Dragomans and the Routes of Orientalism

Episode 354

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Dragomans are often known as diplomatic translators, but their responsibilities and roles went much further than being mere interpreters. In this podcast, we speak with Natalie Rothman about how dragomans negotiated both linguistic space and social space across the Eastern Mediterranean. Focusing specifically on the case of Venetian dragomans, we discuss their training and how they managed to become brokers of knowledge and connections between the Ottoman Empire and myriad publics in Venice and beyond. In the second half of the podcast, we delve a bit deeper and examine how dragomans came to contribute to the budding world of Orientalist knowledge among seventeenth-century European scholars.

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Contributor Bios

E. Natalie Rothman is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto, where she researches and teaches early modern Mediterranean history, Venetian-Ottoman diplomatic mediation, the relationship between translation and empire, the history of archives, and digital scholarship. Rothman is is a member of the inaugural cohort of the College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada and the author of a multiple-award winning book, Brokering Empire: Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul (Cornell University Press, 2011). She is currently completing her second monograph, entitled The Dragoman Renaissance: Diplomatic Interpreters and the Routes of Orientalism.
Nir Shafir is a historian whose research explores the intellectual and religious history of the early modern Middle East, with a focus on material culture and the history of science and technology. He curates Ottoman History Podcast’s series on history of science in addition to being one of the co-founders of hazine.info, a website that explores the archives and libraries of the Islamic world. He is an assistant professor of history at UCSD.
Aslihan Gürbüzel is assistant professor of Ottoman History at McGill University. She specializes in Ottoman Sufism in the early modern period and in manuscript studies.


Episode No. 354
Release Date: 2 April 2018
Recording Location: Toronto, Ontario
Audio editing by Nir Shafir
Music: Gavur Imam Isyani courtesy of Bandista
Images and bibliography courtesy of Natalie Rothman


Portrait of Tomaso Tarsia, ca. 1700 by Natalis Bartolini. Oil on canvas, 149.5 x 95.5 cm. Koper Regional Museum, 3127. (This is one of over a dozen large oil canvases depicting men and women of the Tarsia family once displayed on the walls of the Tarsia palace in Kapodistria. The caption on this one describes Tomaso as the son of Cristoforo and as a Venetian Grand Dragoman at the Ottoman Porte in 1681. Tomaso (Istanbul ca. 1641 - Istanbul 1706) was a dragoman's son and one of half a dozen members of the Tarsia family to serve as Venetian dragomans in the Ottoman capital in the seventeenth century. He died childless but was survived by a brother, a nephew, and a brother-in-law who continued in the profession.)

Select Bibliography

On dragomans and their Istanbulite milieu specifically:

Bevilacqua, Alexander. 2018. The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Fraser, Elisabeth. 2010. “‘Dressing Turks in the French Manner’: Mouradgea d’Ohsson’s Panorama of the Ottoman Empire.” Ars Orientalis 39: 198–230.

Ghobrial, John-Paul A. 2014. The Whispers of Cities: Information Flows in Istanbul, London, and Paris in the Age of William Trumbull. Oxford University Press.

Kármán, Gábor. 2016. A Seventeenth-Century Odyssey in East Central Europe: The Life of Jakab Harsányi Nagy. Leiden: Brill.

Krstic, Tijana. 2011. “Of Translation and Empire: Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Imperial Interpreters as Renaissance Go-Betweens.” In The Ottoman World, ed. Christine Woodhead, 130–42. London: Routledge.

Paun, Radu G. 2008. “Réseaux de livres et réseaux de pouvoirs dans le sud-est de l’Europe?: le monde des drogmans (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles).” In Contribution a l’histoire intellectuelle de l’Europe: Réseaux du livre, réseaux des lecteurs, eds. Frédéric Barbier and István Monok, 63–107. Budapest: Országos Széchényi Könyvtár.

Rothman, E. Natalie. 2009. “Interpreting Dragomans: Boundaries and Crossings in the Early Modern Mediterranean.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51 (4): 771–800.

Rothman, E. Natalie. 2011. “Conversion and Convergence in the Venetian-Ottoman Borderlands.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 41 (3): 601–33.

Rothman, E. Natalie. 2013. “Dragomans and ‘Turkish Literature’: The Making of a Field of Inquiry.” Oriente Moderno 93 (2): 390–421. doi:10.1163/22138617-12340023.

Zecevic, Selma. 2014. “Translating Ottoman Justice: Ragusan Dragomans as Interpreters of Ottoman Law.” Islamic Law and Society 21 (4):388–418.

On early modern translators and intermediaries more broadly:

Gilbert, Claire. “The Circulation of Foreign News and the Construction of Imperial Ideals: The Spanish Translators of Ahmad al-Mansur.” Memoria y civilización 18 (2015): 37–70.

Ogborn, Miles. 2013. ““It’s Not What You Know...": Encounters, Go-Betweens, and the Geography of Knowledge.” Modern Intellectual History 10 (01):163–75.

Raj, Kapil. 2001. “Refashioning Civilities, Engineering Trust: William Jones, Indian Intermediaries and the Production of Reliable Legal Knowledge in Late Eighteenth-Century Bengal.” Studies in History 17 (2):175–209.

Kinra, Rajeev. “Cultures of Comparative Philology in the Early Modern Indo-Persian World.” Philological Encounters 1, no. 1–4 (January 26, 2016): 225–87.


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