The Early Modern Ottoman Empire as a Contact Zone (Workshop Report, 10-11 June 2010, Princeton)

The Early Modern Ottoman Empire as a Contact Zone

The detailed programme is available at

On 10 and 11 June 2010 the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ, hosted the
graduate workshop "The Early Modern Ottoman Empire as a Contact Zone". The workshop was
organized in cooperation between Prof. Molly Greene (Princeton University), Prof. Thomas Maissen (
IAS, Princeton/Heidelberg University) and the research project "Dynamic Asymmetries in
Transcultural Flows at the Intersection of Asia and Europe: The Case of the Early Modern
Ottoman Empire" (Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context", Heidelberg
University). Conceptual planning and organization were primarily undertaken by Pascal Firges (
Heidelberg University) and Prof. Maissen, who also chaired the discussions. With the
exception of Prof. Linda T. Darling (University of Arizona, Tucson) and Prof. Christine
Philliou (Columbia University, New York), all speakers were graduate students. Moreover, among
the discussants were graduate students from Princeton, Heidelberg and Bogaziçi Universities
as well as members and guests of the IAS, including Prof. Judith Pfeiffer (IAS/Oxford
University). The event was made possible by the generous financial support of Heidelberg
University's Cluster of Excellence.

For a long time traditional historical scholarship of the early modern Mediterranean,
South Eastern Europe and the Middle East was influenced by the imagery of a bloc distinction
between a Christian and European Occident on the one hand and an Islamic and Asian Orient
on the other. Building on recent developments in scholarship, the workshop sought to
emphasize a transcultural perspective on the history of the Ottoman Empire and its neighbours.
In accordance with the interdisciplinary approaches of Atlantic and Global History the
participants explored the extent to which the Ottomans and 'the world around them' were
interconnected and mutually dependent.

In her opening lecture, LINDA T. DARLING (University of Arizona, Tucson) gave an
overview over the history and development of the concepts of 'borderlands', 'frontiers', and
'contact zones'. She pointed out that dealing with them has its pitfalls: While in her
understanding, 'borderland' and 'frontier' conceptually stand in direct contrast to each other,
the terms have frequently been used interchangeably. After presenting several examples that
have made use of the 'frontier' paradigm, Darling argued for looking at history through
the lenses of 'borderland' and 'contact zone'. Instead of accentuating clearly shaped
contrasts, as in traditional conceptions of the Ottomans as "others" from a European point of
view, these lenses would allow for more colourful pictures showing the movements and
interactions between the Ottoman Empire and its European neighbours.

PETER TRUMMER (Heidelberg University) undertook an investigation of the influences of
the skirmishes along the Habsburg-Ottoman military border on the development of military
learning from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. Tactics derived from continuous 'small
warfare' in this region became, though officially frowned upon, an important element of
military education. To a certain extent these tactics, which were adopted and adapted from
Ottoman warfare, were then reintroduced by European officers serving in the Ottoman Empire as
military advisors from the late 18th century onwards.

EMRAH SAFA GÜRKAN (Georgetown University, Washington) presented an insight into the
peculiarities of Early Modern intelligence networks with a special focus on the Spanish
Habsburgs' information gathering in the Ottoman dominions. Espionage could in many cases be a
border crossing family business. By introducing the concept of the 'frontier man', Gürkan
analyzed what kind of agents were recruited for this endeavour and how these persons managed
to cross back and forth the allegedly so hermetic boundaries between the domains of
Christendom and Islam.

ABHISHEK KAICKER (Columbia University, New York) introduced Hadjdji Mustafa (d. 1791),
a.k.a. Monsieur Raymond, who annotated his English translation of Ghulam Husayn's _Siyar
al-Muta'akhkhirin_ with explanatory comments aiming at European readers. Born in Istanbul,
educated in France, and living in Bengal as a British East India Company employee, the case
of this "Turk" - as he considered himself - raises many interesting points about the
question of identity in a transcultural context. The discussion also put an emphasis on the
question what the author meant to designate with the English term "Turk".

The paper delivered by PASCAL FIRGES (Heidelberg University) focused on the mission of
Marie-Louis Descorches, who was the first diplomatic representative of the French Republic
to the Porte (1793-1795). Although considered by other European ambassadors as an
extremely dangerous promoter of French revolutionary ideology among both the Ottoman population
and elites, Descorches actually pursued very conservative policies along the lines of
traditional French diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire. While this was done with the explicit
consent of his government, these policies met with some resistance of those French citizens
living in the Ottoman Empire who were fierce supporters of the revolution.

