Obituary: Professor Edith Porada

Edith Porada, historian, teacher and writer: born Vienna 22 August 1912; Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University, New York 1958-63, Professor 1963-74, Arthur Lehman Professor of Art History and Archaeology 1974-81 (Emeritus); died Honolulu 24 March 1994.

'I THINK that my main function has been, and is, to be an intermediary between knowledge and students, colleagues and friends.' With these words Edith Porada accepted the Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement of the Archaeological Institute of America in 1977. She was still exercising this function a week before her death when she conducted a seminar with two of her students from her bed at her sister's house in Honolulu.

The field which she made her own was the study of Ancient Near Eastern seals, particularly the distinctive cylinder seals used from 3500 BC for over 3,000 years. In the words of the citation accompanying the award,

She has opened the eyes and minds of archaeologists to the wealth of information on art, architecture, material culture, religious beliefs, mythology, economic, political and intellectual life, cultural contacts, chronology and history which are to be found on the seal stones with their miniature world of signs, images, intrinsic beauty and testimony.

Porada was a pioneer and remained the leader in her field; there is no scholar of Ancient Near Eastern Art who does not owe something to her keen observation, insight and ability to communicate what she saw.

Edith Porada was born in 1912 and grew up in Vienna where she wrote her thesis on Akkadian seals (c2330-2190 BC) and obtained her doctorate in 1935 - a remarkable achievement in one so young. She moved to New York in 1938. During the next decade she catalogued the seal impressions from Nuti, near Kirkuk, in Iraq (1947), and wrote the important two-volume Corpus of the Ancient Near Eastern Seals in the Pierpont Morgan Library Collection (1948). She became honorary curator of seals and tablets in that collection in 1955 and her weekly seminars in her small room at the library were an inspiration to generations of students; the seminars of the 1993 Fall semester were, she felt, her 'best ever'. It is hoped to establish an international centre there in her memory.

After teaching for a number of years in Queen's College and working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she moved to Columbia University as Associate Professor in 1958. She was made full professor in 1963, and named the Arthur Lehman Professor in 1974. In 1983 the Edith Porada Professorship of Ancient Near Eastern Art History and Archaeology was established at Columbia. She was the recipient of numerous research fellowships, and of honorary doctorates from Smith College and Columbia University. She was an Ordinary Fellow of the German Archaeological Institute, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (1977) and the fourth recipient of the Cavalli d'Oro di San Marco (1988) awarded by the Veneto Studi e Ricerche sulle Civilita Orientale.

It was as a teacher that Edith Porada will chiefly be remembered. She loved her subject and communicated her enthusiasm: her first PhD student was wooed from life as a diplomat. She never married but her students in effect became her family and continued to be bound to her by ties of loyalty and affection long after they had flown the nest. She would take immense trouble in writing references, canvassing support, arranging introductions, organising lectures for them or reading their manuscripts. Her criticism was always constructive and she enjoyed academic debate and encouraged divergent opinions. Her interest in her students was not restricted to their academic lives but she cared for them deeply and took a great interest in their personal lives. She saw them established in leading universities and museums throughout the world, encouraged contact between their different generations and followed closely the work of her students' students. Her own academic generosity influenced all those who came into contact with her. However, she was impatient with sloppy or mediocre work and outspoken in her condemnation of academic or personal dishonesty or betrayal.

Her attitude to her work was broadly based and she saw it in a wider context. In order to provide the necessary opportunities for her students to do likewise, she organised excavations at Phlamoudhi in northern Cyprus. She was in contact with colleagues all over the world and attended congresses and symposia, rarely missing the yearly meetings of the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale. For decades she organised and chaired the Columbia University Seminar for the Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and the Near East and invited speakers from abroad to address its meeting which brought together students and academics from all over the United States.

She wrote a number of catalogues and books, including a survey of The Art of Ancient Iran (1965), and over a hundred articles, five of them still in the press, but her death has prevented her from completing an important catalogue of the cylinder seals of the second millennium BC in the British Museum. On 23 February she was to have given the Anshen Lecture at the Frick Collection in New York; in the event, her paper (which will be published) was read in her absence. She had written in her lecture of the 'intensity of Ancient Near Eastern Art'. Through her writings she will continue to communicate this intensity to future generations.

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?