Best of 2019

Imagination and Diaspora

In 2019, our audience played or downloaded episodes of Ottoman History Podcast about 650,000 times through SoundCloud and other podcast applications (in addition to whatever traffic went unaccounted for via Spotify). Over half of our traffic came from the United States and Turkey, and our biggest audiences were concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Istanbul, Ankara, New York City, and DC. But our audience is truly global. Over 1,000 plays and downloads were logged from over 40 different countries from Albania and Malaysia to Brazil and South Africa. And while much of our team is based on the East Coast of the US, Amman, Tel Aviv, Bursa, Beirut, and Dubai are just some of the cities of the Middle East that logged more plays than the combined total for Boston and Cambridge, MA.

We released roughly 40 hours of episodes and bonus content in 2019, so we expect that some of you might have missed a conversation or two. That's why at the end of the year, we like to recap some of the most popular interviews and select a few more that might be worth a second look!

When we compiled the most popular and played episodes of 2019 along with the picks of our own team, two intersecting thematic threads emerged: imagination and diaspora. In 2019, we featured a wealth of excellent episodes on fiction, art, narrative, and imaginaries as well as a number of interrelated conversations on migration and diaspora between the former Ottoman Empire and the rest of the world. Our Best of 2019 list below features the episodes from the past year that speak to those two themes.

 Survivor Objects and the Lost World of Ottoman Armenians 

Heghnar Watenpaugh
hosted by Emily Neumeier

The genre of biography usually applies to people, but could a similar approach be applied to an object? Can a thing have a life of its own? Heghnar Watenpaugh addressed these questions in one of our most memorable episodes of 2019 by tracing the long journey of the Zeytun Gospels, a famous illuminated manuscript considered to be a masterpiece of medieval Armenian art. Protected for centuries in a remote church in eastern Anatolia, the sacred book traveled with the waves of people displaced by the Armenian Genocide. Passed from hand to hand, caught in the chaos of the First World War, it was divided in two. Decades later, the manuscript found its way to the Republic of Armenia, while its missing eight pages came to the Getty Museum in LA.

Watenpaugh's work on the Zeytun Gospels as a "survivor object" is creative, well-written, and well-researched. This is an interview we wouldn't want our audience to miss!

Watenpaugh tells a heartbreaking, lucid story that captures some of the transnational arcs of Armenian lives and objects in the twentieth century.
Susanna Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief (2019)
Heghnar Watenpaugh takes up an unusual approach by following the journey of a single object as it passes through many hands, countries, and political circumstances. She also takes the time to reflect on the importance of public history and how it can constitute a form of activism.
Emily Neumeier, OHP Contributor and Editor of stambouline
This is an intimate preview of an extraordinary book and a great conversation between two art historians about the art of writing history.
Chris Gratien, Co-Creator of Ottoman History Podcast

Imagining and Narrating Plague in the Ottoman World

Orhan Pamuk and Nükhet Varlık

Sam Dolbee presents excerpts from a conversation at Columbia University between Ottoman historian Nükhet Varlık and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk in our first episode of 2019. The topic of the conversation is plague in the Ottoman Empire, the subject of Varlık's first book and Pamuk's next.

Their exchange provides fascinating insight onto the methods used by historians and fiction-writers to imagine and write about past experiences of epidemics.

This episode presents the rare opportunity to hear one of the most recognized writers of historical fiction come together with an eminent historian to delve into all things plague. Listening to Pamuk and Varlık makes it easy to understand how the drama of the past can spark any imagination.
Emily Neumeier, OHP Contributor and Editor of stambouline
This exchange between award-winning authors in their respective fields provides a perfect example of how and why academic history can inform the way we write fiction.
Chris Gratien, Co-Creator of Ottoman History Podcast
Bringing an academic and novelist together was a brilliant concept. Sam Dolbee's editing and comments make important connections, enhancing the dialogue between Pamuk and Varlık.
Can Gümüş, Managing Editor

American Music of the Ottoman Diaspora

Ian Nagoski
hosted by Chris Gratien

Unlike most of our guests, Ian Nagoski is not a historian. But his years of experience collecting, digitizing, and researching the music of the Ottoman and post-Ottoman diaspora made for an unforgettable and moving episode of Ottoman History Podcast. Nagoski shared selections from the Canary Records catalog and regaled us with meticulously reconstructed immigrant biographies of largely-forgotten artists.

