The Sultan of New York: An Ottoman Armenian in Nineteenth-Century America

In the autumn of 1834, Christopher Oscanyan, an Armenian teenager from Ottoman Constantinople, arrived in New York City to attend college. He had been sent by the first American missionaries in Turkey. His encounter with the United States initiated a sixty-year career dedicated to improving Ottoman-American relations. In order to get Americans to take him seriously, however, Oscanyan had to determine who and what he was to them – a matter that, along with his politics, would regularly change according to how both Ottomans and Americans structured and re-structured the religious, ethnic, and racial diversity of their populations. Was Oscanyan an Armenian Christian? An Ottoman reformer? A native of Turkey? An American immigrant? Tracing his efforts to serve as a connector between two empires in flux, this talk will offer a brief history of how shifting state strategies to manage diversity compelled transregional actors like Oscanyan to develop internationally legible identities – identities that still inform the way we understand ourselves and establish our place in the world.