Language, Power, and Law in the Ottoman Empire

Episode 441

Download the podcast
Feed | iTunes | GooglePlay | SoundCloud

In this episode, historian Heather Ferguson takes us behind the scenes of early modern Ottoman state-making with a discussion of her recent book The Proper Order of Things. We discuss how the architecture of Topkapı palace, the emergence of new bureaucratic practices, and the administration of space from Hungary to Lebanon projected early modern discourses of “order” that were crucial to imperial legitimacy, governance, and dissent. Heather also offers rare insights into the challenges, vulnerabilities, and victories of transforming a dissertation into a prize-winning book manuscript.

Stream via SoundCloud 

Contributor Bios

Heather Ferguson is Associate Professor of Ottoman and Middle Eastern History at Claremont McKenna College. She is author of The Proper Order of Things: Language, Power and Law in Ottoman Administrative Discourses published by Stanford University. Her current book project is titled Sovereign Valedictions:“Last Acts” and Archival Ventures in Ottoman and Habsburg Courts. She also serves as Editor of the Review of Middle East Studies, Associate Editor for the International Journal of Islamic Architecture.
Zoe Griffith is Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College, CUNY and completed her Ph.D. at Brown University in 2017. Her research focuses on political economy, law, and governance in the Ottoman Arab provinces from the 17th to the 19th centuries. She records mainly in New York City.


Episode No. 441
Release Date: 13 December 2019
Recording Location: New Orleans, LA
Audio editing by Maryam Patton
Music: Beanbag Fight by ScanglobeT. Agabey - Arabamin Atlari; Istanbul by kara güneş
Images and bibliography courtesy of Heather Ferguson


Mehmed III's Campaign in Hungary. David Collection, Cophenhagen: Inv. no. 19/2009. Photograph by Pernille Klemp.

Storage facilities in the Devlet Arşivleri Bakanlığı. Source:   

Select Bibliography

Abou-El-Haj, Rifa‘at Ali. “The Ottoman Nasihatname as a Discourse over Morality.” In Mélanges Professeur Robert Mantran, edited by A. Temini, 17–30. Zaghouan, Tunis: Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Ottomanes, Morisques, de Documentation et d’Information, 1988.

Atçıl, Abdurrahman. Scholars and Sultans in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Bang, Peter F, and Dariusz Kołodziejczyk, eds. “‘Elephant of India’: Universal Empire through Time and across Cultures.” In Universal Empire: A Comparative Approach to Imperial Culture and Representation in Eurasian History, 1–40, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Benton, Lauren A. A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400--1900. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Brendecke, Arndt. The Empirical Empire: Spanish Colonial Rule and the Politics of Knowledge (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016)

Burak, Guy. “Between the Ḳānūn of Qāytbāy and Ottoman Yasaq: A Note on the Ottomans’ Dynastic Law.” Journal of Islamic Studies 26, no. 1 (2015a): 1–23.

Burke, Peter. Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Burns, Kathryn. Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010.

Buzov, Snjezana. “The Lawgiver and His Lawmakers: The Role of Legal Discourse in the Change of Ottoman Imperial Culture.” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2005.

Darling, Linda. “Political Change and Political Discourse in the Early Modern Mediterranean World.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 38, no.4 (2008): 505–31.

Duindam, Jeroen Frans Jozef, Tülay Artan, and İ Metin Kunt. Royal Courts in Dynastic States and Empires: A Global Perspective. Vol. 1. Rulers & Elites : Comparative Studies in Governance. Boston: Brill, 2011.

Rudolph C. Head, “Early Modern European Archivality: Organised Records, Information, and State Power around 1500,” in Archives & Information in the Early Modern World, ed. Liesbeth Corens, Kate Peters, and Alexandra Walsham, (Oxford: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2018)

Friedrich, Markus. “Epilogue: Archives and Archiving across Cultures―Towards a Matrix of Analysis,” in Manuscripts and Archives: Comparative Views on Record-Keeping, vol. 11 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018), 421-445

İnalcık, Halil. “State, Sovereignty and Law during the Reign of Süleymân the Second and His Time.” In Süleymân the Second and His Time, edited by Halil İnalcık and Cemal Kafadar, 229–48. Istanbul: Isis Press, 1993a.

Johnson, Carina L. Cultural Hierarchy in Sixteenth-Century Europe: The Ottomans and Aztecs. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Messick, Brinkley M. The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Necipoğlu, Gülru. “A Kanun for the State, A Canon for the Arts: Conceptualizing the Classical Synthesis of Ottoman Art and Architecture.” In Soliman Le Magnifique et Son Temps, Actes Du Colloque de Paris. Galeries Nationales Du Grand Palais, 7-10 Mars 1990, edited by Gilles Veinstein, 195–216. Paris: La Documentation Française, 1992.

Neumann, Christoph K. “Devletin Adı Yok - Bir Amblemin Okunması [The State Has No Name - the Reading of an Emblem].” Cogito 19 (Osmanlılar Özel Sayısı, no. Yaz (1999): 269–83.

Raman, Bhavani. Document Raj: Writing and Scribes in Early Colonial South India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Riedlmayer, Andras. “Ottoman Copybooks of Correspondence and Miscellanies as a Source for Political and Cultural History.” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 61, no. 1–2 (2008): 201–14.

Sariyannis, Marinos. “Ruler and State, State and Society in Ottoman Political Thought.” Turkish Historical Review 4, no. 1 (2013): 83–117.

Sellers-García, Sylvia. Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire’s Periphery. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014.

Starn, Randolph. “Historians and ‘Crisis.’” Past & Present, no. 52 (1971): 3–22.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Şahin, Kaya. Empire and Power in the Reign of Süleyman: Narrating the Sixteenth-Century Ottoman World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Tezcan, Baki. “Ottoman Historical Writing.” In The Oxford History of Historical Writing, edited by Jose Rabasa, Masayuki Sato, Edoardo Tortarolo, and Daniel Woolf, Reprint edition., Volume 3: 1400-1800:192–211. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Wakako, Kumakura. “Who Handed over Mamluk Land Registers to the Ottomans? A Study on the Administrators of Land Records in the Late Mamluk Period.” Mamluk Studies Review 18 (2014): 279–98.

Wigen, Einar. “Ottoman Concepts of Empire.” Contributions to the History of Concepts 8, no. 1 (2013): 44–66.

Wong, Roy Bin. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of the European Experience. Ithaca, N.Y., 1997: 16-22.

Yılmaz, Hüseyin. Caliphate Redefined: The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.


Ottoman History Podcast is a noncommerical website intended for educational use. Anyone is welcome to use and reproduce our content with proper attribution under the terms of noncommercial fair use within the classroom setting or on other educational websites. All third-party content is used either with express permission or under the terms of fair use. Our page and podcasts contain no advertising and our website receives no revenue. All donations received are used solely for the purposes of covering our expenses. Unauthorized commercial use of our material is strictly prohibited, as it violates not only our noncommercial commitment but also the rights of third-party content owners.

We make efforts to completely cite all secondary sources employed in the making of our episodes and properly attribute third-party content such as images from the web. If you feel that your material has been improperly used or incorrectly attributed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us.