Panel: Istanbul Memories – a new approach to late Ottoman historiography


Raum: Kath Theol V, Hochparterre, Johannisstraße 8-10
Tag Zeit    
Mi 09:00-10:00 Kafadar “Bajazet chez Bajazet” Evliya Çelebi’s Response to European Art
Mi 10:00-10:30 Wittmann Self-narratives of a cosmopolitan city: countering a fragmented academic landscape
Mi 10:30-11:00 Pause
Mi 11:00-11:30 Herzog Risks and opportunities of using ego-documents in writing the history of the late Ottoman Empire
Mi 11:30-12:00 Zerman The emerging bourgeoisie of Istanbul at the turn of the twentieth century: memory and (self-)representation
Mi 12:00-12:30 Dominik In the footsteps of Wernyhora’s prophecy: Polish personal narratives on the late Ottoman Istanbul
Mi 12:30-13:00 Gasimov Istanbul as a loathed Russian desire. Russian discourses on and in Istanbul in 1860-1920s


Christoph Herzog, Richard Wittmann


Cemal Kafadar

Beschreibung des Panels:

The panel Istanbul Memories – a new approach to late Ottoman historiography introduces a current international research project that has been initiated by the organizers of the panel. The project aims at interdisciplinary cooperation and a broad approach of studying late Ottoman self-narratives as historical sources. The spatial focus is on Istanbul that, as the center of Empire, represented its multiethnic and multicultural charactistics in a particularly pronounced way.



Abstracts der Vorträge:

Wittmann, Richard: Self-narratives of a cosmopolitan city: countering a fragmented academic landscape

The residents of the capital of the Ottoman Empire produced narrative texts in a variety of languages. In spite of the academic community’s recognition that the Ottoman Empire was in fact multiethnic and multicultural, this understanding has only rarely been translated into scholarly practice. This is due in large part to the fragmentation of Ottoman studies into various academic disciplines that only infrequently communicate with one another. E.g., Turkish-language literature predominantly produced by Muslims is treated by Turkish Literature experts and Turkologists in the West; Ottoman Ladino literature falls within the purview of Romance studies; the empire’s Greeks are the responsibility of Byzantine and Hellenic studies. Aside from academic compartmentalization, however, the predominance of particular academic topoi and standing intellectual discourses has further precluded the inclusion of many first-hand accounts in the wider historiography of the Ottoman capital. While memoirs and letters in Ottoman Turkish have been the subject of great publication efforts in Turkey over the past two decades, testimonies in other languages are often virtually hidden from scholarship since they only exist in manuscript form in small archives or in private possession. An interdisciplinary and international research network that furthers academic cooperation promises to do away with some of these dilemmas and help to work towards a more adequate writing of late-Ottoman history of Istanbul.

Herzog, Christoph: Risks and opportunities of using ego-documents in writing the history of the late Ottoman Empire

It has long been assumed that Ottoman self-narratives are comparatively rare. This assumption has been based on two tacit premises:

1. The scope of what the category „Ottoman” is comprised of has been frequently limited to Muslim/Ottoman-Turkish. Self-narratives written by Arabs, Armenians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks or Jews in languages other than Ottoman-Turkish quite frequently went unnoticed by mainstream Ottoman Studies.

2. The amount of self-narratives in Ottoman-Turkish has been judged according to what has been published during the life-span of the last generation that has still seen the Ottoman Empire. However, in recent years a considerable number of manuscripts containing Ottoman self-narratives has been published by the author’s heirs and families.

Using self-narratives (or ego-documents) as historical sources and putting them to work in a historiographical context involves a considerable amount of methodological risks and theoretical concerns. On the other hand, today it seems obvious that the history of the Ottoman Empire cannot be written without using them. The paper is intended as a discussion of this historiographical predicament using examples mainly from published Turkish-Ottoman memoirs and of what is hoped to be gained from a broader approach of using Ottoman self-narratives.

