MAOW - Abstracts

Katherine Benton-Cohen

"Orange and Black Ties: The Dodge Family, Princeton, and the American University of Beirut"

This paper, part of a larger book project on the Dodge family, examines 160 years of networks between the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Princeton University. In 2021, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius called AUB a citadel of “US soft power.” This power is largely of the Dodge family’s making, and one filtered through a Princeton network and especially, through Woodrow Wilson and his view of the US in the world. Without the Dodge, AUB would not exist. William E. Dodge, Sr., laid its first cornerstone in 1866. Five extended family members have served as president, among them Bayard Dodge (P’09) from 1923-1948, and his son David S. Dodge (P’45), who served twice, the first time in 1981-1982, when he was kidnapped by Shiite rebels for more than a year. Dodge returned to serve as Princeton’s recording secretary before another brief stint as AUB's president in the 1990s; followed by John Waterbury, another Princeton man. At Princeton, the extended Dodge family had boasted members in every Princeton class for more than a century. Murray-Dodge Hall, the Dodge Professors of Near East Studies and History are family largesse; so are McCosh and Guyot Hall. Using university and family archives, the paper will focus most closely on the relationship between Bayard Dodge’s father, Cleveland H. Dodge [CHD] (P’1879), and his classmate Woodrow Wilson. CHD bankrolled and advised Wilson from the university to the governorship to the presidency. In 1914, Cleve co-founded The American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief—now the Near East Foundation. With Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, by 1922 Dodge and the Committee had “saved” at least a million people and raised 70 million dollars. Cleve saw the Near East work as closely related to the mission of AUB. He sent his son war orphans to do manual labor at AUB; sought instructors from the Princeton graduate school, and saw AUB’s vision as akin to Wilson’s Princeton was in the nation’s service.

Yeliz Cavus

“Unveiling Global Historical Professionalism: Late Ottoman Historians and the Politics of Networking”

Without any doubt, the European gaze and the outcomes of its various mechanisms of academic knowledge production had a significant place in the various issues that Ottoman intellectuals discussed in the nineteenth century. Likewise, European Orientalist scholarship, in many ways, affected how nineteenth-century Ottoman historians thought and wrote about history. Yet, in the conventional scholarship, this “effect” has been regarded as a one-way flow of ideas from Europe to the Ottoman realm since the standard argument is that modern Ottoman history writing was directly imported from Europe. The interaction between Ottoman and European historians and the complex ways in which Ottoman historians responded to this encounter have often been disregarded in this portrayal. 

This paper challenges this portrayal by examining how Ottoman scholars interacted with their foreign fellows through multiple networks, demonstrating that beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the Ottomans and their European, Russian and American colleagues were in close contact with each other through various networks that engaged all of them. The contexts in which the Ottoman historians had the opportunity to establish international networks were (1) indigenous learned societies such as the Ottoman Historical Society or Türk Yurdu, (2) international professional and academic periodicals, (3) international congresses and conferences, (4) the networks that they built through traveling for academic research, (5) scholarly migration. Through an examination of these diverse networking channels, this paper unveils the complex ways in which Ottoman historians made significant contributions to the burgeoning global historical professionalism. This paper also delves into the strategies employed by late Ottoman historians in navigating international challenges, such as the Eastern Question, Orientalism, and European imperialism, within their scholarly networks.

Metin Coşgel

"Gender, Religion, and Networks in Ottoman Istanbul: Evidence from Court Records"

This paper uses information from Ottoman court records for a quantitative analysis of social and economic networks in Istanbul during the period between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Court registers consist of various types of documents prepared by local officials, including disputes, contracts, and estate inventories. For each entry, the records specify the names of involved individuals and that of their fathers, which can be used to determine gender and religion. In addition, the records sometimes specify for identification other relevant information about individuals, such as their occupation, place of residence, and honorific titles. This paper uses this information to identify networks among court clients through patterns in their interaction, with a focus on gender and religion. The dataset includes a total of about 330,000 individuals. To determine networks, the authors divide the reasons why individuals come to court into three broad categories, namely as parties involved in a dispute, witnesses to proceedings (şuhudülhal), or various other matters related to contracts, probate estate inventories, suretyship (kefalet), spousal support after divorce (nafaka), and guardianship (vesayet). By calculating the frequency of each gender/religious group’s interaction with others as a simple measure of network intensity, the authors examine spatial differences across court districts and the evolution of networks over time.

