Feb 21, 2017

Assyrians, Evangelicals, and Borderland Nationalism

Episode 301

hosted by Matthew Ghazarian

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In the mid-nineteenth century Ottoman/Qajar borderlands (today’s Turco-Iranian border), East Syrian Christians had their first encounters with American Protestant missionaries. These encounters brought to the region new institutions like printing presses and American-style schools. They also helped remap Neo-Aramaic concepts for communal belonging like melat and tayepa – which loosely correspond with the Ottoman and Arabic terms millet and taife, what today we might translate as “nation” and “sect.” An older generation of scholars characterizes the missionary project as one of enlightenment or modernity, while others describe it as a form of colonialism. In this interview with Professor Adam Becker, we discuss approaches to studying changing notions of piety as well as different ways of thinking about the missionary encounter.

Feb 17, 2017

Rethinking "Decline" in the Second Ottoman Empire

Episode 300

hosted by Susanna Ferguson

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Did the Ottoman Empire "decline" after an initial golden age of rapid expansion and military conquest? This question has long haunted the telling of Ottoman history. Critics note that describing centuries of Ottoman history simply as "decline" makes it seem inevitable that the Empire would be defeated in World War I, emptying the story of the contingency and nuance it deserves. How else might we describe the nature of political, economic, and cultural change in the later centuries of the Ottoman Empire? What other questions could we ask? In this episode, Baki Tezcan describes the period he calls the "Second Ottoman Empire," between roughly 1580 and 1826, not as a period of decline but as one of political transformation. His story radically remakes existing narratives about the nature and history of Ottoman political authority and governance and offers an important alternative to the "decline thesis" that has haunted Ottoman history for so long.

Feb 14, 2017

Alevi Religious Ceremony, Architecture, and Practice

Episode 299


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In this episode, we approach the religious architecture of the Alevis, to examine how practice shapes architectural space and how socioeconomic change transforms such spaces. Many of our episodes on Ottoman History Podcast have focused on how monumental architecture, such as mosques and other buildings of religious significance, are tied to political transformation and expressions of political power and ideology. Taking a different perspective, our guest, Angela Andersen, researches the history and development of Alevi architectural forms in Turkey and abroad. Historically, Alevi religious practice and cem ceremonies took place in homes and other multi-purpose buildings, which could be configured as ad hoc meeting places for local communities during the communal cem ceremony. But with Alevi urban migration to cities in Turkey, Germany, and elsewhere, the creation of a "permanent address" for Alevis has emerged in the form of community centers providing a number of services, including designated rooms or halls for the cem. In this episode, we trace the genealogy of the modern cemevi to older contexts of Alevi religious practice and consider the role played by the cemevi in Turkey's new political landscape.

Feb 12, 2017

Prefabs, Chalets, and Home Making in 19th-Century Istanbul

Episode 298


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A handful of obscure archival fragments from Sultan Abdülhamid II’s imperial library in Yıldız have revealed a curious architectural practice that took place in the urban gardens of members and officials of the Ottoman court: they had a penchant for imported chalets. In this episode, Deniz Türker discusses her research on how this relatively niche fad for importation quickly shifted to widespread local prefabrication in the last decades of the nineteenth century. With the entrepreneurial oversight of production facilities in Istanbul, a larger swath of the capital’s population began to find ways to express their domestic tastes in an extremely competitive spirit on Istanbul’s expanding suburbs. In tracing these practices through state archives, newspapers, novel, and photographs, Türker also proposes some preliminary answers to the scarcity of original architectural drawings in the Ottoman archives.

Feb 10, 2017

Exploring the Art of the Qur'an

Episode 297

hosted by Emily Neumeier

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The preeminent position of manuscript painting and poetry at the Ottoman court has been well established by historians, yet the equally important practice of commissioning and collecting sumptuously decorated copies of the Qur’an--the sacred text of Islam--has been less explored. The role of the Qur’an in the artistic culture of the Ottoman world is just one facet of the landmark exhibition The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The show traces the formal evolution of the Qur’an, especially in terms of calligraphy and manuscript illumination, with over 60 manuscripts and folios spanning a thousand years and created in an area stretching from Egypt to Afghanistan. Besides having an opportunity to appreciate the level of labor and skill invested in producing such high-quality manuscripts, visitors will also be surprised to learn about the mobility of these books, as they were avidly collected, repaired, and donated by members of the Ottoman court to various religious institutions around the empire. In this episode, curators Massumeh Farhad and Simon Rettig sit down with us to reflect both on the reception of the exhibition in the United States, as well as the process of organizing this collaborative venture between the Smithsonian and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul.

Feb 8, 2017

Women and Colonial Legal Pluralism in Algeria

Episode 296

hosted by Edna Bonhomme and Sam Dolbee

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In French Algeria, the colonial imperatives of assimilation and difference gave birth to legal pluralism. In this episode, Dr. Sarah Ghabrial explains what it meant for Algerian women to have different legal structures operating at the same time. The ability to argue one's case in an Islamic court and also appeal it in French common law provided openings for women in matters of personal status. But it also had limits. They may have ultimately been able to divorce their husbands, but divorcing themselves from patriarchal structures of power proved more difficult, if not impossible. At the same time as legal codes changed, so, too, did medicine. As in much of the world, a state-sponsored scientific medicine, mostly practiced by men, began to crowd out local healing practices and knowledge of bodies, in many cases performed and possessed by women such as midwives. But it would have a particularly racialized impact in French Algeria. We also examine the impact of this change in court, where the latter form of medicine came to be an arbiter of truth, particularly in divorce cases. We close by shifting from matters of impotence to questions of agency, and how useful of a concept it is for this history.