Ports and Printers Across the Armenian Diaspora

Episode 325

hosted by Nir Shafir

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A perennial question in Ottoman history is why printing was not fully adopted in the Middle East for the production of books until the late nineteenth century. Armenians, however, did start to print their books as early as the sixteenth century. In this episode, Sebouh Aslanian explains this rather sudden shift by telling the story of how the twin traumas of the Celali Rebellions and Shah Abbas’s scorched-earth campaigns against the Ottoman Empire spurred the mass migration of Armenians away from their traditional centers in the Eastern fringes of Anatolia, the Armenian Plateau and the Caucasus and toward major cities of Western Anatolia and Iran. As the traditional centers of Armenian manuscript production were disrupted by war and banditry, Armenians turned to printing presses in the European diaspora to satisfy their needs for books.

This episode is part of a series entitled "History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise"

Correction: In the podcast, the date of the first opening of an Armenian printing press in Istanbul is stated as 1565, but it should be 1567.

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Contributor Bios

Sebouh Aslanian is Associate Professor of History and Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair of Modern Armenian History at UCLA. He is he author of From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa (Berkley: University of California Press, 2011) and Dispersion History and the Polycentric Nation: The Role of Simeon Yerevants‘i's Girk‘ or Kochi Partavchar in the Armenian National Revival (Venice: 2004) and is currently completing a book manuscript titled Early Modernity and Mobility: Port Cities and Printers Across the Armenian Diaspora, 1512-1800.
Nir Shafir is a historian of the Middle East whose research examines the intersections of knowledge production, religious practice, and material culture in the early modern world. He curates Ottoman History Podcast’s series on history of science in addition to being one of the co-founders of hazine.info, a website that explores the archives and libraries of the Islamic world. He is an assistant professor of history at UCSD.

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Episode No. 325
Release Date: 18 July 2017
Recording Location: Long Beach, CA
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Music: Katibim (Uskudar'a Gider iken) - Safiye Ayla
Special thanks to Kara Günes for permission to use the composition "Istanbul" and to Sato Moughalian for "Tamzara"
Images and bibliography courtesy of Sebouh Aslanian


Title page of Movses Khorenatsi‘i classical work, The History of Armenia, printed by Thomas Vanandets‘i in Amsterdam, 1695. Editio princeps (first printing) of the earliest historical account of the origins of the Armenians.
Title page of the Arak‘el of Tabriz's Girk‘ Patmut‘eants‘ [Book of Histories] printed by Oscan Yerevants‘i in Amsterdam 1669. Editio princeps of an important history of Armenians during the early modern period.
Title page of the Arhest Hamaroghut‘ean [The Art of Arithmetic] printed on Oscan Yerevants‘i's press in Marseille in 1675. This book is considered the first printed book in Vernacular Armenian or ashkharabar.
Patmutiwn Metsin Gengizkhani arajin kayser nakhni mghulats ev tatarats, bazhaneal i chors girs, 1788, Triest. [History of Chingiz Khan the Great, the first emperor of the former Mughuls and Tatars in four books. This work is a translation by the Julfan merchant Marcara Shahrimanian of François Pétis de la Croix's Le Histoire de Genghizcan-le-Grand, premier empereur des anciens Mogules et Tartares

Title page of first Armenian Bible printed by Oscan Yerevantsi‘i in Amsterdam, 1666-1668

Select Bibliography

Sebouh Aslanian, From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa (Berkley: University of California Press, 2011)

______________, “A Life Lived Across Continents: A Global Microhistory of Martin Marcara Avachintz, an Armenian Agent of Colbert’s Compagnie des Indes Orientales, 1666-1688,” forthcoming in Annales: Histoire, Science Sociales (forthcoming in 2017)

______________, “Port Cities and Printers: Reflections on Global Armenian Print,” Book History (2014): 51-93.

______________, “Prepared in the Language of the Hagarites: Abbot Mkhitar’s 1727 Armeno-Turkish Grammar for Vernacular Western Armenian,” Journal for the Society of Armenian Studies (2017): 54-86

______________, “The Early Arrival of Print in Safavid Iran: Some New Light on the First Armenian Printing Press in New Julfa,” Handes Amsorea (2014): 383-468.

Henry Shapiro, “The Great Armenian Flight: The Celali Revolts and the Rise of Western Armenian Society,” Phd dissertation Princeton University (in progress)

William J. Griswold, The Great Anatolian Rebellion, 1000-1020/1591-1611 (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1983)

Raymond H. Kévorkian, Catalogue des ‘incunables’ arméniens (1511–1965) ou chronique de l’imprimerie arménienne (Geneva: Patrick Cramer, 1986)

Edmund Herzig, “The Deportation of the Armenians in 1604-05 and Europe’s Myth of Shah Abbas I,” in Charles Melville, ed. Persian and Islamic Studies in Honor of P.W. Avery (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 1991), 59-71

Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of a Global World (New
York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008)

Sahak Djemjemian, Hay tpagrut’iwně ew Hrom (ZhE. dar) [Armenian printing and Rome during the seventeenth century] (Venice: San Lazzaro, 1989) (in Armenian)

Sam White, The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Nile Green, “The Uses of Books in a Late Mughal Takiyya: Persianate Knowledge Between Person and Paper,” Modern Asian Studies 44, 2 (2010): 241-265


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