Best of 2017

by Chris Gratien
Producer and Editor-In-Chief for 2017

2017 was another exciting year on Ottoman History Podcast. We released 51 episodes and over 40 hours of conversation about emerging topics in the history of the Ottoman Empire and much more. Our listeners clocked over 500,000 plays and downloads through the blog and the podcast feed. Below is a list of our most popular episodes of 2017, which were among the top in either blog page rankings, plays/downloads, or both, along with a few editor's picks that deserve a second glance.

Sabbatai Sevi and the Ottoman-Turkish Dönmes
Episode 308
with Cengiz Şişman
hosted by Matthew Ghazarian

With over 10,000 plays and downloads and over 15,000 hits in the OHP blog, Matt Ghazarian's interview with Cengiz Şişman about his book The Burden of Silence was without a doubt the episode that received the most attention in 2017. In this episode, Şişman discussed the history of an Izmir-born Rabbi named Sabbatai Sevi (1626-76) and his messianic movement, which attracted tens of thousands of followers and become known throughout the early modern world. Ottoman authorities arrested Sevi in 1666, and, under duress, the charismatic leader converted to Islam. Many members of his movement followed suit and became the communities who today are called dönme (which literally means "convert"). After Sevi's death, dönme communities continued to outwardly practice Islam but inwardly retain practices of Judaism. Şişman's research examines the development of Sevi’s movement, the trajectories of dönme communities, and questions of conversion and communal boundaries, which became more pressing in the late nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries.

Hürrem Sultan or Roxelana, Empress of the East
Episode 340
with Leslie Peirce
hosted by Susanna Ferguson and Seçil Yilmaz

Our final episode of 2017, a conversation with one of the most prominent scholars in the field of Ottoman history, was also among our most popular. Leslie Peirce came on the program to talk about her new book, which explores the life and times of Roxelana, also known as Hürrem Sultan, a slave girl who became chief consort and then legal wife of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I (r. 1520-1566). She traces Roxelana's probable beginnings and the possible paths that took her to Istanbul, asking how she rose above her peers in the Old Palace to become a favored concubine and then the wife of the Sultan. The episode explored Roxelana's relationship to other women at the Ottoman court, the politics of her motherhood and philanthropy, and her role in Ottoman diplomacy. In the end, Roxelana's work, her relationship with Suleiman, and the unusual nuclear family they created despite the otherwise polygynous patterns of reproduction at the Ottoman court would transform the rules of Ottoman succession, the role of Ottoman royal women, and the future of the Empire as a whole. The life story of this one remarkable woman sheds light on many facets of the history of the Ottoman Empire, showing how a single individual's story can serve as a linchpin for grasping the complexities of an age.

Spies of the Sultan
Episode 334
with Emrah Safa Gürkan
hosted by Chris Gratien

Although it was released in late September, our latest conversation with the familiar voice of Emrah Safa Gürkan ranked fifth in terms of plays and downloads over the course of 2017. Along with new maritime networks, information stitched together the empires of the early modern period. One component of the growing networks of information in the increasingly connected space of the Mediterranean world was espionage. As Gürkan demonstrates in his new book Sultanın Casusları (Spies of the Sultan), the Ottoman Empire was both party and subject to the fascinating exploits of early modern spies. In this episode, we learned about the lives of Ottoman spies profiled in Gürkan's book, and we consider how the transformation of espionage in the Mediterranean relates to the development of early modern empires. The episode even included a bonus conversation with Gürkan about his experience researching the early modern Mediterranean from an Ottoman perspective.

Islam, Psychoanalysis, and the Arabic Freud
Episode 291
with Omnia El Shakry
hosted by Susanna Ferguson

Third in terms of plays and downloads and among the highest traffic earners in the blog, our interview with Omnia El Shakry offered an exciting preview of her since-released monograph entitled The Arabic FreudA tale of mutual ignorance between psychoanalysis and Islam has obscured the many creative and co-constitutive encounters between these two traditions of thought, both so prominent in the 20th century. This presumed incommensurability has hardened the lines between the "modern subject," assumed to be secular and Western, and its Others, often associated with Islam or with the East. In this episode, El Shakry considered what it might mean to think psychoanalysis and Islam together as a "creative encounter of ethical engagement." She showed how psychoanalysts and thinkers in Egypt after World War II drew on Freud and Horney alongside Ibn 'Arabi and Abu Bakr al-Razi to explore the nature of the modern subject, the role of the unconscious, and the gendered process of ethical attunement. In so doing, she suggested that Arabic psychoanalytic texts were neither epiphenomenal to politics nor simply political allegory for nationalism or decolonization; rather, we have ethical and historiographical responsibilities to read these texts and others like them as something more than a product of their time.

