Season 9 Report

by Sam Dolbee
Editor in Chief

Season 9 of the Ottoman History Podcast has once again delivered episodes featuring a broad array of topics and guests, while also experimenting with new formats for incorporating audio and soundscapes into our interviews. At the same time, our production in Turkish—headed by editor Can Gümüş—has been at its highest annual number yet. In sum, our work continues to highlight the dynamic connections between the past and the present.

As the global pandemic of Covid-19 set in, Chris Gratien and Maryam Patton highlighted the unique role that OHP’s catalogue can play by bringing together past interviews on questions of disease with Nükhet Varlık, Yaron Ayalon, Orhan Pamuk, Lori Jones, Valentina Pugliano, and Edna Bonhomme. The episode also commented on the present dilemma, and even included soundscapes of the current quarantine. The season in general offered a number of perspectives on questions of science and disease. İsmail Yaşayanlar also touched on the history of epidemics by discussing the history of cholera in the nineteenth century. Harun Küçük, meanwhile, spoke about the connections between material conditions and science in early modern Istanbul, even drawing connections between his object of study and the academic job market of the present. Finally, Jörg Matthias Determann explored the national import of both science and outer space in the Cold War Arab World and after.

As current events have also thrown light on global connections, many episodes have offered perspectives on migration. One of the more singular episodes featured Rawan Arar, Andrew Arsan, Reem Bailony, and Neda Maghbouleh discussing the methodological challenges of studying migration at the 2019 meeting of MESA. The methodological insight they offered connected to a number of episodes on these topics. Devi Mays traced the modern Sephardi diaspora and its paths to Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Sarah Abrevaya Stein returned to the podcast for a third time, and showed the global paths of an Ottoman Jewish family, stretching from Salonica to Paris, Manchester, Rio de Janeiro, and beyond. David Gutman spoke about the migration of Harput’s Armenian community to the United States, and state efforts—on both sides of the Atlantic—to end it. Meanwhile, Egemen Yılgür spoke about the history of Istanbul’s “teneke mahalleleri,” the areas of informal housing in which migrants first settled upon arrival from the provinces.

Esther (granddaughter of Sa'adi) and Michael Salem share Turkish coffee, Didsbury, c. 1935. Courtesy of Alan Salem. "Family Papers and Ottoman Jewish Life After Empire" with Sarah Abrevaya Stein focused on the history of a single family across generations and continents.

Transnational histories have also been an important theme of this season. In a special crossover episode with the Climes series, Bathsheba Demuth discussed her work on the environmental history of the Bering Strait between communism and capitalism, as well as the challenges of narrating the non-human world. Kristen Alff took a broad spatial frame to trace the networks of capital directed by large land-owning families whose holdings stretched across current national borders, and what they might have to say about the history of capitalism more broadly. Border crossing also occurred in an episode released in partnership with Andreas Guidi and the Southeast Passage, in which Nathalie Clayer, Fabio Giomi, and Emmanuel Szurek explain what a history of Kemalism stretching beyond Turkey to places like Albania, Yugoslavia, and Egypt might reveal.

A number of episodes moreover utilized transnational frames to think about music and poetry. The season’s opening episode with Ian Nagoski discussed the polyglot music of the Ottoman diaspora in the United States. Episodes with Sylvia Alajaji and Panayotis League took a similar approach, exposing how musical vocabularies became central to Greek and Armenian music in a national sense, but also pointed to imperial legacies sometimes forgotten. Finally, Oludamini Ogunnaike foregrounded praise poetry of the Prophet Muhammad in West Africa in an episode that—thanks to the careful editing of Shireen Hamza—brought the worlds of sound being discussed into the interview itself.

