Season 8 Report

by Susanna Ferguson
Editor in Chief

Season 8 of the Ottoman History Podcast introduced new research, guests, and episode formats. We released 49 episodes between June 2018 and May 2019, many of which expanded on our core interview format to explore new forms.

Season 8 in Review

Over the course of 49 episodes, Season 8 of the Ottoman History Podcast not only introduced new topics and research to our growing audience but also featured new and exciting experiments in format and style by OHP contributors.

In keeping with our emphasis in past seasons on tracing connections between the Ottoman Empire and broader Middle East and other parts of the globe, many of this season's contributors shed new light on the region's vibrant regional and global connections. Many contributors put questions about how people have moved inside and outside the region—and with what consequences—at the forefront of their inquiries. Pier Mattia Tommasino told the story of an Italian Qu'ran from 1547 that guided European refugees to the Ottoman Empire; Stacy Fahrenthold explained the role of the Syrian and Lebanese diaspora in shaping politics in Greater Syria before and after World War I, and Sumayya Kassamali showed how gender, race, and class shape the lives of migrant laborers in contemporary Beirut. Jane Hathaway explained how harem eunuchs from Ethiopia came to hold reins of power at the heart of the Ottoman state, and Özlem Gülin Dağoğlu traced the peripatetic life of Ottoman woman painter Mihri Rasim as she traveled between Italy, Paris, and Istanbul in the early decades of the twentieth century. Our interview with Heghnar Watenpaugh took a novel approach to questions about mobility and movement, asking what happens when objects, as well as people, have to move. Her discussion of the Zeytun Gospels shed new light on the history of Armenian art, migration, and diaspora.

A page from the Canon Tables of the Zeytun Gospels, 1256 CE, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 59, fol. 6r. Made available through the Getty's Open Content Program.

Other episodes looked farther afield to consider how centering mobile actors and multi-regional exchanges within the broader Islamic world might reshape familiar stories about global and national pasts. Fahad Bishara argued that a history of Islamic legal practice in the Indian Ocean can help to reframe the global history of capitalism. John Chen showed how contacts with the Middle East and Southeast Asia shaped the history of medicine, nation, and Islam in China. Dženita Karić showed how Bosnian Hajjis sought alliances within the Muslim world after World War II, and Greg Thomas uncovered twentieth-century connections between black revolutionary politics in twentieth-century America and Palestinian resistance poetry. Finally, award-winning writer and journalist Suzy Hansen brought questions about connections and mobility up to the present by explaining why it is that Turks know so much more about Americans and America than Americans know about the rest of the world.

This season also continued to explore questions about the technologies of imperial rule in and around the Ottoman world. Ahmet Ersoy and Deniz Türker discussed their research and exhibition about Abdülhamid II's obsession with discovering the Ottoman dynasty's tribal origins. Ian Campbell and Maria Blackwood spoke about how the Russian Empire ruled its Central Asian borderlands, and what legacies this left for Kazakhs in the early Soviet period. Other episodes delved into ongoing questions about minorities in Ottoman lands. Sarah Stein explored extraterritoriality among former Ottoman Jews, Metin Atmaca spoke about autonomy and resistance in Ottoman Kurdistan, Ohannes Kılıçdağı unpacked Armenian enthusiasm for conscription after 1908, and Ümit Kurt and Owen Miller discussed the archival complexities of studying the Armenian massacres of the 1890s and the Armenian Genocide in Aintab and Sasun.

Yörüks in the vicinity of Bozüyük, Albums Gifted to Bismarck by Abdulhamid II, Ömer M. Koç Collection 3

Nor were the Ottomans alone on the imperial playing field: tajine's interview with Kerim Bejjit explained why the English occupation of Tangier from 1661 to 1684 was so short-lived, Jennifer Sessions examined how the early decades of French colonialism in Algeria shaped what followed, and Laura Robson explained how European imperial strategies of transfer and partition shaped communal belonging in Iraq, Palestine, and Syria after World War I. In another popular episode, Zeynep Çelik explained how Orientalism, the practice of exoticizing and othering "the Orient" in the context of European imperialism, shaped representations of Ottomans by Europeans and by Ottomans themselves. In an interview with Edna Bonhomme, Jennifer Derr explained how the transformation of the Nile and its environment under British colonialism changed the nature of disease in the region, with devastating consequences for workers. Reaching farther into the twentieth century, guests also discussed more contemporary ways in which national governments, financial interests, and elite networks sought and seek to shape the lives of ordinary people. Şevket Pamuk discussed the history and management of the Turkish national economy, Sara Pursely illuminated the role of temporality, gender, and power in shaping dubious plans for Middle Eastern "development," and Gökçe Günel discussed the construction of a "green" urban utopia with an unknown future in the UAE.

