The Seminar will offer an exciting combination of discussions, guest lectures, trips to libraries and archives, and independent research opportunities. We will meet 3 days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Friday) from 9:30 to 12:30 and 2:00-4:00 at Georgetown University in the Intercultural Center (ICC) building Room 302, with occasional additions for individual meetings with guest speakers and director. General format will be presentations and discussion, with a session led by the director for analysis of scholarship and sources at the end of each unit as time permits . Two days per week will be set aside for independent research and individual meetings with the director and guest speakers on individual projects as needed. Participants will present their work in progress at appropriate times during the seminar, and provide abstracts and samples for the seminar website.
Unit One: Early Modern Encounters: Boundaries and Crossings
In the first week, the seminar will undertake the task of exploring basic theoretical concepts regarding the study of early-modern states and investigate cross-cultural relations as an alternative methodological approach to counter the one-dimensional, Euro-centric and Otto-centric narratives. On the surface we see two conflicting discourses. Henri Pirenne’s oppositional model of a bifurcated Mediterranean has proven remarkably durable and was later recreated in the works of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, which popularized the clash of civilizations theory. For Braudel, on the other hand, the Mediterranean’s defining characteristic is its fundamental “unity and coherence.” He rejects religious borders and insists that “the Turkish Mediterranean lived and breathed the same rhythms as the Christian, that the whole sea shared a common destiny… with identical problems and general trends if not identical consequences.” Until recently, scholars of the Ottoman Empire tended to emphasize the “distinctiveness” of the Ottoman experience, despite some initial enthusiasm about the idea of a broader Mediterranean. Are these two paradigms mutually exclusive? Did Christian Europe have a single image of “the Turk”? What insights do primary sources such as the Venetian ambassadorial papers have to offer in this regard? Why are Muslim and Ottoman views of Christendom and Europe missing from the discourse? What can we learn from sources like Ottoman travel narratives such as Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname, for example?
Early modern European states and the Ottoman Empire shared war as their principal raison d’être. There is no particular reason to claim that this orientation applied only to the Ottomans. On the European front, the battle against “the Turk” was commonly used by Habsburg rulers for legitimacy, and the Venetian policy of favoring commercial considerations over “holy war, Catholic style” was often severely criticized. Likewise, some of France’s neighbors strongly opposed the Franco-Ottoman alliance of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Ottomans, on the other hand, claimed to be superior to the Safavids and Mughals for expanding the Abode of Islam into Christian Europe, while the Safavids justified engaging in political alliances with Christian powers against the Ottoman Empire. Put differently, the “bifurcated” reading of European history that presupposes an inherent struggle between Christianity and Islam has proven to be overly simplistic, to say the least.
This unit aims to question the disconnected reading of the region’s history and at the same time, complicate the view that Mediterranean societies made up “one big happy family” in the early modern era, even though this discourse places the Ottoman Empire at the center of the Mediterranean world rather than on the margins. Readings will focus on selections from authors who use the cross-cultural approach in their research, starting with Bentley’s “Cross-Cultural Interaction” which makes a case for making encounters between societies the main analytical category by which we periodize world history. Other readings include Manning’s “Problem of Interactions,” Eisenstadt and Shulter’s “Introduction: Paths to Early Modernities: A Comparative View,” Kafadar’s “Ottomans in Europe” and Goffman’s The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe. Prof. Virginia Aksan (McMaster University), author of “Locating the Ottomans among Early Modern Empires,” joins the seminar as a guest scholar with a presentation entitled “Reflections on the early Modern Ottoman/European Encounter.” Aksan’s research and teaching are both concerned with cross-cultural contacts between Europe and Muslims. She is also the co-editor of The Early Modern Ottomans. At the end of this unit, participants will have acquired the theoretical background necessary for the following thematic discussions organized in three consecutive units.