World War I played a crucial role in the end of the Ottoman Empire, and its violence led to the emergence of some of these transnational communities. The conflict’s social ramifications have been discussed in a number of episodes. Yiğit Akın talked about the social history of the conflict from the perspective of ordinary Ottoman citizens. Nazan Maksudyan returned to the podcast for a third time, too, and not only imagined World War I through the eyes of children, but also suggested how children themselves were agents in that history. Işın Taylan produced an episode in which Tolga Cora, Edhem Eldem, Nicole van Os, and Johann Strauss considered how those from different backgrounds understood the conflict in divergent and intersecting ways. Selim Deringil talked about Ottoman Turkish memoirs of the empire’s Arab provinces, and what they reveal about political and social tensions at the end of empire. Hans-Lukas Kieser, meanwhile, highlighted the life of Talaat Pasha, and his central role both in the Armenian genocide and in the making of modern Turkey.

Postcard depicting Sultan Mehmed V, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. Source: Art-A-Tsolum. "Fighting Under the Same Banner" discussed the history of the First World War in the Ottoman Empire through the lens of objects.

While these episodes detailed the cataclysmic violence of the end of empire, a number of others focused on the formation of states and communities both before and after the conflict. Matt Ellis traversed the borderlands between Egypt and Libya, taking a local look at processes of modern state formation. Arbella Bet-Shlimon focused on the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and the ways that oil has been used and abused as part of explanations of its ethnic politics. Yalçın Çakmak, meanwhile, outlined Abdülhamid II’s policies toward the empire’s Alevi populations, while Ayşe Ozil explained the place of Greeks in the late Ottoman Empire, as well as the concept of the Millet system more broadly.

Several episodes have also traced out the nature of political thought and political challenge in the broader Ottoman world. Hüseyin Yılmaz suggested how Sufi leaders contributed to a “mystical turn” in Ottoman political thought. Alp Eren Topal traced how medical metaphors functioned as part of political thinking in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Yonca Köksal, meanwhile, discussed how social network analysis can reveal why different political outcomes occurred in different places during the Tanzimat. Political thought also had an effect on some of the most intimate aspects of daily life. Gülhan Balsoy and Tuba Demirci revealed this dimension by exploring the power of the concept of “population” in the nineteenth century, and its implications for giving birth and raising children. In the realm of political challenge, Erol Ülker outlined how resistance and leftist thinking emerged in occupied Istanbul after World War I, while Pascale Ghazaleh detailed the nature of political action by workers and peasants in nineteenth century Egypt.

Law has long proved a thematic focus that offers glimpses of state power as well as contestation, and a number of episodes clustered around this emphasis. Heather Ferguson discussed how the concept of “order” figured prominently in state-making processes of the early modern Ottoman state. Will Smiley used laws on captivity and release to talk about the birth of the category of “prisoner of war” in places outside of Europe. Emergent concepts of international law also came up in a compilation episode on pirates of the Mediterranean, featuring Emrah Safa Gürkan, Joshua White, and Daniel Hershenzon. Alongside international law was Islamic law, and Nurfadzilah Yahaya exposed how it transformed under British and Dutch colonialism in Southeast Asia, as well as the key role Arab diaspora played in these processes. Meanwhile, Faiz Ahmed followed legal connections to show the echoes of Ottoman legal order in Afghanistan during the drafting of its constitution after World War I. In addition to helping along state formation, law also greatly influenced the meaning of families, which Leyla Kayhan Elbirlik examined through the lens of divorce and marriage based on court records in Istanbul. Finally, Darryl Li used law as a point of entry for opening up broader questions about the meaning of jihad and the nature of American empire through the lens of the Bosnian War. 

Mausoleum of Şirvanizade Ahmed Hulusi Efendi (d. 1889), Member of the Ottoman Civil Code (Mecelle) Compilation Commission and first Ottoman envoy to Afghanistan. Amasya, Turkey. Our first episode of 2020 with Faiz Ahmed discussed connections between Afghanistan and the late Ottoman Empire. Photo credit: Faiz Ahmed