Enjoy over 100 minutes of music in Turkish, Armenian, Greek and other languages of the former Ottoman Empire and the even more remarkable stories of the artists who recorded them and their music careers in America in our first episode of Season 9.

Ian Nagoski's discussion of the music of Ottoman immigrants in America stood out for me. He is a great storyteller, and his own passion for the music and the medium came out in the interview.
Matthew Ghazarian, Managing Editor
Susanna Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief (2019)
This interview will forever be among the many highlights of my time working on the Ottoman History Podcast.
Chris Gratien, Co-Creator of Ottoman History Podcast

 Tarİhçİlerden Başka Bİr Hİkâye 

Ebru Aykut & Fatih Artvinli
hosted by Can Gümüş

For those who understand a bit of Turkish, our interview with Fatih Artvinli and Ebru Aykut about the book Tarihçilerden Başka Bir Hikâye will be worth a listen. The book contains short stories written by 14 different historians who work on the late Ottoman and early Republican period in Turkey's history. They represent an experimental attempt to fill in the gaps of real historical events and lives only partially documented by the archival record.

We think it's an experiment that should attract the interest of not only those who study Ottoman history but all those historians who harbor a secret love for fiction.

Focusing on the relationship between history and literature, the team behind Tarihçilerden Başka Bir Hikâye explore how fiction might contribute to Ottoman historiography.
Can Gümüş, Managing Editor
An inspiring conversation on fiction, narration, and alternative histories in the Ottoman Empire and Republic of Turkey.
Işın Taylan, OHP Contributor
Artvinli and Aykut discuss how conversations during tea breaks at the old Ottoman archives turned into an edited volume of historical fiction. Their work not only offers intriguing glimpses of daily life across a broad geography. It also raises fascinating questions about the nature of history and fiction itself.
Sam Dolbee, Editor-in-Chief (2020)
Tarihçilerden Başka Bir Hikâye is a daring experiment by a generation of scholars from Turkey with a shared vision of and appreciation for social history. It is a concept to be emulated.
Chris Gratien, Co-Creator of Ottoman History Podcast

Mexico and the Modern Sephardi Diaspora

Devi Mays
hosted by Chris Gratien

Episode 3 of the Deporting Ottoman Americans series about the life and death of a Jewish-American immigrant from Istanbul named Leon Negri was our second most popular episode in 2019. The episode contained interviews with scholars including Devin Naar and Claudrena Harold, as well as with Leon Negri's sons Louis and Sam.

However, the interview that tied the episode together featured University of Michigan historian Devi Mays, whose work straddles the Sephardic community of the Ottoman Empire and its Latin American diaspora. Professor Mays took time out of the Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting in San Antonio to record an interview about her forthcoming book, which focuses on Mexico and the unique story of Sephardi migrants who found a home there during a period of immigration restriction in the Americas and political upheaval in the post-Ottoman world.

As the early 20th-century world became more connected and mobile, borders tightened and people's movements were more tightly surveilled. Devi Mays shows how migrants creatively navigated these contradictory processes and systems of exclusion to trace trajectories beyond the domination of any particular state.
Susanna Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief (2019)
There is a wealth of research about the Ottoman and post-Ottoman diaspora emerging in recent years. The work of Devi Mays captures an impressive breadth of the various themes that recur time and again in my interviews with scholars in the field.
Chris Gratien, Co-Creator of Ottoman History Podcast
A long-term story of migration with historical and contemporary relevance.
Matthew Ghazarian, Managing Editor
Mays shares a probably apocryphal story of how upon arriving in Mexico, one Sephardic migrant heard Spanish and--confusing it for Ladino--remarked that it was surprising how many Jews there were in Veracruz. The joke gestures to the long-term imperial connections that made this kind of migration possible, as Ladino was the mother tongue of Jews spread all over the Mediterranean following their expulsion from Spain, and the linkages between Ladino and Spanish made Latin America an attractive home for them as the Ottoman Empire ended and many sought refuge elsewhere.
Sam Dolbee, Editor-in-Chief (2020)

