Nina G. Garsoïan (1923-2022)

The staff of the ISAW Library was saddened to hear of the passing of Nina G. Garsoïan on August 14. Prof. Garsoïan was both a preeminent scholar of the history, language, and literature of Armenia and a major donor to our collection.

Born in Paris to Armenian emigrés in 1923, Nina Garsoïan arrived in New York with her family in the fall of 1933. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1943 with a degree in Classical Archaeology, and went on to Columbia University, where she received an MA in 1946 and enrolled in a doctoral program in Medieval History in 1948. She trained as a concert pianist, being invited to the WNYC Young Keyboard Masters program in 1951, but a hand injury that year rendered further pursuit of a career as a professional pianist impossible. Instead, she redirected her focus to the study of Classical Armenian, receiving a Fulbright fellowship to study at the Armenian Benedictine Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice. 

While still finishing her doctorate (1958, subsequently published in 1967 as The Paulician heresy : A study of the origin and development of Paulicianism in Armenia and the Eastern Provinces of the Byzantine empire), Prof. Garsoïan accepted a teaching position in the History Department at Smith College (1956). She was subsequently offered a joint appointment in the History and Middle East Languages and Cultures Departments by Columbia in 1965, before becoming the first female professor to be granted tenure in the Department of History in 1969. While at Columbia, she developed the Program in Armenian Studies and became chair of the Department of Middle East Languages and Culture. From 1977 until 1979, Garsoian served as Dean of the Graduate School at Princeton University before returning to Columbia as the first to hold the Gevork M. Avedissian Chair in Armenian History and Civilization.

Following Prof. Garsoïan’s retirement in 1993, she continued to serve as director of the editorial board of the Revue des études arméniennes. In addition to her dissertation, her many publications include her 1993 lectures at the Collège de France Des Parthes au Califat : quatre leçons sur la formation de l'identité arménienne (1997) and L’Eglise Arménienne et le Grand Schisme d'Orient (1999), as well as several edited collections of essays and a memoir, De Vita Sua (2011). Throughout her career, she participated in the Dumbarton Oaks Symposium on Byzantine studies, twice serving as its co-director. She received Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, participated in two National Endowment Senior Fellowship Exchanges with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and was twice awarded the Mesrop Mashtots Medal for academic distinction. In 2019, the Society for Armenian Studies (SAS) established the Nina G. Garsoïan Graduate Research Grant, awarded on an annual basis to a graduate student in the field of Ancient and Medieval Armenian History and funded by a former student of Prof. Garsoïan, Dr. Levon Avdoyan.

Prof. Garsoïan’s library, containing a wealth of scholarship and primary sources on Armenian history, as well as supporting material on Central Asia and the Ancient Near East, was donated to the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in 2016. Of particular note are the Armenian-language titles in the collection, many of which are difficult to find in American libraries. Reflecting the wide-ranging interests of Prof. Garsoïan, the collection spans the breadth of Armenian history: ISAW retained material on ancient periods and the early Byzantine Empire, and material on the medieval and early modern periods from the collection is now in processing to be added to Bobst Library’s collection. The collection greatly strengthens NYU Libraries’ holdings in the history of the South Caucasus and the Byzantine Empire, and we are grateful that we have been able to ensure Prof. Garsoïan’s library is available for future generations of scholars.