Fills the Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Armenian Studies at UCLA.
Specialist in microhistory, global trade named to prestigious Armenian chair at UCLA
By Meg Sullivan May 18, 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 David Aslanian, who joined UCLA's department of history in September 2011 as an assistant professor of history, will be 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 1890s. 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 to 2010, 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 also is 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 to 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 1915–1923.
"As the towering figure in the study of modern Armenian history, Professor Hovannisian not only undertook path-breaking and far-reaching research," Myers said. "He established UCLA as the major center of instruction and research in modern Armenian history in the world."
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From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean
The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa Sebouh David Aslanian
Description Drawing on a rich trove of documents, including correspondence not seen for 300 years, this study explores the emergence and growth of a remarkable global trade network operated by Armenian silk merchants from a small outpost in the Persian Empire. Based in New Julfa, Isfahan, in what is now Iran, these merchants operated a network of commercial settlements that stretched from London and Amsterdam to Manila and Acapulco. The New Julfan Armenians were the only Eurasian community that was able to operate simultaneously and successfully in all the major empires of the early modern world—both land-based Asian empires and the emerging sea-borne empires—astonishingly without the benefits of an imperial network and state that accompanied and facilitated European mercantile expansion during the same period. This book brings to light for the first time the trans-imperial cosmopolitan world of the New Julfans. Among other topics, it explores the effects of long distance trade on the organization of community life, the ethos of trust and cooperation that existed among merchants, and the importance of information networks and communication in the operation of early modern mercantile communities.
Author Bio Sebouh David Aslanian is a Mellon post-doctoral fellow in world history at Cornell University.
Reviews "Sebouh David Aslanian draws upon an unrivaled body of original documentation, collected in seven languages from twenty-five archives, to reconstruct in great detail the logic and working of a global commercial network. He poses a series of fundamental questions concerning the Julfan network and critically assesses both the received literature and the very documentation on which he grounds his revisionist study, making this a valuable contribution to comparative economic history."
Edward Alpers, author of East Africa and the Indian Ocean
"From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean is without question an exceptionally interesting, well-researched, and original study. The work is the product of lengthy and determined exploratory archival research whose global reach reflects the far-flung trading network of Aslanian's subject. Compared to previous work on the Julfa Armenians (or the trade of the Safavid Empire in general), it is on an altogether higher level of theoretical sophistication."
Edmund Herzig, editor of Iran and the World in the Safavid Age
Lecture at Ararat-Eskijian Museum
PRESS RELEASE National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) 395 Concord Ave. Belmont, MA 02478 Tel.: 617-489-1610 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
DR. SEBOUH ASLANIAN to speak on NEW julfa ARMENIANS AT ARARAT-ESKIJIAN MUSEUM
Dr. Sebouh D. Aslanian, the newly-appointed Richard Hovannisian Term Chair of Modern Armenian History, established by the Armenian Educational Foundation at UCLA, will speak on Sunday, October 30, at 4:00 p.m., at the Ararat-Eskijian Museum, 15105 Mission Hills, CA. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be cosponsored by the Museum and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).
Aslanian's lecture, "From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa," will draw on his recently-published book of the same name, issued by the University of California Press.
Drawing on a rich trove of documents, including correspondence not seen for 300 years, Aslanian's groundbreaking study From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean explores the emergence and growth of a remarkable global trade network operated by Armenian silk merchants from a small outpost in the Persian Empire. Based in New Julfa, Isfahan, in what is now Iran, these merchants operated a network of commercial settlements that stretched from London and Amsterdam to Manila and Acapulco.
Aslanian brings to light the trans-imperial cosmopolitan world of the New Julfans, the effects of long distance trade on the organization of community life, the ethos of trust and cooperation that existed among merchants, and the importance of information networks and communication in the operation of early modern mercantile communities.
Prof. George Bournoutian of Iona College has praised From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean as "the most researched and original work" on the subject that "exceeds, by far, all previous scholarship on the Armenian merchants of New Julfa." The book has been selected by the Committee of the "California World History Library" as the first book to appear in their new series, "Author's Imprint," that celebrates and recognizes "exceptional scholarship by first-time authors."
Aslanian has previously taught in the department of history at CSU-Long Beach as an Assistant Professor in the fall of 2010 after serving a year at Cornell University as a Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral fellow in world history. He received his Ph.D. (with distinction) from Columbia University in 2007. Aslanian specializes in early modern world and Armenian history and is the author of numerous articles in peer reviewed journals such as the Journal of World History, the Journal of the Social and Economic History of the Orient, the Journal of Global History, and Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies.
>From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean will be on sale at the talk and available for signing by the author.
More information about Aslanian's lecture may be had by contacting the Ararat-Eskijian Museum at 818-838-4862 or email@example.com or NAASR at 617-489-1610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 12, 2011