Forging Islamic Science

Nir Shafir
hosted by Susanna Ferguson

At the end of 2018, Nir Shafir finished his term as editor-in-chief of Ottoman History Podcast, passing the torch to our longtime contributor Susanna Ferguson. It seems the OHP audience couldn't get its fill of Nir Shafir, as almost 10,000 listeners tuned in to hear our former editor interviewed by his successor about a provocative essay exploring how fake miniatures depicting Islamic science found their way into renowned libraries and prominent history books.

This podcast brings together history of science, popular culture, and museum culture to historicize the rise of fake miniatures posing as pieces of real manuscripts. I have encountered these all across Turkey, and I could not always distinguish the original from the fake, so Shafir's work was highly illuminating.
Işın Taylan, OHP Contributor
Nir Shafir offers an example of how historians' research about the past can shed critical light on the present. He uses the story of the fake miniatures to help us to see how impulses to protect, redeem, and defend Islam in the present can inadvertently erase some of what is strange, wonderful, and valuable about a very different past.
Susanna Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief (2019)

   WWI in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora   

Stacy Fahrenthold
hosted by Chris Gratien

Although its title is "WWI in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora," this podcast is actually about much more than that. Our guest Stacy Fahrenthold is the author of a new book about how Ottoman subjects from Levant living abroad participated in the making, unmaking, and remaking of politics in the French mandate territories that became modern-day Lebanon and Syria.

Fahrenthold's work breaks away from the territorial molds that have too long defined the historiography of the Middle East during the WWI period. With mahjar activists as its main protagonists, Between the Ottomans and the Entente connects Syria and Lebanon to the Americas, offering a transnational and subaltern history of the war and the French Mandate.
Reem Bailony, OHP Contributor
                 Sam Dolbee, Editor-in-Chief (2020)

Medical Metaphors in Ottoman Political Thought

Alp Eren Topal
hosted by Susanna Ferguson and Sam Dolbee

Alp Eren Topal discusses his collaboration with Einar Wigen in this wide-ranging interview released in September 2019. It traces the history of medical metaphors for describing and diagnosing state and society in Ottoman political thought. From the balancing of humors prescribed by Galenic medicine to the lifespan of the state described by Ibn Khaldun and the germ theory of nineteenth-century biomedicine, the episode explores some of the ways people thought about the state and its health or illness in the early-modern and modern Mediterranean world.

It is an enjoyable discussion for anyone interested in the history of political discourses in the Ottoman Empire.

Alp Eren Topal demonstrates not only the similar metaphors used for the human body and the "political body" but also how these metaphors have changed over time. It was interesting for me to realize that the "sick man of Europe" metaphor itself was embraced by the Ottomans in different ways.
Can Gümüş, Managing Editor
This episode featured imaginative research about how the realm of metaphor might shape the world of policy, and vice versa.
Susanna Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief (2019)
Shireen Hamza, Managing Editor

Ottoman Jews in the World

Sarah Abrevaya Stein
hosted by Nir Shafir & Sam Dolbee

In 2019, we featured not one but two interviews with Sarah Abrevaya Stein discussing two different books about Ottoman Jews from the 19th century onward. Try "Extraterritoriality, Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century" to learn about Jewish proteges of European states and now they navigated a world of rapidly changing regimes of nationality and border control.

Or if you prefer personal, moving portraits of migrant families, try "Family Papers and Ottoman Jewish Life After Empire," which contains both a conversation about an incredible research project and a rare opportunity to hear Professor Stein reading some of the most poignant passages from Family Papers.

