Prof. Dr. Elyse Semerdjian

Fellow (Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies)


Weltbeziehungen / C19.03.11

Office hours

Nach Vereinbarung

Visiting address

Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien
Forschungsneubau „Weltbeziehungen“ C19
Nordhäuser Str. 63
99089 Erfurt

Mailing address

Universität Erfurt
Max-Weber-Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien
Postfach 90 02 21
99105 Erfurt

Prof. Dr. Elyse Semerdjian

Personal information

Elyse Semerdjian is Robert Aram and Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University.  A specialist in the history of the Ottoman Armenians and Syria, she authored " Off the Straight Path": Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo  (Syracuse University Press, 2008), Remnants: Embodied Archives of the Armenian Genocide (Stanford University Press, 2023), and has published several articles on Armenians, gender, genocide, and law in the Ottoman Empire.

As a “Religion and Urbanity” fellow, she will begin writing a larger project she calls Aleppo: An Urban Biography, an inclusive pre- and post-war urban history of the city’s Muslim and non-Muslim inhabitants.


  • 2002: Ph.D. Georgetown University, History
  • 1994: M.A. University of Michigan, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies
  • 1992: B.A. Albion College

Work experience:                                                                                                             

  • 2023-present: Professor, History Department and Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University, Worcester, MA
  • 2003-2023: Professor, Islamic World and Middle East History, History Department, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA

Fellowships, scholarships and prizes:

  • 2023-2024: Fellowship “Religion and Urbanity” Research Group at University of Erfurt, Germany, Grant Source: German Research Foundation
  • 2016-2017: Society for the Humanities Fellowship (“Skin”), Cornell University
  • 2016: G. Thomas Edwards Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Teaching, Whitman College
  • 2016: American Research Institute in Turkey Intensive Language Fellowship
  • 2014: Syrian Studies Association Best Article Prize 
  • 2013: Dumanian Visiting Professorship, Department of Near Eastern Cultures and Languages, University of Chicago
  • 2007-2008: Fulbright Scholarship-Council for International Exchange of Scholars (North Africa/Asia), Syria
  • 2003: Syrian Studies Association Best Dissertation Prize
  • 1999-2000: Fulbright Scholarship--Student IIE Syria

Research project

“Mapping Space and Religion in Aleppo, Past and Present”

“Mapping Space and Religion in Aleppo, Past and Present” explores the formation of the Christian quarter of Judayda and the Jewish Quarter of Bahsita, which will set the stage for a larger study of the urban biography of Aleppo.  The project seeks to re-inscribe the presence of Jewish and Christian communities in Aleppo’s urban history since the communities have largely disappeared since 1948 and 2011 respectively.

The mass destruction of Aleppo from the current cycle of war (2011-present) targeted both home (domicide) and heritage, placing communal memory and sense of belonging to the city in jeopardy (memoricide). The study asks: To whom does the city belong? How is belonging complicated by the experience of separation and exile from the city? How have Aleppans historically imagined the space they co-habit?  I seek to embrace the plurality of answers that might arise from these questions by listening carefully to every answer.

The narrative I write is grounded in primary sources in three Middle Eastern languages (Arabic, Armenian, and Turkish), including archival documents from Turkey and Syria that document the rich histories of Aleppo’s Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. My preliminary research has noted the communal character of Aleppo was co-created through a confluence of religious, economic, and social factors. Much like the larger “Religion and Urbanity” framework at the Max Weber College, patterns of co-spatiality (cospatialité) – the interconnection, overlapping, and at times exclusionary nature of community coexistence – can be traced throughout the city of Aleppo. Distinct religious groups tended to congregate near houses of worship when it came to living quarters, a form of psychological distancing that I plan on interrogating. Aleppo contains both religious architecture (mosques, churches, synagogues, cemeteries) and non-religious spaces (public gardens, marketplaces, coffeehouses, bathhouses).  Many of these features have been outlined as defining the Islamic city; however, I hope to challenge some of the conceptions of the Islamic city that have neglected the historical reciprocity that facilitated the development and maintenance of the built environment.



  • Remnants: Embodied Archives of the Armenian Genocide (Stanford University Press, 2023).
  • “Off the Straight Path”:  Illicit Sex, Community and Law in Ottoman Aleppo (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008).
  •  Scenes & Types, Proceedings from the Global Studies Human Zoos Symposium and Scenes & Types Sheehan Gallery Exhibition (Global Studies Initiative, Whitman College, 2016).

Recent Articles

  • “’Hideously Tattooed’: Decolonizing the Humanitarian Gaze in Three Photographs from the Armenian Genocide,” in Afterlives: Remnants, Ruins and Representations of The Armenian Genocide eds. Erdağ Göknar, Hülya Adak, and Melanie Tanielian (forthcoming).
  • “Archival Wounds,” special issue “Dilemmas of Archival Objectivity,” eds. Taylor Moore, Chitra Ramalingam, and Henry M. Cowles, Historical Studies in Natural Sciences Vol. 53 No. 1 (2023).
  • “Phantom Limbs, Embodied Horror, and the Afterlives of the Armenian Genocide,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and The Middle East (Special Issues: “Death and Afterlives in The Middle East”), ed. Asli Zengin, Vol. 42, No. 1 ( 2022) 182-195.
  • “Zabel Essayan, “Liberation of non-Muslim Women and Children,” translation and afterword, Journal for the Society for Armenian Studies, 28 (2022) 1–14.
  • “Karen Jeppe: Mother of Armenians 1876-1935),” co-authored with Matthias Bjørnlund, Houshamadyan, August 10, 2020 (published in English, Turkish, and Armenian languages).
  • “Armenians in the Production of Urban Space in Early Modern Judayda, Aleppo” in Aleppo and Its Hinterland in the Ottoman Period / Alep et sa province à l'époque ottomane, eds. Stefan Winter and Mafalde Ade (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2019).
  • “Bone Memory: The Necrogeography of the Armenian Genocide in Dayr al-Zur, Syria,” Human Remains and Violence Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 2018, 56-75.
  • “Armenian Women, Legal Bargaining, and Gendered Politics of Conversion in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Aleppo,” Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies 12:1 (March 2016) 2-30.
  • “Sexing the Hammam:  Discourses on Gender and Sexuality in the Ottoman Bathhouse,” in Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Cultures, ed. Gul Ozyegin (London:  Ashgate, 2015).
  • “#SaveKessab, #Save Aleppo, and Kim Kardashian: Syria’s Rashomon Effect” Jadaliyya (April 24, 2014). Published in Turkish as, “#Keseb’i Kurtarın, #Halep’i Kurtarın Kampanyası ve Kim Kardashian: Suriye’de Raşomon Etkisi,” Birikim 3 Haziran 2014.
  • “Naked Anxiety:  Bathhouses, Nudity, and Muslim/non-Muslim Relations in Eighteenth-Century Aleppo” International Journal of Middle East Studies 45:4 (November 2013) 651-676. Winner:  Syrian Studies Association Best Article Prize, 2014.