Unit Two: Military, Religious and Diplomatic Encounters
This unit will further complicate our notions of a divided Europe and Mediterranean world. The spiritual bases of Christian Europe and the Islamic Ottoman Empire were remarkably similar. Islam and Christianity, along with Judaism, are rooted in essentially the same Near Eastern and monotheistic doctrine. Despite ongoing rivalries, alliances, diplomacy, commerce, and the movements of peoples increasingly institutionalized and complicated relations between their societies. In the economic, political, and even religious spheres the Ottomans assumed many of the duties that previously had characterized Byzantine relations with western Europe. Dutch, English, French, and Venetian ambassadors resided in Istanbul, and the Ottomans were a part – perhaps even at the core – of the diplomatic system that had arisen out of Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
In this unit, participants will examine the nature and dynamics of the confrontations in the region and ask: What was the nature of the relationship between religion and warfare in the Islamic Ottoman and Christian European contexts? What were the ways in which Ottomans and Europeans shared similar political interests and programs despite doctrinal differences? What role did the Ottomans play in the evolution of what Goffman calls the “new diplomacy” of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, generally associated with the Italian Renaissance? What kinds of contacts and influences did Europeans and Ottomans share in the realm of religious thought and philosophy? We can point out, for example, the neo-platonic revival of late medieval Europe and the influence of Sufi metaphysics on Islamic intellectual life, which was also imbued with neo-platonism. An integrated reading of the history of this region reveals a fluid and heterodox religious world from the Iberian peninsula to the Balkans. Muslims in the Balkans, for example, incorporated various Christian and pagan elements into wedding and birth rituals, observed Christian festivals and even baptized their children against leprosy. There were also thousands of renegades from Christendom in the Ottoman world, men and women; whereas one only rarely discovers in Christian Europe converts from Islam.
Readings in this unit include Goffman’s “Negotiating with the Renaissance State”, sections of Meserve’s Empires of Islam in Renaissance Historical Thought, Andrews’ “Suppressed Renaissance,” Emiralioğlu’s Geographical Knowledge and Imperial Culture, Aksan’s “Ottoman Sources of Information on Europe” and Bulliet’s The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. These studies generally question the limits of imperial policy when analyzed primarily as an extension of military conflict and religious ideology. Participants will also examine the paradigm of confessionalization in Europe and the role played by the Ottoman Empire, while comparing patterns of religious expansion. Readings include Fleischer’s “The Lawgiver as Messiah” and “Shadows of Shadows,” Krstic’s “Illuminated by the Light of Islam,” Necipoğlu’s “Süleyman the Magnificent and the Representation of Power in the Context of Ottoman-Habsburg-Papal Rivalry” and Green-Mercado’s “The Mahdi in Valencia.” In addition, the director will introduce and discuss relevant primary source selections including diplomatic correspondence and selections from contemporary Ottoman historians.
The seminar will host Associate Professor Emiralioğlu who will give a presentation on “Cartography, Geographical Consciousness and the Ottoman Imperial Project” based on her recent book Geographical Knowledge and Imperial Culture in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. Her lecture will examine the issue of how and where the Ottomans saw themselves in the world in relation to their near and distant neighbors.
Unit Three: Battlefields to Bazaars: Merchants, Diplomats, Travelers
In this unit, the seminar turns from battlefields to bazaars. What was the role of Ottoman merchants (Muslim and non-Muslim) as commercial actors and cultural intermediaries in Mediterranean and European trade? How did actors across borders influence each other? Recent studies challenge the notion that the Ottoman Empire was simply a source of goods in international commerce. Kate Fleet argues that while Genoese expertise influenced the development of the Ottomans during the fifteenth century, trade networks were much more complex and Ottomans were also rational actors with clear economic motives. Palmira Brummett shows that the Ottomans possessed economic intentionality and aimed for commercial hegemony in the Mediterranean. This scholarship underlines the complexity of commercial and political networks, and further erodes artificial boundaries.
Despite military confrontations and doctrinal divides, trade relations provided numerous opportunities for cooperation across the Mediterranean and beyond. Muslim merchants established themselves in Venice (Venice’s natural history museum was once known as the Fondaco dei Turchi), Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire in Amsterdam, and the French commercial diaspora in Izmir. Ottoman merchants roamed Mediterranean and even Atlantic waters. Islam and Judaism were acknowledged (if not accepted) as part of the re-evaluation of the relationship between religion and society that accompanied the early modern collapse of the Catholic ecumene. Even ideologically, then, differences receded and the societies more and more resembled each other. An examination of this state of affairs opens for the historian a new world of research and interpretation.
One should also point out that the Ottoman Empire shared many of the social and economic changes generally associated with early modernity: population growth, urbanization, migration, commercialization and inflation of prices, increased surveillance and policing, that affected both the eastern and western Mediterranean zones. The impact of American silver coming to Ottoman markets via Europe was significant, and the Ottoman gurush was derived from the German groschen. We can even observe a general growth of literacy and secularization of culture, perhaps most notably in the emerging coffeehouse culture after the middle of the 16th century.
