ALMA’s New Director Seeks New Ways to Connect Visitors to Cultural Heritage


By Gabriella Gage
Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN — After several years of collaboration, Dr. Susan Pattie recently joined the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) as its new director. When she found out she would be relocating to the Boston area from London, working with ALMA seemed like the perfect choice for Pattie.

As the new director, Pattie hopes to build upon ALMA’s history of community outreach, saying, “What interested me most is outreach and making the heritage come alive, and also making it relevant to the contemporary world. ALMA does an amazing job of preserving cultural treasures and bringing people in to show them how to connect to their history and heritage.”

Pattie, a Washington DC native, received her undergraduate degree from Hope College and worked as an artist/craftsperson before earning her doctorate in anthropology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She served as the senior research fellow at University College London and later was a founding director of the Armenian Institute in London. Her academic research has focused on the Armenian Diaspora and preservation of Armenian culture.

She is also the author of Faith in History: Armenians Rebuilding Community. Pattie worked on several education-based projects during her time as director of the Armenian Institute. She said, “We did it because there wasn’t another organization there using mixed media arts to bring history to a contemporary context. We wanted to have an exchange of ideas — a forum for presenting ideas among each other.”

In 201l, Pattie and Armenian Institute colleagues published a children’s educational guidebook (available at ALMA) titled, Who Are
the Armenian People? “The project grew out of a conversation with a parent in London who wanted to talk to children about Armenian history, but wasn’t sure how to go about it,” Pattie noted.

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The book also tackles the difficult subject of explaining the Genocide to children, Pattie said. “We discuss the history of the Armenian people. We also need to explain what genocide is so that children will understand. That section took a long time to write. It talks about survivors as well as those Turkish people who helped some survivors escape — how the diaspora of today began. What is important is that they [children] understand that not only were lives lost but a way of life was lost.”

In addition to educating children, the book serves as an introduction for adults unfamiliar with Armenian history and culture.

Pattie was also one of the authors of Treasured Objects: Armenian Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire, which served as part of an exhibit at the Armenian Institute in London and even includes descriptions of objects brought over by Pattie’s own grandmother during the Genocide.

Combining her artistic background with her anthropological research has given Pattie a deep appreciation for Armenian material culture and media — one that she hopes to pass on to ALMA visitors. Pattie explained, “I think use of multimedia — such as performing
arts as well as crafts — is very important. It allows visitors to understand that Armenians didn’t just survive; they regenerated themselves and continue to create and thrive. I want them to leave ALMA thinking, ‘What an amazing past, but also, what an exciting future.’”

So far, Pattie has enjoyed getting acquainted with ALMA and with the thriving Boston-area Armenian community.

“The people [at ALMA] are great and very welcoming, and supportive.People have emailed me their ideas for the museum […] I love hearing what people think and [their] ideas. We try to incorporate them,” she said, adding with a smile, “The Watertown community has been so welcoming.”

In addition to several larger projects in the works, Pattie shared that there will be an ALMA lecture on November 15, featuring, Nora Lessersohn, a Harvard University Divinity School researcher, discussing the cultural traditions of the Ottoman-Armenian community.

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