Cevat Dargin

“Roadlessness: Ottoman Modernity Navigating Uncharted Dersim”

This article examines the impact of environment on Ottoman civilizing mission in Dersim, an Eastern Anatolian region characterized by its mountainous terrain and predominantly Kizilbash (Alevi) Kurdish population. Spanning the period from the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 to the Turkish state's violent transformation of the region in 1937-38, the study explores environmental challenges to Ottoman project of modernity through the case of Dersim. Partly because of, or perhaps thanks to, its inaccessible topography and other environmental factors, Dersim had until the late-nineteenth century remained a nonstate space despite being under Ottoman and Turkish sovereignty for centuries. For the inhabitants of Dersim, local environmental factors such as high mountains, impassible rivers, harsh climate, dense forests, deep gorges, and large caves as well as the Kurdish tribal structure and the Kizilbash belief system, both strongly embedded in the flora and landscape of the region, made state evasion easier and survival in isolation from outside world possible. For their part, government authorities attributed state's failure to penetrate the region to the absence of roads, referred to as "yolsuzluk" or roadlessness, in Dersim. The term yolsuzluk was later associated with corruption in contemporary Turkish due to the state elites' Orientalizing association of it with disorder and lawlessness in nonstate spaces such as Dersim. The construction of paved roads was viewed by state elites as a means to introduce civilization to Dersim by establishing networks of connections between the "wild" tribesmen of the region and the civilized world beyond the region. However, the natural environment and the harsh climate of Dersim posed significant obstacles to road construction, thereby restricting the state's ability to colonize the region. The arrival of modern war technologies, including aerial bombardment, poison gas, railways, roads, bridges, and military stations in previously inaccessible areas, ultimately transformed the situation. The article underscores the crucial role played by the environment in this colonial encounter both for the state actors and the local inhabitants in Dersim.

Arif Erbil

"Translation and Transformation: Juristic Language and Ottoman Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century"

Towards the second half of the sixteenth century, Ottoman political thought underwent a transformation in language and discourse, shifting from the earlier concept of "universal rulership" towards a more legalistic approach to legitimacy, reflecting broader changes in many fields. This shift is reflected in the dissemination of juristic texts on politics and governance, which symbolize the changing language of political writing during this period. The increasing encounter of Ottoman scholarly elites with Arab ulama and the development of stronger, although sometimes querulous, networks between the imperial center and the Arab world shaped the questions, contents, and discourses of Ottoman legitimacy-seeking. In particular, translations of juristic texts from the Mamluk period in Arabic emerged to meet the new needs for legitimacy requirements. This paper examines the contents, common topics, and reasons for these translations and situates them within the context of the Ottoman Empire's changing political and intellectual landscape. This paper, by focusing on the Mamluk-Ottoman transition period after the Ottoman conquest of Arab lands, will explore the reasons for the expansion of the juristic discourse in political literature during the middle of the sixteenth century. It will consider the implications of these texts for the Ottoman Empire's political and intellectual conditions during the sixteenth century, and analyze whether these translations can be seen as a remedy for the changing legitimacy needs in the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. Additionally, the paper will examine the intellectual connections between the former Mamluk and Ottoman power centers during this contested transition period, and how these emerging networks and connections may have influenced the emergence of new genres and significant changes in the contents of existing genres. Overall, this paper argues that the translations of juristic texts played a crucial role in the transformation of Ottoman political thought during the sixteenth century, contributing to the rise of a more legalistic approach to legitimacy. By shedding light on the relationship between the Mamluk and Ottoman intellectual traditions, this paper offers a new perspective on the changing language and discourse of Ottoman political thought in the sixteenth century.