An exterior view of Masdar in 2014

Many episodes pushed historical research outside the space of the formal archive and its largely textual evidence to address questions about smell, sound, and other sensory pleasures. Lauren Davis examined the history of Istanbul through its smells, Peter Laurence shared snippets of the unique soundscape of early-twentieth century Arabic records, and Joel Blecher explained how hadith commentary has been based around enduring oral cultures across many spaces and times. Stefano Taglia suggested that the history of how people (and which people) consumed drugs recreationally can shed light on questions of power, pleasure, and control in Ottoman social history.

Other episodes treated textual and archival material in novel ways to reveal new facets of Ottoman and Middle Eastern pasts. Konrad Hirschler introduced the world of libraries and readers in medieval Damascus. Selim Tamari highlighted the importance of family papers in tracing the impact of World War I in Palestine. In an episode hosted by Sarah Baldwin of the Trending Globally podcast, Elias Muhanna explained how new poetry translations have changed understandings of life on the Arabian peninsula before Islam. Filmmaker Nefin Dinç told the story of Antoine Kope (1897-1974), whose memoir recalls the life of an ordinary guy in extraordinary times, and is now the basis of a documentary film. Olly Akkerman talked about tracing the social lives of manuscripts at the sacred library of the Alawi Bohra community of Baroda, Gujarat. And a group of historians of childhood and youth talked about the ways that children's experiences and concerns might be found in adult-centric materials, if only scholars thought to look for it.

This season also included a host of episodes focusing on an important question: what is the place, the politics, and the potential of history for the present? A unique episode narrated by Sam Dolbee posed this question through an interview with activist and blogger Omar Mohammed, whose blog, Mosul Eye, chronicled life under ISIS and who now studies the 19th century history of his hometown of Mosul, Iraq. An interview with frequent OHP host Nir Shafir asked why we seem so hungry for faked artifacts of Islamic science, when the real ones carry a stranger and more illuminating history of human wonder. A conversation between novelist Orhan Pamuk and historian Nükhet Varlık, moderated by Tunç Şen and produced by Sam Dolbee, laid bare some of the faultlines between what we might like to believe about the progress of medicine, public health, and human flourishing, and what history might have to teach us against our will. And pushing us towards a time when today will be history, Ahmed Ragab explored literary accounts of the future Middle East.

A fake miniature depicting "tooth worms" causing cavities in the teeth.

Ragab's episode brings us to two more of this seaon's exciting innovations: the debut of two investigative series narrated and produced by OHP contributors. Shireen Hamza's Ventricles series, of which Ragab's episode is a part, explores questions of science, religion, and knowledge production around the world. Chris Gratien's ongoing series Deporting Ottoman Americans is a powerful and sobering reminder that questions about discrimination, migration, and the violence of mobility and immobility are not unique to our time. At the same time, each episode, which revolves around the deportation story of a single Ottoman migrant from the United States during the 1930s, shows that even as the American deportation state took shape in the early twentieth century, Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States found creative ways to evade its grasp and live richly, and sometimes joyfully, in its shadow.

Leo Negri's original Turkish passport was issued during a liminal period in the history of Turkey. Turkey had just become recognized the Republic of Turkey. The image above shows that when Leo left Turkey in 1924, he used a passport modified to reflect the government's official name from "The Government of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey" to "Republic of Turkey."

This year, we were pleased to expand our network of talented hosts and collaborators working in Turkish. Önder Akgül recorded and edited episodes on the history of socialists (with Stefo Benlisoy) and boycotts (with Y. Doğan Çetinkaya), and Can Gümuş spoke with Muzaffer Özgüleş about women's role in Ottoman architecture. And Işin Taylan worked with Matt Ghazarian to interview Rita Ender about Istanbul's disappearing professions.

Season 8 by the Numbers

Over the course of the season, Ottoman History Podcast released 49 episodes comprising roughly 35 hours of audio in addition to large amounts of bonus material. Between June 1, 2018 and June 1, 2019, Ottoman History Podcast content logged upwards of 650,000 plays and downloads. This figure reflects a modest growth in traffic but altogether similar performance with Season 7. October was the highest traffic month with just over 70,000 plays and downloads. Over one-third of our traffic comes from the United States. While some of our traffic from Turkey may be hidden behind VPNs, almost 20% of our plays and downloads were logged as originating in Turkey.

New episodes of Ottoman History Podcast currently attain a circulation of at least 7,000 plays and downloads within the first year of their release. Our best performing episodes reach 10,000 plays and downloads or more within that same span.

