Program Partners

Program in Ottoman Studies

The Program in Ottoman Studies, established in 2006 to organize public events related to Ottoman Studies broadly construed, aims to sample the broad chronological and geographic expanse that was the Ottoman empire, and to feature younger as well as established scholars. The Program is directed by Leslie Peirce, Silver Professor in the History department and Associate Professor in the department of Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies.

In the 2014-2015 academic year, the Hagop Kevorkian Center hosted Beth Baron, Günhan Börekçi, Amy Singer, Zeynep Çelik, Tuna Artun, and Adam Becker as part of the ongoing Ottoman Lecture Series.

Beth Baron examined the 1933 Turkiyya Hasan orphan scandal, an event that triggered a backlash against missionary institutions and helped transform the nascent Muslim Brotherhood into an organization with national reach. Despite their differing worldviews, Baron drew out the similarities between the Brotherhood and the missionaries, which both sought to mobilize a network of social services in a struggle for the bodies and souls of Egypt’s children.

Günhan Börekçi, scholar and academic consultant for the Turkish TV series The Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl), discussed the difficulties of fictionalizing historical events and individuals for a broad audience. Beyond the challenge of ensuring that every set and costume piece was correctly reconstructed, he found that it was difficult to explain the motivations and personal lives of characters without psychologizing and personalizing historical events, even as the challenged itself provoked interesting questions about the impetus behind historical change.

Amy Singer’s talk centered around Edirne, the early Ottoman city connecting Istanbul to the Balkans. However, it raised wider issues about the writing of urban history in the pre-document era, a challenge that helps explain the dearth of work on Edirne. Her detailed parsing of the human and physical geography of the city offers an example to historians seeking to map the cities of the early empire and the local, translocal, and regional networks in which they are intimately imbedded.

In a talk entitled “Archaeology, Ethnography, and Everyday Life at the Dig,” Zeynep Çelik examined the lived experience of the diverse array of individuals who worked on archaeological excavations in the late nineteenth century Ottoman Empire. Rather than framing archaeology as the extraction of information from inert objects, she sees knowledge production as a dynamic process that was shaped by the interactions of European archaeologists and local workers. Çelik draws out the significance of the quasi-ethnographic depictions of local life that saturate archeological memoirs, revealing the privileged gaze that underpinned the work of European archaeologists.

Tuna Artun challenged the narrative of Ottoman alchemy as an inevitable victim of the scientific revolution. Instead, he sees alchemy as one field among many that embraced a new method of inquiry that relied on experimentation and observation. His work uncovers a global network of alchemists, from Istanbul to Hyderabad, who maintained and expanded on the alchemical tradition well into the twentieth century. By salvaging a field now dismissed as “unscientific,” Artun presents a non-teleological history of science, one that acknowledges the significance of both dead ends and triumphs.

Using a close reading of a nineteenth century neo-Aramaic travelogue, Adam Becker traced the emergence of Assyrian identity in contestation and conversation with American evangelical missionaries and their “native assistants.” As they traveled from the mountains of Hakkari to Mosul in the south, these new arrivals brought conceptualizations of modernity and nation that were rejected, modified, and redeployed in a struggle between the reform church and its indigenous counterparts that would help shape the contours of ethnic nationalism into the twentieth century.