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From the Archives: Sirarpie Der Nersessian

From the Archives: Sirarpie Der Nersessian

Sirarpie Der Nersessian and, left to right, André Grabar, Paul Alexander, and Father Francis Dvornik. (Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.PH.Misc.218)

The Armenian art historian Sirarpie Der Nersessian (1896–1989), a specialist in Armenian and Byzantine manuscripts, held appointments at Dumbarton Oaks at a time when the young institute was striving to become a research center of national importance. Serving first as a Resident Scholar in 1944 and then as Senior Scholar in 1945, she became Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology in 1946. She held this position until 1953 when she became the Henri Foçillon Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology at Harvard University. She retired to Paris in 1963. At Dumbarton Oaks, Der Nersessian was instrumental in mentoring scholars, organizing and overseeing symposia, and publishing books and articles on medieval manuscripts. Dumbarton Oaks has two collections of papers related to Sirarpie Der Nersessian, one in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) and the other in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives (DOA). Unlike the administrative papers held by DOA, ICFA’s holdings comprise personnel records, annual reports of Der Nersessian’s research and publications, and a sizeable number of handwritten letters detailing her project goals, research findings, and travel details to such far-flung locales as Moscow and Aleppo. Collectively, these papers give researchers a clear picture of the resident scholarly community in the early days of Dumbarton Oaks as well as the personality of one of the world’s most accomplished early female Byzantinists. Because of the importance of these holdings, metadata and cataloguing specialist Anne-Marie Viola (ICFA) and archivist James Carder (DOA) have begun to explore the possibilities of “virtually reuniting” the Der Nersessian and other similarly shared materials by using the collections management software AtoM. Once implemented, this software will allow researchers to locate subject holdings across the Dumbarton Oaks departments and, in the case of Sirarpie Der Nersessian, gain a more comprehensive picture of the scholar and her work during her time at Dumbarton Oaks. Look for more details about the development of this online inventory in the year ahead.

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