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Double Assimilations, Empty Fields, and Orphan Objects: Mapping Armenian Erasures and Displacements Through Archival Metadata and Folk Culture

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This dissertation critically engages with Armenian historiography as a modern example subjected to epistemic violence through forced displacement, archival silences, and cultural appropriations. I first contend that in the early twentieth century, Armenians in their ancestral lands in West Asia were trans-imperial subjects under the Ottoman and Russian Empires—fragmented into Western and Eastern Armenians. This fragmentation underwent multiple erasures through the 1915 Genocide, displacement as refugees, and Sovietization (1920s). I insist that these erasures present a critical intersection of constructs—national subject, Indigenous “other,” and refugee-survivor, and support this through working with postcolonial and decolonial archival and museological discourses. Specifically, I argue that this intersection should be examined through the contemporary frameworks of archival metadata and classification, art conservation and collection to demonstrate the cultural mechanisms of erasures which constitute Armenian subjects, in part through archival concealment, displacement, and gaps. Each chapter studies how “Armenia” and “the Armenian” are constructed in different early-twentieth-century repositories—the Bolshevik vanguard archives of the Russian Museum of Ethnography (St. Petersburg), interpreted as symptomatic of the national misrepresentations of “Soviet” Eastern and Artsaktsi Armenians; the American Board Archives (Istanbul), which serves in my curatorial exhibition "Empty Fields" (2016) to represent the episteme of the Genocide survivor; and the Near East Relief Foundation archives of folk objects created by Western Armenian orphans/survivors, characteristic of the refugee status revealing a subaltern Indigenous subject. Methodologically, I enter each archive through a metadata element—inventory, standard, tag, description, and provenance—by which I theoretically and visually unpack what has been erased, misattributed, and absented in the case of the “Armenian.” My findings direct me to materials broadly described as “folk,” and by working with the concepts of folk culture, folkness, and folklore through aesthetic and critical theories, Black and Latin American craft studies, I propose a notion of folk as a surviving marker of absented histories. Through my analyses, I show how this specific juxtaposition of “folk” and “metadata” aligns with anticolonial and decolonial strategies, disrupts the unifying logic of archives, and allows me to piece together a new historiography of the erased Indigenous, subaltern subjects.

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This item is under embargo until June 24, 2024.