As in years past, literature and representation has once again proven fertile ground for understanding historical change. One of the definite highlights of this season was an episode with Fatih Artvinli and Ebru Aykut, in which they discussed the archivally-based historical fiction collection Tarihçilerden Başka bir Hikaye, which featured their work as well as that of a dozen other young historians. While their work produced fiction based on sources, others used literature as a historical source in its own right. İpek Hüner Cora discussed how Ottoman stories offer a view of daily life, gender, and space in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Burcu Karahan highlighted how late Ottoman erotica indexed both the power of sexual freedom but also conservative anxieties about male power and heterosexual love. Suja Sawafta explored the life of one of the Arab World’s greatest novelists—Abdul Rahman Munif—and the place of the environment in his work. Sooyong Kim, meanwhile, showed the social world in which poetic production at the early modern Ottoman court was enmeshed. Sunil Sharma similarly covered the social world of court art, though he focused on the use of Persian in Mughal India and its implications for questions of difference. William Granara used poetry, too, as a way of examining Muslim Sicily, alongside other representations of the space from historians and geographers. Kathryn Babayan emphasized unique and literary sources to throw the early modern world into relief, unpacking how personal collections of letters, paintings, and poems offer insight into urban life in the Safavid capital of Isfahan. Samhita Sunya analyzed yet another trajectory of artistic production, examining how the 1001 Nights appeared in film outside of Europe and North America.

Visual sources also emerged as a potent site for thinking through identity and meaning. Mary Roberts followed encounters between Ottomans and Orientalists in nineteenth century Istanbul, and the complicated genealogies of the era’s visual culture. Fatih Parlak approached some of these questions by examining the material culture of European games in the early modern period with a focus on the representation of Ottomans within them. And Nancy Um focused on the material culture of exchange and gift-giving centered on early modern Yemen.

The season also featured episodes that incorporated public-facing history and activism. Mehmet Kentel and Akif Ercihan Yerlioğlu discussed an exhibit they curated at the Istanbul Research Institute entitled “Hafıza-ı Beşer,” which exhibited the traces of daily life in Ottoman society revealed in written sources. Meanwhile, Anahit Ghazaryan and Gohar Khachatrian spoke about their own experiences creating and hosting Armenia’s first podcast about feminism.

Courier Chess, c1550, Ambras Museum PA 34, PA 772 (Holländer, H. & Holländer, B., 1998. Spielwelten Der Kunst. Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.). Our final Turkish-language episode of Season 9 featured Fatih Parlak talking about the representation of the Ottomans in board games of early modern Europe.

Divan, Kişverî (15-16. yüzyıllar). Suna ve İnan Kıraç Vakfı Koleksiyonu (SVİKV), İAE, ŞR 61. Mehmet Kentel and Akif Yerlioğlu joined the podcast to talk about an exhibition at İstanbul Araştırmaları Enstitüsü.

Taylor Güngör (left) interviewed Jörg Matthias Determann (right) about "The Arab Conquest of Space" at SOAS Radio in London

Anahit Ghazaryan (left) and Gohar Khachatrian (right) joined Chris Gratien (center) in Yerevan during summer 2019 to talk about their feminist podcast Akanjogh, one of the first podcasts launched in Armenia. Photo credit: Sona Mnatsakanyan

Sociologist Rawan Arar speaks in "Narrating Migration: Emerging Methods and Cross-Disciplinary Directions" roundtable held at the 2019 Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting in New Orleans, November 2019. "Narrating Migration" was the first episode of Ottoman History Podcast recorded entirely before an audience. Photo credit: Neda Maghbouleh 

Season 9 has been successful on many fronts, and we’re excited for what we have in store for the coming season, which will feature the return of the Deporting Ottoman Americans series in addition to some narrative-based episodes featuring some of our favorite people. Both our past achievements and future hopes are of course possible thanks not only to the leadership of our outgoing editor-in-chief Suzie Ferguson as well as the hard work of our editorial board and team of interviewers. We are grateful, too, for all of our guests, and, last but far from least, our listeners. This summer, we'll be launching our 10th season on Ottoman History Podcast. We hope you'll join us then. While our plans are very much for the future, we've kicked off the summer by publishing a piece in the Turkish journal Toplumsal Tarih about the history and future of Ottoman History Podcast and public history in Turkey, the US, and beyond. Stay tuned!

Check out our reflections on history podcasting, the public humanities, and the development of Ottoman History Podcast in the June 2020 issue of Toplumsal Tarih

Season 9 by the Numbers
by Chris Gratien

We released 52 episodes of Season 9 between June 1, 2019 and May 3, 2020 totaling just under 40 hours of content. 20 contributors appeared in the role of host or co-host at least once and 71 scholars appeared as guest.  

