Aslanian Named Armenian Chair At UCLA

By Meg Sullivan

Armenian Weekly
June 26, 2012

An award-winning young historian has been selected to fill a chair
originally occupied by retired UCLA historian Richard Hovannisian,
who is widely regarded as the world’s dean of Armenian studies.

Sebouh Aslanian Sebouh David Aslanian, who joined UCLA’s department
of history in September 2011 as an assistant professor of history,
was installed May 22 in the Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair.

“It was a challenge to find a scholar who could one day fill Richard
Hovannisian’s large shoes,” said David Myers, chair of UCLA’s history
department. “But we believe that Sebouh Aslanian is that person,
and we are delighted and honored to have him.”

Born and raised in Ethiopia, Aslanian is the grandson of Armenian
immigrants who fled the Ottoman Empire in the 1890’s. His maternal
grandfather, George Djerrahian, co-founded the first privately owned
printing press in Ethiopia in 1931. The family emigrated to the United
States in 1976, on the heels of the Ethiopian Revolution, and then
settled in the United Arab Emirates, where Aslanian attended middle
school, before moving to Canada.

After completing his undergraduate degree at McGill University in
Montreal, Aslanian received his Ph.D. with distinction from Columbia
University. Before joining UCLA’s faculty, he taught at California
State University, Long Beach; Cornell University; the University of
Michigan; and Whitman College. From 2009-10, Aslanian was a Mellon
Foundation postdoctoral fellow in world history at Cornell.

Able to conduct research in a range of European languages (French,
Italian, and Spanish) as well as classical Armenian, Aslanian is
fluent in the western and eastern dialects of modern Armenian. In
addition, he is one of the few scholars active today who is able to
conduct research in the dialect of Julfa-the home, until the early
17th century, of a group of Armenian merchants near today’s republic
of Armenia.

The history of the merchants, who were resettled under the Persian
empire in New Julfa, a suburb of today’s Iranian metropolis of Isfahan,
is a central theme of Aslanian’s scholarship. He is also involved
in global microhistory, a new trend in world history scholarship
that explores the details of the lives of marginal or previously
overlooked figures as windows onto larger processes and trends shaping
global history.

“With the skill of a detective, he traces the entwined byways of
commerce and culture traveled by Armenian merchants as they made
their way from Julfa to India to Europe and back,” Myers said.

Aslanian is the author of From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean:
The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants From New Julfa
(University of California Press, 2011), a history of the emergence
and growth of a global trade network operated by Armenian merchants.

Tracing a network of commercial settlements that stretched from London
and Amsterdam to Manila and Acapulco, from the early 17th to the late
18th centuries, the book was selected for the PEN Center USA literary
award for the most outstanding first book of 2011 to come from the
UC Press.

“Sebouh David Aslanian has been tireless in his consultation of
archival sources in India, Armenia, and Iran, throughout Europe,
and even in Mexico,” said a review of the book that appeared in the
Times Literary Supplement.

With the goal of illuminating the little-told history of French
expansion into the Indian Ocean, Aslanian is now working on a
microhistory of an Armenian merchant from Julfa, Marcara Avachintz,
who in 1666 was appointed by Louis XIV and his minister of finance,
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, as the first regional director in the Indian
Ocean and Iran of the newly created French East India Company.

He also is working on the history of the Santa Catharina, an
Armenian-freighted ship that was seized by the British navy in 1748
against the backdrop of the War of the Austrian Succession. Using more
than 2,000 pieces of family and mercantile correspondence that were
on the ship at the time of its capture, Aslanian plans to illuminate
the larger history of globalization in the Indian Ocean arena during
the 17th and 18th centuries.

In addition, Aslanian is gathering material for a third book on the
history of diasporic Armenian print culture across a range of areas,
including Venice, Amsterdam, and Madras. In a related activity, he is
organizing a two-day international conference at UCLA on the history
of Armenian print culture. Entitled “Port Cities and Printers,”
the Nov. 10-11 conference will celebrate the 500th anniversary of
the printing of the first Armenian book in Venice.

At UCLA, Aslanian has taught a sweeping, two-quarter survey of Armenian
history from its genesis to the 18th century. He has also taught a
seminar in one of his areas of specialization-the early modern period
of Armenian history (1500-1800).

Aslanian was selected for the chair in April 2011 after a yearlong
international search.

“It’s a wonderful honor to have this position,” Aslanian said. “I’m
extremely grateful, and it’s an excellent fit because I get to do
both things I can’t live without-researching and teaching.”

Richard Hovannisian retired last year after a 50-year career at UCLA.

While earning an international reputation as a pioneer in the field
of Armenian studies, he organized both the undergraduate and graduate
programs in Armenian history at UCLA and amassed one of the largest
collections of oral histories by survivors of the Armenian Genocide
of 1915-23.

“As the towering figure in the study of modern Armenian history,
Professor Hovannisian not only undertook path-breaking and far-reaching
research. He established UCLA as the major center of instruction and
research in modern Armenian history in the world,” Myers said.

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