Zoe Griffith

"The Egypt Merchants as Imperial Intermediaries: governing commercial and social networks in the Ottoman Mediterranean"

“Egypt Merchants” were Muslim men from around the Ottoman Mediterranean who drew on wealth, connections, and reputation to act as unofficial agents of Ottoman imperial governance in early modern Egypt. The Egypt Merchants collected taxes in the Nile Delta and forwarded them on to the Ottoman treasury in Istanbul through their private networks of commercial credit. They owned and captained ships that they used to move Egypt’s most coveted products––rice, sugar, wheat, coffee, spices, and dyes––to markets around the Ottoman Mediterranean. They deposited the rest in the storerooms of the palace kitchens in Istanbul, and supplied the army and navy with hemp rope and caulking to keep imperial galleons afloat. For these services, the Ottoman state rewarded them in privilege and coercive latitude to conduct their lucrative trade. This paper analyzes the changing function and status of the Egypt Merchants in the second half of the eighteenth century. It argues that merchants were lynchpins of imperial governance in Egypt, leveraging their connections and access to Egyptian wealth to obtain state offices and political capital, particularly within Egypt’s Mediterranean port cities (Rosetta, Damietta, and Alexandria). The Ottoman state’s efforts to harness these lucrative social and political networks was an integral part of imperial reform projects of the long eighteenth century. The personal dimension of state trade became a source of great anxiety for Ottoman policymakers, as it did for governments around the world in the eighteenth century. Triangulating between the Islamic court records of Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, Ottoman fiscal and administrative records, and French commercial and consular reports, the paper explores the efforts of central state authorities to regulate, register, and institutionalize the activities of Egypt Merchants during the “New Order” reforms of the late-eighteenth century.

Mehmet Emin Gulecyuz

"Molla Fenārī in Mamluk Lands"

Mollā Fenārī (d. 1431) was arguably the most influential scholar and intellectual of the early Ottoman period, as he is often identified as the first state-wide religious jurisconsult (müftī) and a pioneer of the Ottoman religious and educational establishment. In this paper, I discuss how Fenārī’s contacts with the early fifteenth-century Mamluk intelligentsia illustrate the divergent orientations of the Ottoman-Rūmī and Mamluk scholarly networks. Fenārī spent several years of his youth studying in Mamluk Cairo with the headmaster of the Shaykhūniyya Khanqah and the Ḥanafī scholar Akmal al-Dīn al-Bābartī (d. 1384). His later scholarship, especially his work on legal theory, bears traces of his Mamluk-Ḥanafī experience. However, as represented in his many other works, Fenārī’s primary intellectual commitment would be to the philosophical Sufism (or panentheism) of Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240), definitely the most influential and controversial figure in the history of Islamic mystical thought. Toward the end of his career (in 1419-1420), now as a renowned scholar, Mollā Fenārī visited the Mamluk lands on his way back from pilgrimage to Mecca. Contemporaneous Mamluk sources document his presence in Syria and Egypt and shed light on how this Sufi-minded and pro-Ibn-al-ʿArabī Ottoman scholar was received by Mamluk scholars of a more traditionist and anti-Ibn-al-ʿArabī mindset. Specifically, I will present and discuss the failed attempt of a ḥadīth scholar to meet Fenārī in Aleppo and the interaction between Fenārī and Ibn Ḥajar (d. 1449), a most prominent Shāfiʿī ḥadīth scholar and antagonist of Ibn al-ʿArabī. My discussion will bring into relief how the early Ottoman/Rūmī intellectual orientation differed from the concerns of the Mamluk network of scholars, as betrayed by Fenārī’s contacts. I will also mention that this interaction between the two worlds would continue up until the sixteenth century.

Zeynep Devrim Gürsel

“Networks of Correspondence: Tracking Ottoman Armenian emigration through letters”

This paper draws from a multi-year project, Portraits of Unbelonging, examining one of the first uses of photographs to police borders of nations and empires.  It studies the history of Ottoman Armenian emigration from the Ottoman east to the United States from the politically fraught and often violent 1890s to the end of Abdülhamid II's reign in 1909.

Specifically, this paper investigates correspondence as a site for investigating networks that shape migration.  Letters are central to persuading individuals and families to migrate and determining the specific routes of migration as well as communicating with those left behind.  

Portraits of Unbelonging is a double-sided history of migration: like each individual terk-i tabiiyet photograph, the official document used in expatriation for the purpose of emigration, the project faces two directions and links an Ottoman past to an American future.  Portraits of Unbelonging traces the stories of emigrant families over a century – from the bureaucratic files that unmade Ottoman subjects, to the French ship manifests that tracked their migration routes, to the census and naturalization records that documented their new lives as immigrants then citizens in the United States, to the family albums of their descendants living today.  It is a history of mass migration on an intimate scale.