Season 9 launched on June 1, 2019. The chart above displays month-by-month traffic.

Podcast traffic increased over the course of Season 9, and it rose very sharply during the first months of 2020. At over 700,000 plays/downloads, the period of June 2019 to June 2020 showed an overall increase in traffic of more than 10% when compared with previous years. As the coronavirus pandemic escalated, April 2020 saw more than 90,000 plays/downloads, the highest recorded total for a single month in the history of Ottoman History Podcast. Over the course of Season 9, the adjusted median play count for the first 30 days after an episode's release rose by more than 5% to around 5500, representing an increase by more than 50% since the beginning of Season 6. Meanwhile, the adjusted median play count for the first 90 days rose by 10% over the course of Season 9. First-month play totals ranged between roughly 4000 and 8000. Six episodes released over the course of Season 9 have already eclipsed a play count of 10,000. The median play total for an episode within its first 12 months is now over 9000.

This chart displays each episode of Season 9's play count over its first 30 days after release

Our highest performing episodes in terms of traffic within the first three months of release were:

Plague in the Ottoman World
Science in Early Modern Istanbul (with Harun Küçük)
Islamic Law and Arab Diaspora in Southeast Asia (with Nurfadzilah Yahaya)
Population and Reproduction in the Ottoman Empire (with Gülhan Balsoy & Tuba Demirci)
Osmanlı Devleti'nde Salgın Hastalıklarla Mücadele (with İsmail Yaşayanlar)
The Arab Conquest of Space (with Jörg Matthias Determann)
Osmanlı İstanbul'unda Evlilik ve Boşanma (with Leyla Kayhan Elbirlik)
Language, Power, and Law in the Ottoman Empire (with Heather Ferguson)
Freedom and Desire in Late Ottoman Erotica (with Burcu Karahan)
Muslim Sicily and Its Legacies (with William Granara)
American Music of the Ottoman Diaspora (with Ian Nagoski)
Mughal Persian Poetry and Persianate Cultures (with Sunil Sharma)
The Journeys of Ottoman Greek Music (with Panayotis League) *one month of data available*

Play totals are only a rough estimate of episode performance. They are simply a reflection of how many people were exposed to and attracted by an episode rather than an estimation of its qualitative impact on our audience. Many factors influence play totals that don't necessarily correlate with higher popularity, although high play totals for episode tend to coincide with high social media engagement. We've outlined the various ways of thinking about a podcast's performance for our guests in this recent article "Understanding Your Podcast's Impact." 

During Season 9, we also learned more about listening patterns thanks to data provided by Apple and Spotify regarding average listen times. Many downloads of Ottoman History Podcast are never opened, and listen time data reveals how long the average listener tunes in for. For the average episode of Ottoman History Podcast, more than 50% of listeners will tune out within the first five minutes. 20% or more usually listen until the final minutes. More successful episodes can carry a majority of listeners for longer, sometimes keeping 40% of listeners into the last minutes. 

"The Mediterranean in the Age of Global Piracy" was our most played English-language episode on Spotify, but its performance was average in terms of retention. Only 15% of listeners stayed with us til the end to enjoy this episode's Easter egg.

Data from Spotify provides clues about which episodes best captivated audiences, but the data is imperfect. Our Spotify audience doubled over the course of Season 9, making it hard to compare episodes, and in comparison with our overall audience, listeners from Spotify skew towards our Turkish audience and also skew male when compared with our following on other platforms. In addition, our play counts on Spotify, which comprises less than 10% of our overall traffic, vary from episode to episode by 100% or more. There is some correlation between low play count and high performance, meaning that among episodes that attract more listeners, individual engagement is generally more fleeting. Likewise, episode performance improves over time as listens become less automatic and more deliberate.

"A Political Biography of Talaat Pasha" with Hans-Lukas Kieser, Graham Pitts, and Önder Akgül had the highest performance on Spotify in terms of retention among our English-language episodes.
"The Bosnian War, Jihad, and American Empire" with Darryl Li was one of our best-performing episodes in terms of retention. 