Upon a comparison of data for plays and downloads within the first month and first three months of release, our top-performing episode of Season 8 was "Orientalism in the Ottoman Empire" with Zeynep Çelik. Among our other guest interviews, episodes with Jane Hathaway, Jennifer Sessions, Joel Blecher, Şevket Pamuk, Stefo Benlisoy, Salim Tamari, and Metin Atmaca as well as our roundtables with Orhan Pamuk & Nükhet Varlık and Dylan Baun, Heidi Morrison, and Murat Yildiz received the most traffic. Our content associated with the Deporting Ottoman American series, which includes three main episodes and a number of bonus interviews or associated episodes, clocked over 65,000 plays and downloads during Season 8.

In terms of social media audience, Season 8, as with recent seasons, witnessed fairly limited growth. Our Facebook audience has grown to around 34,500 fans, but this represents a rather modest gain. The Facebook ecosystem has changed radically since Ottoman History Podcast launched, and due to a precipitous decline in benefit from promoted posts, we discontinued our policy of promoting each episode post with an ad of $3-5. Our Twitter following, which we have not systematically developed over the years, grew much faster to over 8,000 followers. However, data regarding our website traffic unequivocally shows that Facebook accounts for more than 10 times website traffic than Twitter, and podcast feed subscription, which averages over 12,000 for our combined feeds, or direct plays through SoundCloud, where our following has grown to over 5,000, are much more crucial direct sources for plays and downloads.

*Update 14 June 2020*

The chart below displays play counts for each episode (excluding Ventricles series) one year after release

Based on the data represented above, the highest performing episodes of Season 8 in terms of play/downloads within the first year after release were:

Orientalism in the Ottoman Empire (with Zeynep Çelik)
Syrian in Sioux Falls
The Sultan's Eunuch (with Jane Hathaway)
France & Algeria: Origins and Legacies (with Jennifer Sessions)
Osmanlı'da Kadınlar ve Mimarlık Üretimi (with Muzaffer Özgüleş)
The Great War and the Remaking of Palestine (with Salim Tamari)
Forging Islamic Science (with Nir Shafir)
Survivor Objects and the Lost World of Ottoman Armenians (with Heghnar Watenpaugh)


Guest Appearance

Ahmed Ragab
Ahmet Ersoy
Akram Khater
Avner Wishnitzer
Claudrena Harold
Deniz Türker
Devi Mays
Devin Naar
Dylan Baun
Dženita Karić
Elias Muhanna
Emily Pope-Obeda
Fahad Ahmad Bishara
Gökçe Günel
Graham Pitts
Greg Thomas
Heghnar Watenpaugh
Heidi Morrison
Ian Campbell
Jane Hathaway
Jennifer Derr
Jennifer Sessions
Joel Blecher
John Chen
Karim Bejjit
Konrad Hirschler
Laura Robson
Lauren Davis
Linda Gordon
Louis Negri
Maria Blackwood
Metin Atmaca
Mohamed Okdie
Murat Yıldız
Muzaffer Özgüleş
Nadim Shehadi
Nefin Dinç
Nir Shafir
Nükhet Varlık
Ohannes Kılıçdağı
Olly Akkerman
Omar Mohammed
Orhan Pamuk
Owen Miller
Özlem Gülin Dağoğlu
Peter Laurence
Pier Mattia Tommasino
Projit Mukharjee
Reem Bailony
Rita Ender
Salim Tamari
Sam Negri
Sara Pursley
Sara Schechner
Sarah Abrevaya Stein
Şevket Pamuk
Stacy Fahrenthold
Stefano Taglia
Stefo Benlisoy
Sumayya Kassamali
Suzy Hansen
Torrie Hester
Tunç Şen
Ümit Kurt
Victoria Saker Woeste
Y. Doğan Çetinkaya
Zeynep Çelik

Host or Co-Host

Abdul Latif
Can Gümüş
Chris Gratien
Edna Bonhomme
Emily Neumeier
Graham Cornwell
Işın Taylan
Maria Blackwood
Nir Shafir
Önder Eren Akgül
Sam Dolbee
Sanja Kadrić
Sarah Baldwin
Seçil Yılmaz
Shireen Hamza
Susanna Ferguson
Taylan Güngör
Zeinab Azarbadegan

Sound Production

Chris Gratien
Emily Neumeier
Işın Taylan
Maryam Patton
Matthew Ghazarian
Nir Shafir
Önder Eren Akgül
Sam Dolbee
Shireen Hamza
Susanna Ferguson
Taylan Güngör
Zeinab Azarbadegan


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