Melis Hafez

“Morality, (Un)Employment, and the Networks of Mekteb-i Mulkiye (1890-1914)”

More than a hundred and fifty books were published on morality in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire in Ottoman Turkish. The authors of these books came from various regions of the empire, were ethno-confessionally diverse, and subscribed to different yet fluid ideological politico-moral positions. Still, many shared a prescriptive and interventionist outlook as members of reform institutions who frequented the same institutions and social networks. Until recently, historiographic references to the Ottoman morality books portrayed them as expressions of social and political conservativism and piety. A new approach to the morality scripts and their authors is needed to understand the practice of writing and thinking on morality in the context of the Ottoman reform period’s social transformations and changing institutional structures. 

In this presentation, Melis Hafez will examine the practice of writing on morality in the context of the imperial bureaucratic culture by focusing on networks based on institutional affiliations and the shifting grounds of state employment. She will focus on the Mekteb-i Mulkiye as the formative context within which a network of moralists studied, taught, discussed morality, assumed the duty of being moral guides, and wrote morality books while working or seeking careers in the Ottoman bureaucracy. These networks included instructors, students, and administrators, whose political positions ranged from dissidents and exiles to conformists. Tracing the divergent (un)employment trajectory of a cohort of Ottoman moralists, this paper will demonstrate how the goal of advancing the moral conditions of the Ottoman public is entangled with the advancement of a bureaucratic career.  

This paper will utilize archival records (including personnel records), memoirs, and morality scripts. Juxtaposing archival records with autobiographies and morality texts will take us beyond a static approach to morality and expose, through the networks formed within the reform institutions, the social and material meanings of writing on morality in the final decades of the empire. 

Youssef Ben Ismail

"Ottoman Autonomy: Provincial Representation and Imperial Governance in the Ottoman Maghrib"

This paper explores the Ottoman Empire’s tradition of imperial rule in its autonomous provinces through the longue durée examination of one of its lesser-known institutions: the ocaḳ vekīlleri. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the Ottoman government issued a series of decrees instituting “provincial deputies” (ocaḳ vekīlleri) as official representatives of its Maghribī autonomous provinces (garp ocaḳları) in the imperial capital. The establishment of this corps of representatives constituted an unprecedented move in the history of Ottoman provincial governance. While other autonomous provinces also had dedicated agents in Istanbul (kāhia, ḳapı kethüdası, etc.), these agents were mere bureaucrats working from within the central imperial government in order to facilitate communications between province and capital. By contrast, the vekīls of Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli were “locals” from the provinces, paid and appointed by their respective governors. They were at the heart of a dense sociopolitical network linking North Africa to Istanbul and possessed a set of jurisdictional prerogatives akin to those of a consul. The paper traces the history of the ocaḳ vekīlleri starting in the early 1700s, when the institution was first established in Ottoman law. It charts the vekīls’ transformation over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries during the rise of French imperialism in North Africa and the emergence of modern international law. It then follows its afterlives during the period of French colonial rule in the Maghrib. Ultimately, it argues that the ocaḳ vekīlleri existed as part of a broader system of imperial governance in North Africa – one that was firmly rooted in an Ottoman conception of provincial administration. According to this conception, Ottoman imperial sovereignty and Maghribī provincial autonomy were two sides of the same coin rather than forces pulling in opposite directions.

Sefer Korkmaz

"The Fuqahāʾ Network in the Early Years of Ottoman Rule in Egypt in the Dilemma of Support and Opposition"

The new Ottoman administration in Egypt (1517) made several interventions in the established institutions in Egypt to ensure stability in the military, political, economic, social, and legal spheres, as well as Egyptian integration into the central lands (Anatolia and Rumelia). These interventions, which some contemporary scholars call “Ottomanization” and “Hanafization” projects, aimed at establishing a solid and healthy center-periphery relationship. When the Ottomans conquered Egypt, they inherited a rich and powerful fiqh heritage from the Mamlūks. Egypt (especially Cairo) had already reached the peak of fiqh tadrīs and taʼlīf during the Mamlūk period. This raises the question of how the new Ottoman administration's interventions in such a rich and diverse fiqh legacy were received by the local fuqahāʾ. What was the attitude of the local ʿulamāʾ in general, who had lost their former positions, when the Ottomans, who practiced Hanafism as the official mad̲h̲hab in the central lands, occasionally appointed their own trained Ḥanafī qāḍīs to the legal institutions in Egypt and implemented their policies? Who were the ʿulamāʾ in the Ṣāliḥīyya Madrasa and Al-Azhar, one of the most important scientific institutions in Egypt, their supportive and critical attitudes, what kind of network of relations they had with the jurists appointed by the Ottomans from the central lands and with the newly constructed legal order, their gains, and losses are the issues of focus. Therefore, this paper will discuss the relationship network of the fuqahāʾ, which we can characterize as the “local/native”, with the newly constructed legal system and its impact on the understanding of the early legal history of Egypt under Ottoman rule.

