Professor Balakian meets with Columbia students

by Taleen Babayan

Published: Thursday October 10, 2013

From the August 31 discussion. Taleen Babayan

New York - Over 20 students gathered at Columbia University over Labor Day Weekend to meet Professor Peter Balakian and learn more about his course this fall as well as upcoming Armenian Studies programming on campus.

Students of all grade levels and fields of study - representing Columbia College, Teachers College and the School of International and Public Affairs among others, met in Lerner Hall on August 31 and listened attentively as Professor Balakian, who is the Ordjanian Visiting Professor in the Department of Middle East, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University, introduced himself and his fall semester course "Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust: Memory and Representation."

Balakian, who is the Rebar Professor of the Humanities in the department of English at Colgate University, is a poet, memoirist and scholar and the author of several prize winning books about the Armenian genocide and has been at the helm of developments relating to historical trauma, genocide, human rights and ethics in American academy over the last 35 years.

"The issues of genocide, trauma, memory and imagination weren't part of the curriculum forty years ago. They emerged in scholarly discourse more fully in the 1980s and 90s. And then the growth was impressive. By the ‘90s genocide studies became a part of the curriculum in cutting edge and interdisciplinary ways." Balakian noted that the curriculum in the US has been very receptive to genocide studies and its many layers and to the study of trauma and imagination.

"What's impressive in the US is that our curriculum has been embracing of a human discourse in an interdisciplinary way. said Balakian. "This has been important for the Armenian the Armenian the history of the Armenian genocide and for the broader Armenian voice and narrative in the twentieth century."

Expanding on the foundations of his course, Balakian spoke about the interdisciplinary aspect of it, giving students the opportunity to focus their assignments in their respective fields of study.

Balakian said he finds the comparative part of the course important because the Armenian Genocide and Holocaust have "interesting intersections and historical connections.."

After discussing the premise of the course and Armenian Studies related programming for the fall, which includes a talk by Balakian on September 25 titled "Terror and Taboo: Going to Turkey," hosted by the University Seminar on Cultural Memory, Balakian opened the floor to students to express their thoughts and to answer any of their questions.

Students, many of whom are members of the Armenian Society at Columbia University, appreciated the opportunity to spend an evening with Professor Balakian and have an open forum to learn more about his work and courses and to ask any relevant questions about Armenian studies in university curriculum today.

"It's always great to see bright young Armenian minds from different backgrounds come together for the benefit of Armenia and our communities," said Vaché Thomassian, who is studying Economic and Political Development at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. "We also look forward to having Dr. Balakian's guidance and input in our work with the Armenian Society this year."

Lucine Kinoian, who is the President of the Armenian Society at Columbia University, was inspired by the enthusiasm the group expressed towards Professor Balakian.

"The students demonstrated just how much potential the Armenian Society has," said Kinoian, who is a graduate student at Teachers College. "I look forward to hosting more events for our group this year that will allow us to further our knowledge and passions in Armenian history and culture."

Chris Edling, who spent the past three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Syunik, Armenia, and who is now a writing student in Columbia's School of the Arts, said he felt welcomed by Professor Balakian and Columbia's Armenian Society.

"To have such a prominent scholar set aside an evening for students is rare and it is truly a credit to the character of both Professor Balakian and the Armenian Society at Columbia."

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Maria Mehranian.

Calendar of Events

Maria Mehranian will speak on California's high speed rail on October 23 in Pasadena; for details about this and other upcoming Armenian happenings in America, consult the Calendar of Events.