Teaching the marvels of architecture

By Persida Montanez

Professor Jelena Bogdanović researches architecture in the Middle Ages. Bogdanović is Ivy-league educated and an author of numerous books. She puts the same kind of meticulous effort in her job, as architects in the Middle Ages did with their massive and beautiful constructions.  In her case, instead of creating enormous shrines to help adherents look upwards for guidance, Bogdanović instructs her students to look to the past to become the best possible students today.

Bogdanović has taught 19 different graduate and undergraduate courses in the School of Art and Design at East Carolina University. Many courses now offered in the Art History Major were created and developed by Bogdanović since she was hired in 2006.

In high school, Bogdanović loved math and art. She attended the University of Belgrade in Serbia and studied architecture to combine both interests.“I then applied to grad schools in the U.S. because it’s known that the U.S. has the best schools,” Bogdanović said.

Bogdanović got her M.A. in Art History from Vanderbilt University. That’s when she became drawn to medieval architecture — in particular, Byzantine art and architecture. To Bogdanović, architecture is art. “Architecture is different than what builders and civic engineers do. Not only does architecture have a function, it has an element of aesthetics that affect human feeling,” Bogdanović said.

Bogdanović then earned another M.A., this time in Art and Archaeology, as well as a Ph.D. in the same areas from Princeton. At Princeton she learned and researched with the top Byzantine Art historians in the world. Bogdanović added that she was very fortunate to attend Princeton. “You never know where you’ll end up. I was very lucky,” she said. She was offered a job at East Carolina before she graduated and she accepted it.

Bogdanović is a petite woman with a bob haircut, complete with the flats shoes that are so popular today. She smiles often, especially when speaking about Byzantine architecture. On a Monday afternoon after an art history class, she walks across the street to the Jenkins Fine Arts for office hours. In her art history class, students are learning about the three different periods of Ancient Egyptian Art.  Bogdanović’s office resembles hersmall, full of books, but also very neat.

Bogdanović is as qualified as she is passionate about her students and research. Jason Leighton, a recent graduate in engraving, took a Byzantine art and architecture course with Bogdanović in 2010. “You can tell when a professor is passionate about what they do or not,” Leighton said, “and she is definitely passionate.”  It comes as no surprise when Bogdanović said that Byzantine art and architecture is her favorite course to teach.

The Byzantine Empire practiced Christian orthodoxy and its capital city, Constantinople, which is now Istanbul, was considered one of the most sophisticated and beautiful cities of its time.  The Byzantine Empire spread to modern-day Serbia bringing its art and architecture that later influenced Bogdanović.

Bogdanović greatly admires the Hagia Sophia, a marvel of architecture that was first a basilica and later a mosque in Turkey. “It’s not just that their works are still standing, it’s how you feel once you are inside. Their accomplishments are hard to imagine. Building the Hagia Sophia in five years was a huge undertaking. Even in the highly developed countries of today no one would try a project like this. The Hagia Sophia was even decorated with golden mosaics,” she said.

Dr. Jessica Christie, who teaches in the School of Art, was on the committee that hired Bogdanović. Christie said that Bogdanović brings above-average national academic standard and is a model for raising the bar at East Carolina. “Her research is more complex and sophisticated than that of many outside peers and her class preparations are perfectionist. She spends an extraordinary amount of time and effort to guide students to bring out their highest potential,” Christie said.

Bogdanović’s office may be neat, but her interests are as varied as the different forms of art.  Bogdanović paints birds and flowers and uses photography as a means of expression. “I have a fish tank,” she said. In addition to being a part of the faculty in the School of Art, she participates and teaches courses in the Russian and Medieval Renaissance Studies program. Bogdanović loves to travel too, “India and China are on my list of places to go next.”