This unit includes a presentation by guest scholar Eric Dursteler on the Venetian merchant and diplomatic community in Istanbul. In his book Venetians in Constantinople Dursteler challenges the traditional historiography relying on mutually exclusive categories, such as “East/West,” “Muslim/Christian,” “Ottoman/European,” or “Venetian/Turk.” He argues that the fluid and variable nature of identity was the key factor that facilitated peaceful coexistence between Venetians and Ottomans, focusing on the Venetian merchant and diplomatic community in Ottoman Constantinople from 1573 to 1645, the longest period of uninterrupted peace between Ottomans and Venetians.
Readings in this segment will draw from the pioneering volumes Merchants in the Ottoman Empire (eds. Faroqhi and Veinstein), Merchants, companies, and trade: Europe and Asia in the early modern era (eds. Chaudhury and Morineau), and Dursteler’s Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Participants will read and discuss various chapters examining the complex networks of diplomacy and trade, Ottoman merchants in Venice, trading networks in times of war, and Venetians trading in Ottoman lands. These chapters offer a glimpse into the life stories of merchants, some of whom started in Ottoman lands but stuck roots in Venetian or Habsburg territories.
Unit Four: Across the Religious Divide: Women in the Early Modern Era
In this unit, we investigate the history of women, gender, and law from a transcultural, transreligious perspective. This is not an easy task, given that women have typically been portrayed as the embodiment of fundamental differences among Europeans and Muslims. Furthermore, we know comparatively little about the lives of Mediterranean and Ottoman women, in comparison to the other regions such as the Atlantic world. Studies on specific areas are increasingly common, but there is a gap in discussions of gender in a broad and comparative context. In the last several decades scholars have made tremendous advances in the field of Middle Eastern and Ottoman women’s history and revealed the complex nature of the lives of Muslim and non-Muslim women in the home and family, in religious institutions, in courts, in the marketplace and in the countryside, and in art, music, and literature, thus debunking the orientalist view of the eastern woman as silent, passive and repressed. Scholars have shown using Islamic court records, inheritance records, property deeds and other archival documents that Ottoman women owned property, rented out shops and homes, invested in businesses, inherited property and even divorced their husbands with some frequency. When considering the question of difference among women across religions, the seminar will emphasize the many local variations, mutual influences and common trends, following the example of the contributions in Sperling and Wray’s edited volume Across the Religious Divide. The chapters in this volume demonstrate that sometimes the differences between urban and rural areas in the same polity could be more pronounced than, for example, upper class women in Istanbul, Venice, Cairo and Avignon. Our aim will not be to essentialize difference, but to examine religious and legal practices for the purpose of recasting the question of difference without obscuring distinctiveness.
Dursteler’s microbiographical study of four women and their families in Renegade Women: Gender, Identity, and Boundaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean gives us a rare account with exceptional detail and suggests that when faced with constricting cultural attitudes, structures and institutions women throughout the Mediterranean responded in remarkably similar ways. We start this unit with a discussion with Eric Dursteler, guest lecturer for the previous unit, on the implications of his book for studying the wider Mediterranean in a transcultural and transreligious context. Participants will explore a set of circumstances common to the early modern period (motherhood, widowhood, trappings of a unhappy marriage, neglectful husbands, difficulty of divorce, undesirable matches, mixed marriages, and concern over children) and how some women were able to respond in a “distinctively Mediterranean fashion” to these ordinary issues. Other readings include Peirce’s The Imperial Harem, Zilfi’s Women in the Ottoman Empire and “Muslim Women in the Early Modern Era,” and Ortega’s “Pleading for Help: Gender Relations and Cross-Cultural Logic in the Early Modern Mediterranean.” The director will offer an analysis of the sources and guest lectures, and then lead the participants into a more detailed examination of the topic of Ottoman women. She will provide samples of a number of primary sources often used in studying women: court records, business contracts, marriage and divorce papers, police records, and other archival materials. In addition, participants will read selections from travelogues, such as the letters of Lady Mary Montague, written during 1716-18 during her stay in Istanbul.
The final sessions are reserved for discussion of project outcomes and summation of the seminar. Participants who have already shared their work at appropriate times during the seminar will provide an update at the end. We will also discuss content for the website at the end of the seminar.