Florence and Montecatini Terme, European University Institute
March 21-25, 2007
The Late Ottoman Port Cities and Their Inhabitants:
Subjectivity, Urbanity, and Conflicting Orders
Dr. Malte Fuhrmann,
Center for Modern Oriental Studies
Kirchweg 33, 14129, Berlin, Germany
Dr. Vangelis Kechriotis,
History Department, Bođaziçi University
34342, Bebek, Istanbul, Turkey
Life on the shores of the Levant during the ‘Age of Imperialism’ has often been described, both in contemporary and historiographic assessments, as an exceptional experience. Accordingly, within the past twenty years, the Mediterranean port cities under Ottoman sovereignty have been thoroughly researched and debated. Several approaches have been employed, with deviating results. Initially, port cities drew attention because of their pivotal position in the region’s economy, supposedly linking them to the ‘world economy’. This interpretation was challenged for various reasons, among others, because some scholars did not see the cities under discussion as sites oriented primarily towards European or global economic activities, but as the foremost centers of the Empire, indeed as privileged sites for the consolidation of Ottoman imperial hegemony. Another strain of research dismissed both the stress on multi-national networks and on the degree of integration into the state, focusing instead on the role citizens took on in local institutions. Some of these studies even went so far as to pronounce the Levantine port cities ‘models of conviviality’. These interpretations in turn received criticism on the grounds that they supposedly did not take into account the nationalist and communalist practices so prevalent in the 19th century, and that port cities were no exception. However, studies focussing primarily on the role of individuals and less on institutions have shown that city residents could navigate their social and political relations fairly untouched by state identity politics. Is there a way to meaningfully engage in a dialogue between these varied approaches that does not lead to the dead-end of simply valuing one perspective over another?
This workshop intends to use the kaleidoscope of seemingly contradictory interpretations of the late Ottoman port cities as a point of departure to open the ground for a debate which will hopefully lead to a better insight of 19th century Eastern Mediterranean urbanity. Rather than debating which discourse was predominant, we raise the question of how groups and individuals navigated between them, and made their choices utilizing a range of possibilities. It is our thesis that the competing orders did not produce neatly divided camps among the cities’ populations, but rather a terrain permitting or even demanding individual interpretation and amendment. The panel aspires to bring together researchers who will present their work on port cities which were under Ottoman sovereignty for all or part of the period 1850-1922. Case studies might focus on socially or culturally defined groups within each city. Groups which have not been thoroughly studied as yet are of particular interest. But rather than just presenting micro-histories focusing on particular social practices, papers will be expected to demonstrate how these groups developed their respective varieties of urbanity in a social arena dominated by discourses on citizenship, civilization and the Empire. Could they relate these constructs to their perceptions of the city and integrate them into their practices? Or did they form negative images of the ‘other’ which would allow them to strengthen their own group cohesion? And how did such perceptions and reactions change over time? By raising these questions, we believe that we can build upon a historiographical tradition in order to successfully compare urban experiences between far flung locations, various social strata, and cultural as well as ethno-religious groups and reconstruct the common political and cultural space of the late Ottoman Mediterranean urbanity which makes all these experiences meaningful.
For a more detailed workshop description, practical information, and submission of abstracts/applications please go to http://www.iue.it/RSCAS/Research/Mediterranean/mrm2007/Index.shtml
All applications/submissions must be posted through this website.
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