Ümit Kurt

"The CUP Party in the Provinces: Political and Social Networks in the Late Ottoman Empire"

A lot has been said about the Committee of Union and Progress Party (CUP). Numerous studies have been conducted about its founders, ideological tenets, structure, and political activities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as its legacy regarding the formation of the new Turkish Republic. However, to date the provincial/local organization, network, and structure of the CUP has not been adequately interrogated. A little-known aspect of CUP history is how it emerged and operated at the Ottoman periphery, a noticeable lacuna in the literature. How CUP clubs and branches mushroomed and garnered mass-level support in different districts and provinces still awaits comprehensive research. This paper aims to fill that gap and focus on the local, provincial structure and networks of the CUP: how it functioned, and how its political culture was perceived by supporters and detractors. The paper will offer a unique opportunity to present new scholarship and employ as-yet untapped historical materials to explore these particular aspects of CUP history. It will explore several points to discuss: the office of responsible secretary (Kȃtib-i mes’ul) and other provincial Party functionaries; the CUP during WWI and the Armenian Genocide; the provincial administrative structure and networks; the economic and social policies of the CUP at the Ottoman periphery (according to the different provinces); and the fate of CUP bureaucrats in the Turkish and Arab provinces after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.  

Mehmet Kuru

“The Trans-Mediterranean Family of Hasan Agha and Anton Çelebi (17th c.)”

The two brothers were born as children of an Orthodox Christian Armenian subject from Bursa at the beginning of the seventeenth century. One of the brothers converted to Islam and took on the name of Hasan, climbed the echelons of the Ottoman administrative system and achieved the post of Istanbul Customs Officer, which he held from 1646 to 1656. In that capacity, Hasan Agha was among the victims of the so-called Çınar incident of 1656, a major soldiers’ rebellion that targeted financially powerful individuals in the Ottoman government. His brother Anton, on the other hand, remained a Christian and occupied the posts of customs officer in Izmir and Bursa. After the Çınar incident, he escaped to Livorno, converted to Catholicism, and through his close connections with the Medici family, became gonfalonier [standard-bearer], elected as the head of the administrative city council. The case of these two brothers, whose careers crossed multiple religious and geographical divides, provides a multifaceted case study to historians working on the early modern Mediterranean. The central question of this paper concerns the framework of the shifting identities of these family members. The two brothers made and remade their identities in order to flourish across a variety of contexts, including the Ottoman Muslim elite, Armenian diaspora communities, and the pan-Mediterranean mercantile networks of Livorno. This paper reveals the porous borders of the early modern Mediterranean not only in terms of cultural identities but also with regard to the notion of citizenship by addressing the archival documents from Ottoman and Italian archives. 

Johannes Makar

“Toward a Networked History of Coptic Reformism in Late Ottoman Egypt (ca. 1850-1900)”

This paper adds to a growing body of a scholarship questioning the long-standing view that ethno- religious communities in late Ottoman society, or “millets”, formed siloed communities. Through a case study of the Coptic community in late Ottoman Egypt, I argue for a relational perspective that sees the Coptic community as a window into a network of political, intellectual, and institutional exchanges. To date, scholars have analyzed the history of Coptic reformism as the product of “intra-communal” struggles between Coptic laymen and clergy in the context of the Coptic millet council (majlis millī, est. 1874). By contrast, my paper studies the intellectual output of Coptic intellectuals beyond this administrative body. It reveals that Coptic reformers operated within intellectual circuits that spanned political centers as Beirut, Cairo, and Istanbul. The structure is twofold. First, I examine the printing of medieval classics by Coptic printing houses. I argue that Copts played a critical role in the dissemination of Islamic classics, in addition to their printing of others Christian traditions. Second, I look at the writings of Fr. Fīlūthā’us Ibrāhīm and Coptic Bishop Īshūdhūrus (formerly a Syriac priest) to illustrate the concrete ways in which Coptic reformers drew on and augmented modernist discourses circulating in the late Ottoman world. In all, this paper develops a new approach to the study of Coptic history in the late Ottoman world, foregrounding both the community’s position within Egypt and its embeddedness in transregional networks.   