We put special effort into the sound production of the first ten minutes of "Muslim Sicily and Its Legacies" with William Granara, which might explain why in addition to being one of the most popular episodes of Season 9, it also had one of the longest average listen times.

We released two episodes with Sarah Stein about two different books within a year. The latter, Season 9's "Family Papers and Ottoman Jewish Life After Empire," performed very well, proving that our listeners don't easily tire of this prolific scholar's work. 

Our interview with Devi Mays provided the backbone for Season 8's episode of Deporting Ottoman Americans entitled "Turkino," but it also performed well as a standalone interview in Season 9.

We edited our interview with Hüseyin Yılmaz to be short and sweet.

"II. Abdülhamid Dönemi Alevi Algısı ve Siyaseti" with Yalçın Çakmak was one of our highest-performing Turkish-language episodes. Çakmak has since launched his own YouTube program called Kıymık.

Our highest-retention episode on Spotify from Season 9, which also attracted considerable traffic, was "Mütareke İstanbul'unda Direniş ve Sol" with Erol Ülker. Half of listeners stayed for at least half of the episode and over 40% stayed down to the last minutes.


Guest Appearance

Faiz Ahmed
Yiğit Akın
Sylvia Alajaji
Kristen Alff
Rawan Arar
Andrew Arsan
Fatih Artvinli
Yaron Ayalon
Ebru Aykut
Kathryn Babayan
Reem Bailony
Gülhan Balsoy
Arbella Bet-Shlimon
Edna Bonhomme
Yalçın Çakmak
Nathalie Clayer
Yaşar Tolga Cora
Tuba Demirci
Bathsheba Demuth
Selim Deringil
Jörg Matthias Determann
Edhem Eldem
Matthew Ellis
Heather Ferguson
Pascale Ghazaleh
Anahit Ghazaryan
Fabio Giomi
William Granara
Emrah Safa Gürkan
David Gutman
Daniel Hershenzon
İpek Hüner Cora
Lori Jones
Burcu Karahan
Leyla Kayhan Elbirlik
Mehmet Kentel
Gohar Khachatrian
Hans-Lukas Kieser
Sooyong Kim
Yonca Köksal
Harun Küçük
Panayotis League
Darryl Li
Neda Maghbouleh
Nazan Maksudyan
Devi Mays
Ian Nagoski
Oludamini Ogunnaike
Ayşe Ozil
Orhan Pamuk
Fatih Parlak
Valentina Pugliano
Mary Roberts
Suja Sawafta
Sunil Sharma
Will Smiley
Sarah Abrevaya Stein
Johann Strauss
Samhita Sunya
Emmanuel Szurek
Alp Eren Topal
Erol Ülker
Nancy Um
Nicole van Os
Nükhet Varlık
Joshua White
Nurfadzilah Yahaya
İsmail Yaşayanlar
Akif Yerlioğlu
Egemen Yılgür
Hüseyin Yılmaz

Host or Co-Host

Onder Eren Akgül
Rebecca Alemayehu
Zeinab Azarbadegan
Elisabetta Benigni
Samuel Dolbee
Susanna Ferguson
Matthew Ghazarian
Chris Gratien
Zoe Griffith
Andreas Guidi
Can Gümüş
Taylan Güngör
Huma Gupta
Shireen Hamza
Taylor Moore
Naveena Naqvi
Maryam Patton
Graham Auman Pitts
Nir Shafir
Işın Taylan
Alp Eren Topal

Sound Production

Önder Eren Akgül
Zeinab Azarbadegan
Samuel Dolbee
Susanna Ferguson
Matthew Ghazarian
Chris Gratien
Andreas Guidi
Can Gümüş
Taylan Güngör
Shireen Hamza
Emily Neumeier
Maryam Patton
Nir Shafir
Işın Taylan

Additional Thanks

Joshua Donovan
Nihal Kayali
Sona Mnatsakanyan
Nada Moumtaz
Nova Robinson
Ben Smith
Seçil Yılmaz


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