Ottoman History and the Scaling of Research

AHA Session 238
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Nilay Ozok-Gundogan, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Session Abstract

“Scale” has been a fundamental theme in Ottoman historical writing but only implicitly so. To this day, the major historiographical traditions of Ottoman studies revolve around the interrelations or the divergences of the local, national, imperial and the world-historical. Different epistemologies of scalar structuration and scalar hierarchies defined the major contours of Ottoman historiography. Historians thinking through alternative scalar partitionings have recently challenged the long-lived nation-state-centered views of Ottoman history. One blow came from historians who put the provincial at the forefront of their analyses and highlighted the imperial past of the post-Ottoman nation-state geographies. In this way, they challenged the previous anachronistic perspectives that perceived these places as contained, nation-state-like entities and reintroduced the study of these areas to the imperial paradigm. In tandem with these provincial historiographies, another set of scholarship offered a scalar perspective going over and beyond the nationalistic imaginations by situating the study of the empire within a world-historical or global framework. Ultimately, provincial and imperial histories challenged the former dominance of the nation-state-space-centered perspectives in Ottoman historiography. 

Taken as such, however, scales in Ottoman historiography is generally considered in “areal terms” (Brenner 2001). One can approach the question of scale also from the vantage point of asymmetrical social power relations and their reflections on historiographical imaginations. Recent writings  focused on new societal actors who had been pushed to the margins of Ottoman historiography. The women, the slaves, workers, the disabled, and other social actors flooded the historical scene which had heretofore been dominated by the court elites, central bureaucracy, the urban rich, and the proto-nationalist leaders. However, even though Ottoman scholarship has been diversified, and hence democratized in this way, conceptual and historiographical reflections on the correlations between different levels of experiences remain thin. The questions of how these micro experiences speak to one another and how they force us to reconsider the broader imperial histories remain untouched.

This panel aims to approach the question of scale in Ottoman history-writing from the vantage point of asymmetrical socio-spatial relations, different levels of historical experiences and their inter-relationalities. Each paper situates a particular group of societal actors (missionaries, peasants, workers, and the tribes people) at the forefront of their analysis and examines contextually specific scalar partitionings through the experiences of these actors. From this perspective, the local/provincial, imperial, and global cease to be empty containers in which these actors operate but rather it is thanks to the proactive roles they take that these scalar partitionings come to existence. Rather than demonstrating how the forces of modernization shaped these individual lives, or how these actors “experienced” these broad changes, the papers will reveal the ways in which these actors built their own pathways at the juncture of the macro transformative forces of modernity and its micro manifestations. The papers collectively aim to bring to fore the conceptual and historiographical possibilities for and the shortcoming of approaching the Ottoman imperial and comparative-global historiographies from the perspective of the micro-scale experiences of Ottoman subjects.

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