Zerman, Eze: The emerging bourgeoisie of Istanbul at the turn of the twentieth century: memory and (self-)representation

This project aims to focus on ego-documents and photographs of an emerging bourgeoisie in Istanbul from the late Ottoman Empire to the Early Turkish Republic in order to discuss how they represented themselves, created their exclusionary categories, and constructed their memories. It would be argued that these new elites became concerned to create their own past; to construct, collect and conserve their own memories, which became sometimes related to the construction of a national memory and patrimony. Keeping records, be it in the form of diaries or memoirs; conserving family letters, creating photo albums, displaying family photos in the household, collecting souvenir objects became main constituents of this fashion. What people found worthy of being collected, recorded, conserved and displayed would be our key sources to analyze changing and complex relationship of people with the visual and material world that surrounded them.

The paper will particularly discuss these ideas over three dimensions: A first one would be the creation of a family memory, by the collection and conservation of images and objects, that reinforced the idea of a unified family and a family heritage. Secondly and sometimes intertwined with the first one, will be discussed people’s self-positioning with regard to state politics. In this line of thought, we will try to analyze the question of how an “ideal social base”, attempted to be created by the state responded to new images diffused by the government, how was the reception of these new forms, and how it is incorporated in people’s daily life. Thirdly, following a research area opened by the studies on Orientalism, we will ask the question of how people related themselves to the Ottoman/Oriental past –a past that is conceived either as an Ancien Régime or a Golden Age, and how they represented themselves with already established westernized visual codes.

Dominik, Paulina D.: In the footsteps of Wernyhora’s prophecy: Polish personal narratives on the late Ottoman Istanbul

After the partition of Poland in 1795 the Ottoman Empire became one of the most important destinations for Polish political émigrés and thousands of Poles fled to Istanbul hoping for Ottoman support in their efforts to regain independence; nevertheless, the presence of the Polish minority is frequently overlooked in the discussions of the multicultural and multiethnic nature of Istanbul. In comparison to other minorities Poles arrived relatively late in the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, their presence had several distinctive features. Not only were they engaged in efforts to promote an independent Polish state, but also were many of them active agents of the modernization enterprise of the Ottoman state. Despite the remarkable dynamics and cooperation that characterised the Polish-Ottoman relations following the partition of Poland, the space that both Polish and Turkish historiographies have devoted to this subject is relatively scarce and the outlook of the historians– mostly one-sided.

My presentation will situate the Polish minority and its personal narratives in the multicultural and multiethnic mosaic of the late Ottoman Empire and look at its members beyond the nationalist paradigm. While the memoirs, diaries and letters of the émigrés constitute valuable sources for the reconstruction of the particular circumstances of their arrival and presence in the Ottoman Empire, they also reveal that identities and allegiances were by no means exclusive; rather, they were overlapping and at times conflicting in nature. Their contents show that the Polish émigrés frequently served a double national cause – while doing their best to promote an independent Polish state, they were loyal Ottoman subjects. As a result, they were not merely political refugees but can be described as Ottoman Poles or Polish Ottomans characterized by a dual identity.

Gasimov, Zaur: Istanbul as a loathed Russian desire. Russian discourses on and in Istanbul in 1860-1920s

Tsar’grad, Konstantinopl’ and Stambul were the Russian names of the Ottoman capital. Fedor Dostoevsky, the Russian conservative intellectuals (mostly Slavophiles such as Nikolai Ustryalov, Konstantin Aksakov and Mikhail Katkov) and even philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev pled for Russian expansion towards the Bosporus in 1860-1900s. Fascinated by the historical richness of the former Byzantine metropolis, Russian poets and writers like Ivan Bunin and Arkady Averchenko re-discovered the city à la Pierre Loti, while the Soviet politicians, diplomats, and publicists like Pyotr Pavlenko promoted an idea of Istanbul as an ideological battlefield of ‘class struggle and exploitation’. However, the images and Russian discourses on Istanbul did not fit into any kind of dichotomies. One witnessed a variety of Russian and russophone, Soviet, Christian, Orthodox and Russian Muslim perceptions of Istanbul, which were closely entangled with European images of the city and at least Turkish self-descriptions. Istanbul’s map, which emerged within those Russian discourses, was not linked only with the Near East and Mediterranean but primarily with the regions of the Caucasus and Black Sea.

The aim of the presentation is to show the main lines of the Russian discourses on Istanbul during the last decades of Romanovs’ rule as well as during the First World War and civil war period in Russia in Istanbul itself as well as in Russia and in the early Soviet Union.