One of the photographs of Prof. Zeynep Devrim Gursel

NAASR to Stream lecture on Photography, the Ottoman State, and Armenian Immigration


BELMONT, Mass. — The Ararat-Eskijian Museum, Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) will present an online lecture on Sunday, July 26, at 5 p.m. (Eastern U.S. time) by Prof. Zeynep Devrim Gursel titled “Portraits of Unbelonging: Photography, the Ottoman State, and the Making of Armenian Emigrants, 1896-1908.” This event will be held live on Zoom (registration required) and streaming on NAASR’s YouTube channel.

Prof. Zeynep Devrim Gursel

“Portraits of Unbelonging” investigates the history of Ottoman Armenian emigration from the Ottoman east to the United States from the politically fraught and often violent 1890s to the end of Abdülhamid II’s reign in 1909. Between 1896 and 1909, Ottoman Armenian subjects could emigrate legally only if they renounced their nationality and promised to never return to the empire. Having their photograph taken was a key step in the process. These photos recorded their “renunciation of nationality” and became one of the first uses of photography to police borders anywhere in the world.

The goal of “Portraits of Unbelonging” is to link an Ottoman Armenian past to an American future to create a double-sided history of migration. Gursel follows the stories of emigrant families over a century through official documents, ship manifests, and family photo albums. This involves traveling all around the United States to meet with descendants of those photographed and hear what became of the families first encountered in the Ottoman archives.

Gürsel is a media anthropologist and associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University. For more than a decade she has been researching photography in the late Ottoman period. She is the author of Image Brokers: Visualizing World News in the Age of Digital Circulation (Univ. of California Press, 2016) and the director of the award-winning ethnographic film Coffee Futures.

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