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In the UCLA Division of Social Sciences, we are dedicated to advancing research with real-world impact. As the #1 public university located in one of the most diverse cities in the world, we are ideally positioned to address critical issues facing our communities. Through the work of our world-class faculty – and our students who will become the leaders of tomorrow – we strive to be a leading agent for change across the nation and around the world.

Here in the Social Sciences at UCLA, we are very interested in the impact of technology on society. There are countless applications of big data that help us solve many of the problems that define life today in American society. LA Social Science is pleased to share this video highlighting two researchers, Dr. Till von Wachter and Dr. Safiya Noble, and the important, big data research they are leading in the social sciences.

As a public institution, our work is ultimately in service of you, our community. By engaging LA, we are changing the world.

As summer 2020 approaches, LA Social Science will be highlighting some of the summer courses being offered within the Division of Social Sciences at UCLA.

The UCLA Department of African American Studies has exciting courses planned for the summer. Professor Scot Brown is offering a course on Funk Music. Professor Terence Keel is offering a Session C course that will have the class “think about how our bodies are deeply impacted by/shaped by the society around us.”

For more information on these courses, see the videos below, and enroll HERE. For additional course previews, click HERE.

Dr. Scot Brown’s Funk Music and Urban History Course:

 

Dr. Terence Keel’s Race, Science, and Society Summer 2020 Course:

As the Director of the UCLA Race, Ethnicity, Politics and Society (REPS) Lab, Dr. Efrén Pérez is facilitating cutting-edge research that examines how racial diversity impacts politics. One of his lab’s current projects is an examination of how the identity of People of Color informs political attitudes and what the specific identity means to those who identify as Latinx. The REPS Lab acts as an incubator for rigorous social science research that also provides graduate students and affiliated faculty with a quality data collection platform that is publicly accessible. Overall, the REPS Lab trains and prepares graduate students for a career as a social scientist. Dr. Pérez states that the purpose of the lab is to “facilitate research that can have an impact not only on the person’s own career, but on the world outside the confines of UCLA.”

 

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Monica L. Smith is a UCLA professor in the Department of Anthropology. In addition to teaching and mentoring students, Smith is the Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair in Indian Studies and the Director of South Asian Archaeology Laboratory in the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Her principal research interests have three main focuses: the human interaction with material culture, urbanism as a long-term human phenomenon, and the development of social complexity. Most recently, Smith has spent time on a research project in eastern India, but her scope of work covers various parts of the world including Madagascar, Turkey, Bangladesh, Italy, Tunisia, Egypt, and the United States to name a few. Smith has combined her years of rich research and experience to share the history of cities in her newly published book that was released this month titled, Cities: The First 6,000 Years. In a recent correspondence with Smith she describes in her own words a brief comment about her book. She explains:

“This book explores what makes cities a compelling part of human life, and how over the past six thousand years they have become the dominant form of human settlement. The growth of cities wasn’t an easy process and those who live in cities find them challenging and exciting in equal measure. There is crowding, pollution, high prices, and traffic, but at the same time there are amazing job opportunities, educational and medical facilities, and the possibilities of entertainment ranging from major sports teams to museums, art galleries, and theaters. Cities are also places of much greater diversity, whether that’s ethnic diversity, migrant neighborhoods, or LGBTQ communities. Cities are places of great economic growth and they’re linked together into a global network of connected places.”

Dr. Smith offered additional insights and words of wisdom in a short series of questions about her book.

What inspired you to write your book, Cities: The First 6,000 Years?

I really enjoy teaching my classes “Cities Past and Present” and “Religion and Urbanism” within the Anthropology Department here at UCLA. And I am also an archaeologist who works on ancient urban centers in the Indian subcontinent. Those experiences, as well as my interest in contemporary cities (including our great city of LA!) provided the inspiration for the book. There are a lot of things about cities that we find challenging, but cities are growing larger and larger. My interest was in exploring the long continuity of city life from the very beginnings of urbanism starting six thousand years ago right through to the present and future.

How long did the process take to complete your book?

