matters greatly in our scrutiny of material culture, social structures, economic developments and the intangible reality of past and present lives.

 

Willeke Wendrich

Director, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology