Nora Lessersohn

Pioneer US Activist Christopher Oscanyan Topic of Talk


BELMONT, Mass. — The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) will host an online lecture by Nora Lessersohn on Tuesday, February 21, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern / 4:30 p.m. Pacific, titled “The Sultan of New York: Armenian-American Entertainment and Politics (1834-1895).” This program is co-sponsored by the NAASR and the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS).

The webinar will be accessible live on Zoom (registration required) and on NAASR’s YouTube Channel.

Photo of Christopher Oscanyan (Courtesy of St. Louis Community College)

This talk will introduce the life and work of Christopher Oscanyan (1818-1895), one of the first known Armenian-Americans, and his efforts to connect the U.S. with the Ottoman Empire — especially its Armenian Christian population. For most of his career, Oscanyan used a wide variety of popular American entertainments to try to “correct erroneous impressions” of “the Turks” and cultivate what he called “mutual diplomatic relations” between his two countries. Owing to changing politics in the Ottoman Empire in the 1870s, however, as well as increasing Armenian immigration to the U.S. in the 1880s, Oscanyan embraced Armenian nationalism and an Armenian-American identity that allowed him to champion human rights in the face of what he identified as rising “Turkish tyranny and persecution.” On the whole, Oscanyan’s work shows how he repeatedly (re)invented an Armenian-American identity decades before a large Armenian community lived in the United States.

Nora Lessersohn is a PhD candidate in History at University College London, supported by a Calouste Gulbenkian Armenian Studies Scholarship. She was most recently the 2021-2022 Joe and Wanda Corn Predoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Her work, which has been published in the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, Comparative Studies in Society and History, and Memory Studies, looks at issues of entertainment, politics, and transcultural interaction as they relate to Armenians, Turkey, and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. She earned her A.M. in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University (2015) and her A.B. in the Study of Religion at Harvard College (2009).

For more information contact NAASR at


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