The Cities book was a sequel to a previous book that I wrote, A Prehistory of Ordinary People, which was published in 2010. Like most academic projects, there’s a kernel of an idea that starts long before we sit down to write a new book. But this one took a couple of years, which in terms of increments is not that much work – about a page a day, really, although some of those pages were rewritten many times to try and get it just right.

What were some of the challenges of writing and publishing?

I was very fortunate in having good prior experiences in public engagement such as through the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology’s annual Backdirt publication. And my colleague Jared Diamond (UCLA Geography) was very helpful in providing encouragement and suggestions. The publication staff and editors at Viking Press were amazing in their dedication to the book and in support of me as an author.

What was most enjoyable about writing this book?

As I wrote in the book’s acknowledgements, this book was really a pleasure to work on and something that I truly enjoyed doing. I’ve always been interested in examining archaeology beyond the perspective of palaces, kings, and queens, so it was an opportunity to think about how we can take evidence in the form of potsherds and ancient buildings to understand how ancient people felt about their cities and how those feelings are still part of our own urban lives.

What do you hope readers take from your book?

I enjoyed the idea of walking people through their own cities, so that they can be archaeologists too. There are the physical remains of our ancestors everywhere around us in every city; in Los Angeles, we have places like Olvera Street and Sawtelle Japantown and Bruce’s Beach. Once people start to look around at the palimpsests of the past in their own city, they can apply those skills to the places that they visit in their travels or the cities to which they relocate for work and family. Cities are remarkably similar in time and space, whether they are archaeological sites or living cities. And some places, like Rome and Mexico City, are ancient and modern all at the same time.

Any advice for others (students/professors) who want to write their own book?

Writing a book isn’t much different from writing a paper (a very long paper!).

How were you able to balance so many responsibilities in your personal life with family and as a professor, chair, director, as well as author a book?

As faculty, we are constantly writing in a variety of different formats, including writing research articles, grant proposals, conference papers, and letters of recommendation in support of students. So, writing a book gets folded into those other activities, and writing is a little bit like breathing: something that we do all the time. But I’ll admit that one of the things that gets cut in the balance of activities is keeping up with things like movies and TV, so I rely on my friends to keep me up to date on that!

How do you feel now that your book is out? How has it been received?

The publisher has been great about spreading the word, and the reviews in advance of publication have been beautiful. One thing that I really appreciated was the reviewers who found the book “humorous” which is not something that faculty often hear – it’s a great compliment. I hope that people enjoy reading it, even if they have time for just a chapter or two.

Definitively, Smith’s book has resonated with many people and has been recognized by other authors, archaeologists, colleagues, and publishing companies. Below are just a couple of praises Smith has received regarding her book. Zahi Hawass, author of Hidden Treasures of Ancient Egypt stated, “Cities captures the reality and stress of how we make cities and how, sometimes, cities make us. This is a must-read book for any city dweller with a voracious appetite for understanding the wonders of cities and why we’re so attracted to them.” Similarly, Publishers Weekly commented on Smith’s book saying it was, “[An] enjoyable, humorous combination of archeological findings, historical documents, and present-day experiences.” These are convincing reviews, so get the book and read it for yourself.

 

To read additional reviews and media coverage on Cities: The First 6,000 Years, check out these sites: Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Centre for Cities, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, and The American Scholar.

UCLA’s Division of Social Sciences is full of amazing faculty, staff, and students who are contributing to academic scholarship in major ways. Dr. Marcus Hunter is certainly one of these people. Dr. Hunter is a dedicated professor of sociology, the chair of the African American studies department, and a respected author.

Most recently, Dr. Hunter was recognized by the UCLA Newsroom for his book he co-authored with Dr. Zandria F. Robinson titled, Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life. This book is filled with the rich history of the Black American experience dating back to the 1900s and focuses on how Black Americans created their own “Chocolate Cities” where black culture is maintained, created, and defended. It touches on diverse topics including race, racism, place, space, knowledge, and liberation as well as the social, cultural, economic, and political influence. Looking through the eyes of Black Americans and highlighting the way they define their American story, it breaks down preconceived notions of American history told by white America.

To learn more, read the interview with Marcus Hunter about his renowned book HERE.

Chocolate Cities map