LOS ANGELES — The Society of Aarmenian Studies has installated Dr. Sebouh David Aslanian as the Richard Hovannisian Chair in Modern Armenian History (endowed by the Armenian Educational Foundation) at the University of California, Los Angeles. Aslanian was selected for the chair in April 2011 and is the author of From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants From New Julfa (Univ. of California Press, 2011), which has received the PEN literary award for outstanding first book of the year from UC Press and the Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association. Aslanian is currently gathering material for a book on the history of diasporic Armenian print culture.
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.
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.