Nina G. Garsoïan

Eminent Armenologist Nina Garsoïan Passes Away

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NEW YORK — The eminent Armenologist and Byzantinist Prof. Nina G. Garsoïan passed away on August 14. She broke a number of glass ceilings in academia, both as a woman and as a specialist in Armenian Studies.

She was born in Paris in 1923, and ten years later as a child moved with her parents to New York City. She initially intended to be a concert pianist, but after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Classical Archaeology in 1943 from Bryn Mawr College, she earned a master’s degree in archaeology and then her doctorate in Armenian, Byzantine and Medieval History (1958) at Columbia University. She began teaching at Smith College.

Garsoïan came to Columbia University in 1962 and became the first female professor to receive tenure at its Department of History. She was invited to Princeton University in 1977 to become the first female dean of its graduate school, but only stayed till 1979, when she returned to Columbia as the inaugural holder of the Gevork M. Avedissian Chair in Armenian History and Civilization. She continued to teach there until she retired in 1993.

She was one of the leading scholars in Armenian and Byzantine Studies, and part of the generation of scholars who integrated Armenology into American academia at the highest levels. As such, she became the first president of the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) in 1975.

Her translations of various works such as The Trade and Cities of Armenia in Relation to Ancient World Trade by H. A. Manandian (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1956), Armenia in the Age of Justinian by Nicholas Adontz (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1970), The Arab Emirates in Bagratid Armenia by Aram Ter-Ghevondyan (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1976) and The Epic Histories Attributed to Pʻawstos Buzand (Harvard University Press, 1989) provided useful annotations, notes and bibliography in addition to commentary.

Some of her other academic works in English include The Paulician Heresy (Mouton & Co., 1967), Armenia between Byzantium and the Sasanians (Variorum Publishing, 1985), Church and Culture in Early Medieval Armenia (Ashgate, 1999), and Interregnum: Introduction to a Study on the Formation of Armenian Identity (ca 600-750) (Peeters, 2012), but there are many more. She published her memoirs, titled De Vita Sua, in 2011 (Mazda Publishers). In her early work in particular, she was known for bringing to light the Iranian influence in Armenian history.

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She was particularly dedicated to her graduate students and trained a whole cadre of specialists who have themselves become leaders in the field of Armenian studies.

Garsoïan served as editor for many years of the Paris-based Revue des Études Arméniennes. She was a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. She participated in the Byzantine Studies Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, twice serving as a co-director.

In 2019, the Society for Armenian Studies awarded Garsoïan the SAS Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition and appreciation of her outstanding service and contribution to the field of Armenian Studies. Furthermore, the SAS established the Nina G. Garsoïan Graduate Research Grant funded by her student Dr. Levon Avdoyan (retired recently from the Library of Congress).

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