Prof. Christina Maranci

Growing Interest in Armenian Art at Tufts

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MEDFORD, Mass. — Enrollment has been increasing annually in the introductory course on Armenian art taught by Dr. Christina Maranci, holder of the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara T. Oztemel chair of Armenian Art in the Department of Art History at Tufts University. Maranci said, “I had 17 students my first year teaching Armenian art, and the numbers have been going up. Usually in the interim years, before now, I would get between 20 and 30. The last year or so, the number has really risen. And now I have 50 and ten more on the waiting list, so it is 60 plus.”

Maranci speculated as to the reasons why, stating, “I think students are getting more interested in cultures outside of the usual art historically important ones that we all know, like Medieval Europe or Impressionism, or contemporary art. I think they are getting curious about other cultures and I try to talk about Armenia as a tradition that can connect to so many different cultures. And it is a way to think about what is important in our history.”

Looking at art through the Armenian lens, so to speak, leads to questions such as why do we privilege Greek temples and not talk about Garni. How do you write a history of art and why do you choose the cultures that you do? Maranci pointed out that there is nothing absolute about this. For example, she said, there is nothing inherently more valuable about the ancient Mediterranean region than Armenia. Armenia is a great example about how it has really not been served, and there are reasons for that too.

She said that many of her students are interested in political science and international relations, so they are interested in the perspective of cultural heritage, which makes the Armenian monuments living problems.

The recent show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Armenia!, has attracted more attention to Armenian art, but, Maranci thought perhaps the zeitgeist has changed for Armenia in general. She said that “there is a general curiosity, interest and excitement around Armenian culture. These things go through fashions. You have to capitalize on it when things happen…You can leverage this whole global turn in the humanities and say, you want to be global, then you have to look at this culture, connected to so many other cultures, so mobile, interesting and vibrant.” Armenian culture is studied from so many different points of view that, she said, it is a way to learn about much of the world and many disciplines while studying a specific subject very closely.

Finally, though she is too modest to say so, no doubt her teaching style is an important factor for students. Her course may not only be the only Armenian course that these students take but also the only art course, so they will remember it, she said, and some even will want to go visit Armenia afterwards.

Maranci on site

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The Tufts chair, Maranci has written, has two sets of goals — to educate undergraduates, non-specialists, and the general community in Armenian art and to train students for advanced work in the field. Her introductory survey course in the fall is followed by a spring seminar on various interesting aspects of Armenian art, such as manuscripts, architecture or even wall painting.

She only teaches two courses at the moment because of her concomitant responsibilities as chair of the art department. She is free to focus on Armenian art, because of the way her chair was set up by Dr. Lucy Der Manuelian, her predecessor.

Maranci has been teaching at Tufts since 2008. When she has taught the general art survey class at Tufts, she includes a lecture on Armenian art, so that it is one of the few places in the US where “Art 101” includes Armenian material.

Maranci’s graduate students receive master’s degrees, and since there is no doctoral program at Tufts, go on to places like Columbia University or Princeton. The master’s degree students write their theses on Armenian subjects but for their doctorate work with a Byzantinist, Islamic Art specialist, or a medievalist. She continues to advise them as they advance in their work. They keep their interest in Armenia, and Maranci said, their primary doctoral advisers also become more familiar with it.

Thus, she said, “It is a way of planting or embedding Armenia in these big doctoral programs.” Afterwards, they will be able to combine Armenian art history with their broader field. Maranci added that all the old traditional categories of specialists were breaking down, partly because universities no longer have the financial resources for separate specialists, so that having Armenia as a field may be useful to these students in various ways.

Maranci co-founded a graduate student workshop called East of Byzantium, which also gives graduate students exposure to the latest research on the Christian East, including, among other places, Armenia, Georgia, Syria, Central Asia and Georgia. Specialists are brought from outside in these fields.

In addition to her own research and writing, Maranci wrote her most recent book, The Art of Armenia: An Introduction (2018), in response to her students’ needs, she said. She compiled a synthesis of new research in the field.

Maranci noted that Tufts was fortunate in having two chairs in Armenian studies. The second one is held by Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, Darakjian and Jafarian Professor in Armenian History, who supports the students and is a good colleague and specialist in her own field.

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