The Idea of the Muslim World
Episode 313
with Cemil Aydın
hosted by Chris Gratien and Abdul Latif

The first episode of Season 7 released in May was warmly received by the OHP auidence, as Cemil Aydın joined the program to discuss his book The Idea of the Muslim World. In political discourses today, the “Muslim world” is evoked in a variety of contexts, ranging from pan-Islamic visions of political unity to a set of racist generalizations that present roughly a fifth of the world’s population as a monolithic whole. Aydın explains that the very notion of a Muslim world is recent and requires historicization. In this episode, we explore the imagining of the Muslim World as a concept, tracing its early origins in the history of colonialism and the late Ottoman Empire and considering its transformation over the past century. We also discuss alternate geopolitical imaginaries and reflect on the implications of the racialization of Muslims. The episode also featured bonus material from Michael Talbot on the history of an ill-fated Ottoman goodwill mission to East Asia.

Arab Feminism in Periods of Transition
Episode 335
with Marilyn Booth & Nova Robinson
hosted by Susanna Ferguson and Seçil Yılmaz

In an important addition to our series on gender, we uncovered histories of feminist writing and activism in the modern Middle East, asking how women's textual production and activism changed over the twentieth century and looking at new directions in research on the history of women and feminism in the region. In the first half of the episode, Marilyn Booth introduced us to feminist writer and biographer Zeinab Fawwaz, who transformed women's writing in 1890s Egypt. We showed how central questions of gender, marriage, and girls' education were to discussions about society and nation after the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 and through the first decades of the twentieth century. In the second half of the episode, Nova Robinson discussed her research on Nour Hammada, a women's activist from interwar Lebanon who argued for an "Eastern" or "Arab" women's rights framework. At the end, we came together to think about the new avenues of inquiry shaping Middle East history and the history of women and gender in the region.

19. Yüzyıl Osmanlı Saray ve İstanbul Mutfak Kültürü
Episode 292
with Özge Samancı
hosted by Ufuk Adak and Nurçin İleri

The only Turkish-language episode we released this year courted over 10,000 plays and downloads, adding to our motivation to revive our Turkish-language productions in the coming year. Özge Samancı discusses her book La cuisine d'Istanbul au XIXe siècle, which explores cuisine in the imperial palace and the history of food culture in Istanbul, the Ottoman Empire, and modern Turkey.

Jewish Salonica and the Greek Nation
Episode 314
with Devin Naar
hosted by Nir Shafir and Oscar Aguirre-Mandujano

Salonica was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Ottoman and post-Ottoman world until its liquidation by the Nazis in 1943. Historians often mark the beginning of the end of the Jewish community in 1913 when the city was annexed by Greece. In this popular episode of 2017, Devin Naar challenged this presumption in this podcast by looking at how the Jewish community continued to flourish and adapt as part of the new Greek nation-state. Ultimately, the community was both sustained and limited by its continued use of the millet structure from the late nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire and its strong attachment to the city as a political space. As such, the interwar history of the Salonican Jews becomes an important study of the legacies of the Ottoman Empire and the types of politics it continued to create well into the twentieth century.

Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean
Episode 333
with Joshua White
hosted by Chris Gratien, Susanna Ferguson, and Taylor Moore

Our interview with Joshua White about his book Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean, recorded during a podcast training retreat on Burgazada in summer 2017, was among the most memorable for both our team and our OHP audience. Pirates are usually imagined as outlaws. But as the history of the early modern Mediterranean demonstrates, the line between illegal raiding and legitimate maritime violence was blurry, easily crossed, and often a moving target. In this episode, White considered how piracy shaped legal institutions and thought in the Ottoman world, and we got a glimpse of the fascinating and liminal world of pirates, jurists, and officials in the Ottoman Mediterranean.

The Politics of Turkish Language Reform
Episode 290
with Emmanuel Szurek
hosted by Chris Gratien and Aurélie Perrier
featuring Seçil Yılmaz and Nir Shafir

We kicked off 2017 with a busy episode recorded in Paris, and it proved to be one of the year's most successful. We spoke to Emmanuel Szurek about his research on the politics of Turkish language reform. National language politics and the transformation of literacy have effected major changes in both spoken and written language over the course of the last century, but few languages have changed as dramatically as modern Turkish. The reform of the language from the 1920s onward, which not only replaced the Ottoman alphabet with a new Latin-based alphabet but also led to a radical transformation of the lexicon and grammar, has been described by Geoffrey Lewis as "catastrophic success" due to the extreme but unquestionably successful nature of this attempt to revolutionize language in Turkey. Over the course of our conversation, which included a revival of the Turkish "Alphabet March" and the reading of an unusual poetic artifact of interwar Turkey, Szurek examined the alphabet change, the language reforms, and the surname laws of the early Republican period. Our extended interview was followed by a brief conversation in French about the history of French Turcology.