Drawing on the notebook of a rebellious printer in Salonika, a cache of family papers in Brazil, and over a decade of research in a variety of archives, Sarah Stein will introduce you in a rare and intimate way to the lives of several generations of a fascinating Jewish family.
Shireen Hamza, Managing Editor
"Extraterritoriality, Jews, and the Ottoman Twentieth Century" is a delightful listen in on a conversation with Sarah Abrevaya Stein, expertly steered by Nir Shafir and delving into the big questions of citizenship and extraterritoriality. A must for those who are interested in the capitulations and protected persons.
Taylan Güngör, Managing Editor

1001 Nights at the Cinema

Samhita Sunya
hosted by Chris Gratien

Imagination and inspiration abound in our only episode dedicated to cinema in 2019. The 1001 Nights, an Arabic collection of tales, have been translated into numerous languages and figure prominently among the Orientalist images of the Middle East prevalent in the United States today. In this interview, however, we talked to Samhita Sunya about how the 1001 Nights have appeared beyond Europe and North America in cinematic adaptations from Japan and South Asia to Iran and the Caucasus.

The episode also comes with a syllabus Professor Sunya's course on "1001 Nights at the Cinema."

A fun and engaging topic. Sunya's interest in the subject shines through in the conversation.
Matthew Ghazarian, Managing Editor
Samhita Sunya's perspective on the 1001 Nights opens up new questions about often-overlooked South-South connections and sheds new light on when, where, and why some genres or stories travel more easily than others. Her thematic, imaginative, and interdisciplinary course design should inspire students and teachers in many different settings!
Susanna Ferguson, Editor-in-Chief (2019)

Islamic Law and Arab Diaspora in Southeast Asia

Nurfadzilah Yahaya
hosted by Chris Gratien

As a legal historian of the Indian Ocean based at National University of Singapore, Nurfadzilah Yahaya was admittedly far from our radar before she passed through Cambridge, MA for a speaking tour in fall of 2019. But after she took the time to sit down for an impromptu excursion into Southeast Asian history, the Ottoman History Podcast community responded with great interest; "Islamic Law and Arab Diaspora in Southeast Asia" logged 7,000 plays in the first month after its release. It was our second-best performing interview of 2019 in terms of audience traffic.

Our conversation features an overview of Professor Yahaya's work on colonialism, Islamic law, and the role of the Arab diaspora in the history of Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia as well as accounts of sensational but very real court cases from her research.

This episode filled with intrigue and sometimes-troubling legal ordeals reveals the role of Arab diaspora communities in Southeast Asia in expanding and entrenching European colonial interpretations of Islamic law across the modern Muslim world. Absolutely fascinating!
Nada Moumtaz, OHP Contributor

The Story Has It

İpek Hüner Cora
hosted by Işın Taylan

What can we learn about the past from Ottoman fiction? İpek Hüner Cora, a literature scholar at Boğaziçi University, answers this questions by looking the gender and space in Ottoman stories in this popular interview by Işın Taylan. As our listeners learned, fiction offers a more lively and indeed debauched picture of the Ottoman social imagination than what emerges from most archival research.

The stories in this episode are hilarious. I'm glad İpek Hüner Cora was able to unearth them for the rest of us to enjoy!
Matthew Ghazarian, Managing Editor
Shireen Hamza, Managing Editor

Orientalism in the Ottoman Empire

Zeynep Çelik
hosted by Zeinab Azarbadegan and Matthew Ghazarian

According to the numbers, this interview with NJIT Professor Zeynep Çelik was our most popular episode, logging nearly 12,000 plays and downloads during 2019. It asks, "How did the Ottomans react to European attitudes and depictions of their own lands?" Professor Çelik sits down with Zeinab Azarbadegan and Matthew Ghazarian in Istanbul to discuss how urban, art, and architectural historians have grappled with representations of the Ottomans by Europeans and representations of Ottomans by Ottomans themselves.

It is a must-listen introduction to the topic!

In this episode, one of the most celebrated historians of Ottoman architecture meditates on the impact of Edward Said's Orientalism in all spheres of academia, especially in terms of how we approach space and the built environment.
Emily Neumeier, OHP Contributor and Editor of stambouline

The Environmental Politics of Abdul Rahman Munif

Suja Sawafta
hosted by Chris Gratien and Rebecca Alemayehu

Our interview with Suja Sawafta on the work of Abdul Rahman Munif perfectly encapsulates our two themes of imagination and diaspora in 2019. We discussed both the historical figure and context of Abdul Rahman Munif as well as the history of the Middle East he imagined in his work. A celebrated author of Arabic fiction, Munif penned poignant critiques of the emergent petro-states of the region in exile. We talk about the experiences that shaped Munif's politics and the reasons why he came to focus on environmental themes in a region where the margin for political dissent and critique grew increasingly narrow over the Cold War period.

