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April 2021: Trauma, Memory, and the History of Mental Health in Armenian Studies Past and Present

Yeghishe Tadevosyan, The Genius and the Crowd, 1909, Oil on canvas, 152x149 cm. National Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan.

Eleventh Annual International Graduate Student Workshop

April 8 & 9, 2021

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

By invitation only. Full participation requires the reading of pre-circulated papers. If you are interested in joining the meeting, please contact

In recent years, the history of trauma, memory, and mental health, as well as the literary, anthropological, and sociological studies of madness have gained a remarkable momentum internationally. Still, there have been virtually no substantial studies of a premodern and modern understanding of trauma, memory, and mental health in Armenia and its Diaspora. This interdisciplinary workshop aims to interrogate the stories of both medical and psychiatric sciences as well as that of the concepts of trauma and madness in Armenian political, historical, literary, and cultural discussions in the past and present. The workshop will focus on the histories of medicine, trauma, and psychiatry and the portrayals of madness as a form of behavior, marker of difference, and tool of body politics across periods and geographies. The workshop organizers are interested in the broader history of medicine, but they would like to draw particular attention to the historical and contemporary landscapes in which medical professionals sought to exercise their authorities over mental illnesses and the mind itself.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tools and theories have provided medical professionals with renewed opportunities to intervene in the social, political and cultural spheres with the shared objective of devising and implementing therapies of madness. In this, the workshop will initiate an interdisciplinary conversation about the concept, diagnosis, treatment, “The Genius and the Crowd” (1909) by Yeghishe Tadevosyan (1870-1936) and social construction of “madness.” The goal is to consider new perspectives, methodologies and crossdisciplinary frameworks that will put Armenian Studies in conversation with, among others, the growing fields of history of medicine, science, and technology studies. We are also interested in a comparative study of genocides and trans-generational transmission of trauma by underlining both parallel mechanisms and unique features of the legacies of various historical and social traumas, such as the Holocaust, the historical oppression and colonization of native peoples in America and African-American slavery. As such, an examination of the loops between various forms of colonial, structural and ethnic violence, socio-political discourses and embodied individual experiences are of interest for our discussion.

In the course of the workshop, the hope is to call into question what was and is culturally defined as madness as well as medical and societal interventions to “cure” madness and “contain” the mad. Therefore, this meeting will situate the notion of madness at the intersection of politics, medicine, literature, sociology, and anthropology and seeks to explore the changes in its definition and the underpinnings of perceptions of mental illnesses at critical junctures of history in Armenia and amongst its diasporic communities across the globe.

April 8, 2021

9 - 9:15 AM  Opening Remarks 

Melanie Tanielian, University of Michigan

9:15 - 11 AM Maladies of the Mind, the Body and the Nation

Chair: Mano Sakayan, University of Michigan
Commentator: Henry Cowles, University of Michigan

“Pathologies of a Fall: The Life of Late-Ottoman Armenians between National Dreams and Imperial Nightmares”
Leupold David, Leibniz-Zentrum,  Moderner Orient

“Knowledge, Stateless Power, and the Medicalization of the Armenian Public Sphere, 1918-1923”
Hratch Kestenian, Graduate Center of the City University of New York

“Diseases, Madness and Masturbation in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Armenian Writings”
Dzovinar Derderian, American University of Armenia

April 9, 2021

10 AM - 12 PM Madness in Calamity 

Chair: Mano Sakayan, University of Michigan
Commentator:  Renee Michelle Ragin Randall, University of Michigan

“Fragments of Insanity: Shattered Lives after Genocide”
Suzan Kalayci, Oxford University

“The Obstetric Embryos in the book of Intra 'Inner World" (1906)”
Jenya Vardazaryan, Independent scholar

“The Mental Duality of the Characters in Zareh Vorbouni’s Fiction”
Anna Mikoyan, Yerevan State University

12:30 - 1:30 PM  Roundtable Discussion: 

Moderator: Melanie Tanielian, University of Michigan