Izmir & Thessaloniki: from Empire to Nation-State
Episode 337
with Kalliopi Amygdalou
hosted by Michael Talbot

Kalliopi Amygdalou has appeared on the podcast many times in the capacity of host, but her turn in the guest seat proved to be an important episode for OHP in 2017. During the late Ottoman period, the diverse and vibrant Aegean ports of Izmir (Smyrna) and Thessaloniki (Salonica) experienced rapid growth and transformation through the increased interconnection of the Mediterranean world and the rise of maritime trade. In the tumultuous final decade of the Ottoman period, both cities witnessed political and demographic upheaval as well as outright destruction by fire. With Thessaloniki permanently incorporated into Greece and Izmir into the new Republic of Turkey in 1923, the two cities seemed destined to follow different paths. Yet as Amygdalou explained, interesting comparisons and parallels between the development of Izmir and Thessaloniki endured even after they ceased to be part of a unified Ottoman polity. In this episode, we followed the story of urban and architectural transformation in Izmir and Thessaloniki after the decade of war between the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey and the period that followed in the two cities under a transition from empire to nation-state.

Intellectual Currents in Early Modern Islam
Episode 328
with Khaled El-Rouayheb
hosted by Shireen Hamza and Abdul Latif

The seventeenth century, contrary to popular belief, was a time of great originality and change for scholars in the Ottoman Empire and the Maghreb. In this much-circulated interview, Khaled El-Rouayheb debunked the many myths of intellectual decline by showing how the intellectual production changed in tandem with major migrations across the Islamic world. We started with the influx of Kurdish and Azeri logicians into the Ottoman Empire and the new disciplines that they brought with them. We then discussed the movement of scholars from North Africa to Egypt and the Hejaz, and how they insisted on methods of taḥqīq, or verification, rather than taqlīd, or the acceptance of knowledge based on authority alone. Finally, we touched on how the spread of Sufi orders from India and Central Asia into Arabic-speaking regions impacted the development and disputation of the concept of waḥdat al-wujūd, or the unity of being. How does this detailed research on intellectual trends change our understanding of "modernity" and the period we call the "early modern"?

Kemalism and the Making of Modern Turkey
Episode 323
with Erik-Jan Zürcher
hosted by Andreas Guidi and Elif Becan

There is little surprise that this collaboration with our friends at The Southeast Passage was a big hit in 2017. In it, we discussed the emergence of the Turkish nationalist movement under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the establishment of a sovereign Republic of Turkey in 1923. As our guest Erik-Jan Zürcher has argued, Kemalism can be studied both as a political transformation from armed struggle to a one-party state administration system and as a repertoire of discursive symbols based on the imaginary of nation, civilization, and modernity. This installment was structured along a series of lectures that Zürcher has given at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, in which he has framed Kemalism’s activism and worldview within its contemporary international context as well as along a broader chronological axis continuing into the 1950s.

Genetics and Nation-Building in the Middle East
Episode 324
with Elise Burton
hosted by Shireen Hamza, Chris Gratien, and Maryam Patton

Episode 324 featured research that earned its author, Elise Burton, an honorable mention from the Middle East Studies Association of North America for the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award in the category of the Social Sciences. Genetics have emerged as a new scientific tool for studying human ancestry and historical migration. And as research into the history of genetics demonstrates, genetics and other bioscientific approaches to studying ancestry were also integral to the transformation of the very national and racial categories through which ancestry has come to be described over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. We spoke to Elise Burton about her research on the development of human genetics in the Middle East. Burton has studied the history of genetics within a comparative framework, examining the interrelated cases of human genetics research in Turkey, Israel, Iran, and elsewhere. In this episode, we focused in particular on the history of genetics in Turkey and its relationship to changing understandings of nation and race within the early Republic. In a bonus segment, we also looked under the hood of commercial genetic ancestry tests to understand present-day science within the context of these historical developments.

Syrian Alawis under Ottoman Rule
Episode 303
with Stefan Winter
hosted by Chris Gratien

Although the Alawi communities of Syria have played an important role in the politics of the 20th century, the longer history of these communities has often been obscured by generalizations and discourses of mystification. In this expansive episode, Stefan Winter discussed the history of the Alawis over the centuries, the subject of his award-winning book A History of the ‘Alawis: From Medieval Aleppo to the Turkish Republic. In particular, we focused on the ways in which Syrian Alawis were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire and experienced changes in Ottoman politics and governance. We also examined the social and economic history of the Alawis during the early modern period and the encounter with modernity.