Emine Esra Nalbant

"Nineteenth Century Ottoman Lighthouses: Making of a Maritime Infrastructure Network"

Between the late 1820s and the mid-1840s, maritime travel time had shrunk due to steamship technology and the distance between coasts imploded. Due to this, the traffic over the oceans significantly intensified. A transformation on such a level required an infrastructural web of different types for supporting and facilitating this flow. The increased frequency of trips meant more accidents and an increasing need for navigation infrastructures due to issues because of the reefs and difficulty in coastal safety. Accordingly, to this process, the built environment of the shores changed radically, as the reflection of the intensifying maritime traffic manifested itself in the newly erected lighthouses, quays, and railroads connecting lands to ports. On the Atlas of Coulier, for the navigators, dated 1844, 24 lighthouses existed on the shores of the Ottoman Empire. This number was quadrupled in 1879, thirty-five years later, on the coastline of the Ottoman Empire. Infrastructure for coastal safety was part of the intertwined web of navigation practices such as surveys for hydrographic map making, including various technological advancements such as the invention of optical apparatus for the navigation structures such as lighthouses and other seamarks. Lighthouses, as the concrete portion of the complex and multi-fragmented navigation operations, offer a new framework that considers infrastructure construction in the Ottoman Empire for maritime transportation and trade during the nineteenth century on a global scale. Lighthouses in the late Ottoman world were part of more extensive interconnected maritime networks on a global scale. I aim to discuss the continuous position of oceans as a space of maritime trade network and how that infrastructure network connects the land and sea during a transformative turn due to shifted material conditions and technological developments of the nineteenth century.

Ellen M. Nye

"Money on Trial: The Localization of Global Coinage in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire"

In December 1677, the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Paşa convened a grand trial in the courtyard of the Topkapı Palace. The question before the assembled bureaucrats at first appeared simple: Were the 200,000 Dutch lion dollars that English merchants had just shipped into Aleppo “good money” or “bad money?” Quickly, however, the case grew complicated. Money in the seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire was the site of shifting scales and coordinates of value. With the interconnectedness brought by increased engagement with Indian Ocean trade and shipments of coins minted on American silver, the Ottoman state had to establish methods to govern money within a system where money was global, imperial, and local all at the same time. In an era of multiple measures, coinages, and coordinates of value operating across different scales, every transaction was a performance played out before competing monetary authorities, a ceremony with currency itself on the altar. When it worked, it worked as a coup de théâtre. When it did not and different scales came into conflict, exchange could grind to a halt. At moments of crisis like the trial of the lion dollars when competing currency conventions clashed, we glimpse the local negotiations fundamental to the circulation of global coinage.

Camilla Pletuhina-Tonev

“Negotiating Confession and Imperial Subjecthood: the Serbian Church between the Early Modern Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian Empires”

In this paper, Camilla Pletuhina employs primary sources in Ottoman Turkish, Russian, Serbian, and German to trace the trans-imperial career and networks of the Ottoman Orthodox Serbian Patriarch of Peć Vasilije Brkić in the mid-eighteenth century. Raised in the Habsburg domains in the court of the fugitive Ottoman Patriarch Arsenije IV, Vasilije managed to return to the Ottoman Empire and acquire a patriarchal see and a sultanic berat [decree of appointment] only to be accused by his congregation of converting to Catholicism and proselytizing among the Ottoman Orthodox subjects. Ottoman sources are silent regarding the reasons behind the suspicion the Ottoman Orthodox clergy and laity started to feel regarding the faith of their patriarch. It is a Russian report on the journey of Prince Dolgorukii in the Balkans that sheds light on the moment when Vasilije’s congregation turned on him and started sending petitions to the Porte accusing Vasilije of converting to Catholicism precisely at the moment when Vasilije allegedly returned to the Habsburg domains to visit his family.  The author of the paper suggests that Vasilije’s trans-imperial networks contributed to his spectacular career but also enabled his demise. Furthermore, the establishment of the Metropolitanate of Karlovac in the Habsburg domains by the fugitive Ottoman high clergy split the Serbian loyalties both forging connections between the Serbs in the two Empires and placing their imperial and confessional loyalties in a precarious position. Thus,  Pletuhina uses the case of Vasilije’s rise and demise to trace the dangers and opportunities of trans-imperial networks for the Ottoman Serbian church and clergy. These networks spread over two rival empires coupled with inter-imperial and inter-confessional tensions and transformed the Patriarchate of Peć and its congregation into discursive battlefields where notions such as confessional belonging, subjecthood, and imperial loyalty were continuously contested, reclaimed, and reconstructed both by imperial power-holders as well as by the Serbian clergy and laity. 

