Urban Transformations and the Cross-Mediterranean Politics of Space in the Late Ottoman Empire

AHA Session 292
Monday, January 5, 2015: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Clinton Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Sarah Shields, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Sarah Shields, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Session Abstract

This panel examines the intersection of urban transformations, public visibility, ethno-religious communal boundaries, and identity formation in four major cities of the Ottoman Mediterranean--Istanbul, Izmir, Jerusalem, and Salonica. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these four multiethnic and multireligious cities experienced profound levels of spatial changes at a time when communal boundaries were being redrawn and novel forms of imperial allegiance were forged. The establishment of shared, ethnically and religiously homogenous, public, and private urban spaces; the implementation of urban renewal and infrastructure projects; the introduction of new forms of spatial mobility; as well as the expansion of street lighting played an important role in reconfiguring physical space, lived experience, and cultural representation in the urban environment. In what ways did increased public visibility precipitate communal anxieties, the destabilization of long-standing patterns of communal association, the redrawing of communal boundaries, and intercommunality? How did new spaces promote shared activities and concomitantly reshape intra- and inter-ethnic relations? And how were civic andcommunal pride spatially co-produced? This proposed collection of papers seeks engage these questions by moving beyond the singular interpretative frameworks of modernization, community formation, and cosmopolitanism. It offers a multidisciplinary approach to urban transformations by exploring how Muslims, Christians, and Jews across the Ottoman Mediterranean experienced, imagined, and forged new individual and collective forms of identity.

The papers in this collection are animated by the desire to investigate ‘space’ and work at the disciplinary intersections of history, urban studies and cultural geography. In an attempt to complicate both localist and overarching narratives, as well as question the conventional boundaries of Middle East and Balkan Studies, they introduce the Eastern Mediterranean as a regional framework of analysis. They thus address urban transformation as reality, experience, and perception from a comparative and cross-Mediterranean perspective. The first paper examines the ways that Jewish religious institutions and leaders in Jerusalem emphasized the strong confessional pulls toward spatial purity and confessional isolation in the late 19th century, at the same time that Ottomanism, civic urbanism, and new public spaces – as well as the attendant opportunities for spatial and ideological mixing – were on the rise in the empire. The second paper discusses the range of responses employed by the Jews of Izmir in service of protecting the “public good” of the city. The third paper investigates how gymnastic exhibitions and athletic competitions in theatres, gardens, and clubs led to increased levels of public visibility and facilitated the reinscription and erosion of divisions separating Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Istanbul. The fourth paper focuses on how the anti-Austrian and anti-Greek boycott movement in Young Turk Salonica (1908-1912) generated new 'spatial stories' among the respectable urban strata, who conceived modern public spaces anew not as shared spaces of an assertive multi-ethnic bourgeois sociability, but as fearful arenas of class conflict.

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