Visual Sources in Late Ottoman History
Episode 327
with contributions by Zeynep Çelik, Leyla Amzi-Erdoğdular, Özde Çeliktemel-Thomen, Mehmet Kentel, Michael Talbot, Murat Yıldız, Burçak Özlüdil Altın, Seçil Yılmaz, Burçin Çakır, Zeinab Azerbadegan, Dotan Halevy, Chris Gratien, and Michael Ferguson

This episode, which featured more than a dozen voices, showcased new work that interrogates methods of analyzing and employing visual sources for Ottoman history that go beyond the practice of "image as decoration." Following a conversation with the organizers of the "Visual Sources in Late Ottoman History" conference held at Columbia University in April 2017, we spoke to conference participants about the visual sources they employ in their work and how these visual sources allow us to understand the history of the Ottoman Empire and post-Ottoman world in a new light.

Editor's Picks

These episodes didn't quite have the biggest stats, but they are definitely worth a second look for those who missed them, because they featured innovative approaches to both scholarship and our own medium. We hope to bring you more of their kind in the years to come!

Ottoman New York
Episode 320
featuring Bruce Burnside & Sam Dolbee

If you're an American interested in the history of the Middle East, this is the episode of Ottoman History Podcast that you needed to hear in 2017. Bruce Burnside and Sam Dolbee walked the streets of New York in search of historical links between the city and the Ottoman world. The episode explored both the everyday lives of those hailing from the Ottoman domains over several centuries in the Big Apple, as well as the perceptions New Yorkers and Americans more generally had of the Ottoman Empire. Through visits to sites across the island of Manhattan, it shed light on the long and largely forgotten shared history of the Ottoman Empire and New York City by visiting unlikely places – such as a modest walk-up apartment on the Upper East Side – as well as New York landmarks like 1 World Trade Center and the Stonewall Inn.

Exploring the Art of the Qur'an
Episode 297
with Massumeh Farhad & Simon Rettig
hosted by Emily Neumeier

If you missed this episode, it may be because Facebook on multiple occasions suppressed its circulation somehow by limiting the exposure of promotions on its post. I couldn't get to the bottom of why it occurred, but it is a shame that such a fascinating and relevant episode would not reach those who might have been interested. In this episode, Emily Neumeier visited a landmark exhibition entitled "The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts," which was on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. She sat down on location with curators Massumeh Farhad and Simon Rettig to talk about the material history of Qur'anic manuscripts and 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.

The Sounds of Islamic Berlin
Episode 321
with Peter McMurray
hosted by Nir Shafir and Huma Gupta

We've played with sound on OHP before, but never quite like this. This special episode began with a ten-minute segment from an audio composition crafted by musicologist Peter McMurray from recent field recordings and ethnographies he conducted among various Turkish communities in Berlin. The conversation wove in and out of two discussions. First, we looked at the means by which Turkish migrants from the Alevi, Shi’i, and Sufi communities use the different private and public spaces of the city as a stage for their religiosity. We added to this a second discussion of how ethnography, aesthetics, and the aural intersect in scholarship today.

Coffee & Cannabis
Episode 326
with Casey Lurtz & Lina Britto
hosted by Chris Gratien

During 2017, we often ventured well beyond the Ottoman domains to explore Islamic scholarship in West Africa, connections in the Indian Ocean world, and even the links between American hip-hop and modern Arabic poetry. But this episode took us the furthest beyond our usual region of study. Our guests, Casey Lurtz and Lina Britto, discussed their respective research on coffee and marijuana in their Latin American contexts. Following a global discussion of coffee and marijuana with some focus on the Middle East, we spoke with each of these scholars about their individual projects. We examined how the arrival of coffee impacted local political economies in Mexico, and we explored how the history of marijuana as a "drug" has had political consequences for modern Latin American countries. We concluded with a roundtable discussion on the history of commodities like coffee and marijuana and what they tell us about the changing cultural context surrounding both these items today.

History, Diaspora, and Politics
Episode 332
with Evyn Lê Espiritu, Margaux Fitoussi, and Kais Khimji
hosted by Shireen Hamza and Chris Gratien

I know the list is getting long, but I could not conclude a discussion of OHP's best and brightest of 2017 without mention of one last installment of our program that has special meaning for myself and our production team. OHP started not as an interview program for prominent scholars to talk about their new publications but rather as a place where graduate students discussed emerging topics of interest in their own fields of study with other graduate students. As OHP has grown, the role of student researchers has gradually shifted more towards the production and interviewing side and away from the role of presenter or expert guest. But in this episode we featured the work of three students on three very different topics related to the history and politics of diaspora in the Middle East and beyond. We discussed the little-known history of Vietnamese migrants in the state of Israel. Then, through film, we revisited the history and memory of Jewish urban life in North Africa between Tunisia and France. Finally, we considered the political implications of the relationship between Canada and the Ismaili diaspora.