Veysel Şimşek

“Political-Military Elite Networks During the Reign of Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839)”

The reign of Mahmud II, especially his later years, proved extremely tumultuous for the Ottoman state and society. Facing external and internal threats to their authority and the empire’s territorial integrity, the Ottoman political-military elite around the sultan in Istanbul launched an unprecedented agenda of institutional reform, centralization, and military mobilization. In the summer of 1826, Mahmud II ruthlessly destroyed the Janissary Corps after a single day of bloody street fighting in the capital. The concurrent Greek Revolt (1821-29) led to war with Russia in 1828–29, a conflict that ended disastrously for the Ottoman Empire. In 1831-33 and 1839-41, the Ottoman central authority engaged in a life-or-death struggle with its unruly governor of Egypt, Mehmed Ali Pasha.

But who were the Mahmud II’s men, the high-ranking commanders, administrators, and bureaucrats who enacted his policies, ran his empire, and fought his wars? How did they create elite networks, and then function within and break from them? How did the oft-quoted powerful and competing “cliques” of this era, which were formed through extensive patronage connections, obtain their new recruits, interact with each other beyond fighting and forming alliances?

Recent historiography on the 19th century Ottoman transformation has gone beyond the superficial “traditionalist-modernist,” “reactionary-reformist,” and “Islamist-secularist,” dichotomies, in characterizing Mahmud II’s cadres in this period. Nevertheless, we still need a more comprehensive study that encompasses a larger number of elite biographies, and their networks over several decades. As a part of a larger book project, this paper will probe the crucial questions outlined above by utilizing primary sources from the Directorate of Turkish State Archives (sultanic opinions and decrees, memoranda and correspondence on various state affairs), manuscripts from Süleymaniye and Istanbul University Library, as well as an array of secondary sources that includes several recently published biographies.

Omer Topal

“Ottoman Taymiyyanism: The Ālūsī Family’s Imperial Networks”

Can there be an Ottoman “Taymiyyanism”? The research till date has attempted to answer this question by examining the early modern Ottoman puritans, who lived in the Turkish heartland of the Ottoman Empire. Some scholars argued that the strong influence of Ibn Taymiyya on these scholars made them the representatives of Taymiyyan puritanism in the Empire. Other scholars objected this idea by arguing that these Ottoman scholars were part of the Ḥanafī-Māturīdī framework, and their ideas were rooted in this tradition. Rather than asking if Turkish puritans were Taymiyyan, this study asks if Arab Taymiyyans were Ottoman by examining the imperial connections of the Ālūsī family that was mostly responsible for reconstituting Ibn Taymiyya’s legacy in the nineteenth century. As this article demonstrates, the members of the Ālūsī family served in the Ottoman government, visited the imperial capital, studied at the government schools, were in close communication with the highest echelons of the state. 

Sultan Toprak Oker

“From Grapes to Gains: Taxing Alcohol Networks in Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Istanbul”

