Knowledge Fit for an Empire: “Venetian” Dragomans and their “Ottoman” Networks in Early Modern Istanbul

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom South (Marriott Wardman Park)
E. Natalie Rothman, University of Toronto Scarborough
This paper explores the unique modes of knowledge production that dragomans, or diplomatic interpreters, developed in the context of their work for foreign consulates in early modern Istanbul and in other commercial hubs across the eastern Mediterranean. Focusing on the dragomans of the Venetian bailo (permanent representative to the Porte), the paper first traces the expansive and shifting network of local confidants, political advisors, business partners, apprentices, and relatives that characterized this professional group from the late sixteenth to the mid eighteenth centuries. It then considers the range of oral and written textual practices that constituted dragomans’ daily activities. The paper then shows, through a close comparison of several interrelated texts produced by dragomans and their interlocutors within the Ottoman court, how dragomans produced a “local” perspective on things Ottoman and Venetian. It also examines how this perspective was articulated in enduring forms of record keeping, in specific official genres, and even in the use of particular linguistic forms. Ultimately, the paper aims to suggest how dragomans’ textual practices were both informed by and instrumental in furthering the mutual imbrication of Ottoman and Venetian governmentalities, producing knowledge that defies categorization as either purely “Venetian” nor purely “Ottoman” but that directed the trajectories of both imperial centers in their ongoing engagements.
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