Sawafta offers the compelling story of one of the Arab world's preeminent novelists of the twentieth century, Abdul Rahman Munif, whose exilic life began in Amman where he grew up speaking Iraqi Arabic with his grandmother and continued to Belgrade where he studied as an engineer. His novels offer incisive critique of development policies that were supposed to deliver modernity all across the Arab world, and Sawafta highlights how they function as a kind of ecological revolutionary literature.
Sam Dolbee, Editor-in-Chief (2020)
This podcast blended Middle East politics, literature, and environmental history. This is a book I had been assigned as an undergraduate studying Middle East history, so I appreciated the opportunity to come back to it and learn more about the author and the conditions of its production.
Matthew Ghazarian, Managing Editor
As Suja Sawafta demonstrates, Munif's work contained an environmental critique of the post-WWII oil economy rooted in the Arab political experience and largely independent of the modern environmentalist movements in Europe and North America. His novels are not only relevant for students of the modern Middle East; they are allegories of modernity itself.
Chris Gratien, Co-Creator of Ottoman History Podcast

Mughal Persian Poetry and Persianate Cultures

Sunil Sharma
hosted by Shireen Hamza and Naveena Naqvi

In one of our many literary episodes of 2019, Sunil Sharma shared his research on the cast of poets who wrote Persian poetry in India and imagined Mughal India as a paradise or “Arcadia.” We discuss how specific regions, like Kashmir, became part of this new geographical imaginary and explore the kinds of competitions that emerged between poets from different places across a broader “Persianate” world. Professor Sharma also shared a few selections of poetry in Persian and translation.

A timely reminder of the centuries-old shared literary cultures in South Asia.
Matthew Ghazarian, Managing Editor
Alongside the pleasure of listening to a scholar's recitation and translation of Persian poetry, you'll be taken for a walk in a poet's shoes to different parts of Mughal India.
Shireen Hamza, Managing Editor
An indispensable conversation about Mughal culture with special value to Ottomanists looking to gain a broader view of the early modern Islamic world in their writing and teaching
Chris Gratien, Co-Creator of Ottoman History Podcast

The Politics of Armenian Migration to North America

David Gutman
hosted by Sam Dolbee

In 2019, David Gutman returned to the program to discuss his new book The Politics of Armenian Migration to North America, 1885-1915. Beginning in the 1880s, thousands of Ottoman Armenians left the Harput region of Anatolia bound for places all around the world. The Ottoman state viewed these migrants as threats, both for their feared political connections and their possession of foreign legal protections. Professor Gutman discusses the smuggling networks that emerged in response to these legal restrictions, which shaped both the modern Armenian diaspora and the evolving understandings of citizenship that emerged during that period.

The present moment of xenophobia and mass migration might seem unprecedented, but Gutman offers instructive comparative insight into these phenomena in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when assassination attempts on US President William McKinley and Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II created interconnected nativist movements in places far apart. While attending to these long-distance connections, Gutman also carefully follows the individuals--both migrants and smugglers alike--whose lives were most affected by these policies.
Sam Dolbee, Editor-in-Chief (2020)

Narrating Migration: A Cross-Disciplinary Roundtable

Rawan Arar, Andrew Arsan, Reem Bailony, and Neda Maghbouleh

If you've made it all the way to the bottom of our Best of 2019 list and are still hungry for more, we saved over 90 minutes of discussion between history and sociology of migration. This roundtable recorded at the Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting in New Orleans brings together two OHP veterans--Andrew Arsan and Reem Bailony--with sociologists Rawan Arar and Neda Maghbouleh.

This episode is loaded with fascinating insights from fieldwork and the archives, the kind that don't always appear in print. Through this cross-disciplinary roundtable, our guests search for new ways of conceptualizing migration studies from their counterparts in other disciplines. It's the perfect was to round out our 2019 list on the themes of imagination and diaspora.


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