This paper explores the taxation of alcoholic beverages and taverns in seventeenth-century Ottoman Istanbul, focusing particularly on Galata, a district renowned for its expansive vineyards and vibrant public drinking culture. It examines the types, amounts, and collection methods of taxes while providing insights into the constant dialogue surrounding these taxes between the state and the different segments of society—ranging from Ottoman tax collectors, alcohol producers, traders, and tavern keepers to European diplomatic and commercial communities. This study highlights the central role of alcohol-related taxes in fostering connections between the state and local populace. It argues that taxation served as an effective tool used by the Ottoman state for regulating interactions within alcohol networks, and alcohol-related taxes facilitated a link between the state and the city’s inhabitants through financial benefit. Consequently, the Ottoman taxation system emerged as both a financial mechanism and a means of exerting economic and political control, thereby profoundly influencing interactions at individual, communal, and state levels. This argument is supported through a close reading of the city’s Islamic court records (sicils), encompassing both unpublished Galata sicils and published sicils from various courts of Istanbul. These sicils comprising diverse records—such as imperial orders, legal disputes, tax regulations and receipts, commercial transactions, loans, property, or daily-life issues—elucidate alcohol-related taxes as outcomes of complex interactions between the Ottoman state, its subjects, and European residents. The research further employs additional published primary sources, namely Ottoman Imperial Council registers, chronicles, and travel narratives, to overcome any limitations of the sicils, augment evidence from these sources with further historical information, and facilitate a comprehensive exploration of tax practices in the period under study.

Eve Troutt Powell

"The Networks of Art and Slavery in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and the United States, during and post-abolition”

Abstract coming soon...  

Christopher Whitehead

“From Akhaltsikhe to Istanbul: Ottoman-Georgian Elite Networks in the Seventeenth Century”

In recent years, a number of insightful studies have emerged highlighting the importance of cross-border connections in Ottoman politics. Most of these studies have focused on the empire’s Danubian and Mediterranean frontiers, while less attention has been given to the Ottoman east. Scholars of Safavid Iran have done much to elucidate the deep integration of Georgian nobles into the Safavid elite, but a similar investigation is lacking in the field of Ottoman history, despite the prominence of Georgians and other people of Caucasian background among the Ottoman military-administrative elite. There remains a tacit assumption that Ottoman elites of Georgian background were effectively deracinated: after having been enslaved and acculturated in Ottoman elite households, they supposedly lost all meaningful ties to their places of origin. The present paper challenges this assumption through an archival investigation of the Ottoman province of Ahıska (Georgian: Akhaltsikhe), comprising the parts of historical Georgia that were directly ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Despite its status as a full Ottoman province, Ahıska was actually the hereditary possession of a Georgian noble family that had converted to Islam at the time of the Ottoman conquest in 1578. Ahıska’s peculiar status made it a key node of connection between the Ottoman Empire and the rest of Georgia and, I argue, also made it a gateway for the integration of Georgian elites into the Ottoman Empire. 

Zavier Wingham

"In the Schisms of Enslavement and Manumission: Ottoman Misafirhane for Africans in the 1880s"

Upon signing and ratifying an 1880 convention with the British Empire for the suppression of the African slave Trade, the Ottoman Empire was tasked with ensuring the "liberation" of enslaved Africans within its domains and "to see that they are properly cared for". Over the course of the next decade, the Empire sought to establish a network of guesthouses in and across the Mediterranean by linking areas such as Istanbul, Benghazi, Tripoli, Jedda, and Hodeida to the central guesthouse in Izmir. Given the supposed impossibility of sending enslaved Africans back to their homes, the guesthouses were constructed as temporary housing and schools, where gender classification determined what labor and instruction Africans were to receive. Among those counted as men, those appropriate for work would be registered at the Industrial School and registered for the Ottoman army; those counted as women would be (re)trained as salaried domestic servants to be given to Muslim households. Moreover, for those who married among themselves, proper housing was to be constructed in Izmir's neighborhoods and they would be resettled there.

Extant literature on the guesthouses is sparse; extensive archival documentation on a single guesthouse has, thus far, proved elusive. While writing a single history of a guesthouse might appear impossible, through a plurality of Ottoman and British archival documents produced in relation to the guesthouse network, this study gathers the fractured histories of splintered pasts to read the guesthouses as a yet-to-be-considered site of containment that emerges within an inter-imperial matrix of surveillance across the Mediterranean. Moreover, by focusing on the quotidian elements of African livelihoods and prospects within and outside of the guesthouse, this study highlights the entanglement of slavery and liberation as evinced by enduring modes of African servitude. The intellectual scaffolding of this paper draws from, among others, African diaspora studies, gender studies, cultural studies, literary studies, and Black studies. In bringing together these strands of histories and analysis, this paper attempts to situate guesthouses within the context of the development of asylums, prisons, and refugee regimes in the 19th century.