GÜLAY TULASOGLU (Heidelberg University) presented the case of Charles Blunt, British
consul in Salonica, focusing on his role in local reforms between 1830 and 1839. Blunt's
success in implementing improvements like land based quarantine measures shows how a newly
appointed foreign official could become an expert on local conditions. He used this knowledge
to participate in local reform processes and thereby to increase his and his government's
'soft power' with regard to the provincial governor, the district administrator, the
local _kadi_, the Greek Orthodox bishop, and different local elites.

From the viewpoint of religious studies, BRUCE BURNSIDE (Columbia University, New York)
explored the 'common life' of Muslims, Jews, Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Ottoman
Bosnia. Referring to literary as well as official sources, he drew a picture of religious
tolerance between good neighbours who often even participated in each other's religious
practices and celebrated their respective feasts together. Cautious not to glorify the past,
Burnside did not keep quiet about occasional clashes, but nevertheless saw the advent of
nationalist ideology in the 19th century as the crucial factor leading to the war in the
1990s. But even then a declaration of the inhabitants of besieged Sarajevo (1992) shows how
deeply rooted religious tolerance still was.

Building on his ongoing research into the renegade phenomenon in the period c. 1580 -
1610, TOBIAS GRAF (Heidelberg University) introduced the attendants to a sample of some 160
individuals who can be classified as renegades in the sense of having been Christians who
converted Islam within the Ottoman realm. While the database still contained significant
gaps, results so far confirm conclusions which have formerly been based mainly on anecdotal
evidence as well as _a priori_ expectations. Among those converting to Islam, the
majority had been soldiers and continued in the military-administrative field. Somewhat
surprising, though perhaps the result of the patchy database, is the fact that craftsmen, most
notably goldsmiths, seem to be overrepresented.

CHRISTIAN ROTH (Heidelberg University) took two _hüccet_s from the Patmos monastery
archives as his starting point. Besides demonstrating that it seemed not to be a problem to go
to the Islamic court with a claim for 30 % interest, he showed the possible usage of the
documents after their having been issued. Questions still remain concerning the
circumstances of amicable settlements (_sulh_), the possible effects of these circumstances on the
agreements, and the role of local institutions like the monasteries in these arbitrations.
Finally, Roth drew attention to the fact that Christian litigants decided to appeal to the
Islamic judge even when this exposed them to the dangers of long sea travels in the
Aegean winter.

Birgivi Mehmed Efendi's _al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya_ was the focus of the paper given by
KATHARINA A. IVANYI (Princeton University). Raising the question of 'orthodoxy,' this
paper examined the spread of a sixteenth-century manual of practical ethics within different
regions of the Ottoman Empire - Anatolia, the Balkans, the Levant and Egypt - as well as
beyond the borders of the well-protected domains eastwards into Russia, Central Asia, and
China. With its focus on _piety_, and call for the 'return' to an ideal Islam, Birgivi's
_Tariqa_ seems to have risen to great popularity in the eighteenth century in particular.
While the reasons for this rise cannot yet be fully explained, it is evident in both the
large number of extant eighteenth century manuscript copies, as well as in the number of
commentaries produced on it at the time.

The concluding discussion started with a review by CHRISTINE PHILLIOU (Columbia
University, New York). She noted that besides dealing with interconnections and dependencies, one
common aspect of the delivered papers was that each of them dealt with specific agents.
The discussion therefore brought up new questions: If applied to persons rather than to
geographical spaces, can we talk of contact zones that are mobile? Transferring this thought
to the 'borderland' paradigm, where would be the limits (or frontier?) of a borderland?

The workshop benefited immensely from the interdisciplinary approaches of the
participants' research, combining the perspectives of historians trained in early modern European
history with those of historians with backgrounds in Near and Middle Eastern Studies.
The organizers would once again like to thank all present for their extremely
stimulating contributions and for the very friendly atmosphere of this workshop.

Pascal Firges, Tobias Graf, Christian Roth, Gülay Tulasoglu
Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context"
Heidelberg University, Germany