November 08, 2022
An old book from the Semitics/ICOR Collections

The Institute for the Study of Eastern Christianity and the Institute for Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) held a commemorative event on Oct. 28 for a prominent scholar of Armenian studies whose personal library was donated to the Semitics/ICOR Library.

Robert W. Thomson, who died in 2018, taught Armenian studies and language at Harvard and Oxford Universities and was director of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C., from 1984 to 1989. His collection donated by his family to Catholic University in 2020 contains over 3,000 items, including books, maps, manuscripts, audio materials, and more. The donation significantly increases the current collection of Armenian literature. 

Jasper Thomson, son of Robert W. Thomson, said it was important to the family to find a suitable home for the library after his father passed. 

“I’m just incredibly pleased that a lot of other students and scholars will get to utilize his academic collection; that’s very meaningful to all of us in this family,” he said.

Thomson’s family, Armenian Church clergy, and faculty attended the celebration of the collection. Former primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America and professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary Bishop Daniel Findikyan, a student and friend of Thomson, was the featured speaker.

Bishop Findikyan said Thomson pioneered making primary Armenian literary sources from late antiquity and the Middle Ages available to Western scholars.  

“His life work, learning, and legacy are in your hands now,” Bishop Findikyan said. “(The) Catholic University of America, in tandem with other institutions of Armenian higher learning … has the opportunity and the competence to lead the way in translating the treasures that Professor Thomson uncovered in Armenia.”

An exhibit of Armenian literature featuring the Thomson collection opened in mid-October in the May Gallery in Mullen Library and will be on display through the end of the fall semester. 

Robin Darling-Young, associate professor of Church History who studied under Thomson at Dumbarton Oaks, said he was “an illuminating presence. … We all owe him so much and we’re very grateful for his life and his works, which are truly monumental.”

Armenian language and culture studies at the University date back to its founding. Monsignor Henri Hyvernat who established ICOR and built the Semitics/ICOR library from his personal collection, was the University’s first faculty member to be hired.

Darling-Young said the size and antiquity of the library is unique to the University. 

“Very few universities have a collection dating back so far, into the late 19th century, that‘s so complete with the texts and studies of Armenian literature,” she said.

Reverend Hovsep Karapetyan, pastor of St. Mary Armenian Church in Washington, D.C., who is studying for his doctorate in Church history, said the collection will be a great resource while preparing his dissertation on Church Fathers.

“It’s a great advantage, especially for those interested in Armenian studies or even in exploring more about the culture and language,” Father Karapetyan said.