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Crucible of Empire: Ottoman-Polish Borderlands in the Long Eighteenth Century
The long 18th century, particularly the period between the 1760s and 1821, marks a moment of transition in the borderlands between the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. North of the Danube river and bordered by the Black Sea, these territories encompass the contemporary states of Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and parts of Russia. Russian and Habsburg imperial expansions into the region, including the Partitions of Poland-Lithuania (1772-1795), Annexation of Crimea (1783), and Habsburg incursions into the Romanian Principalities shifted the balance of power. The start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 and its impact on the Phanariot governance signaled the end of the previous political order. This paper seeks to understand how this tumultuous period was experienced locally in the borderlands and in the Ottoman Empire through the borderland. In other words, following Peter Sahlins’ seminal work, this paper conceptualizes the Danubian borderlands as the crucible where the post-1821 Ottoman order was forged. Moreover, in conversation with Christine Philliou’s operationalization of the term governance, this paper focuses on how the relationships in the borderlands between the Ottoman governors, Polish palatines, Phanariot voivodas, Crimean khans and their local networks of Tatars, Cossacks, Ottomans, Poles, Jews, and many other denizens contributed to the making of the order. This paper argues that the resilience of the Ottoman state at the cusp of the 19th century depended in part on the experiences of the Ottoman administration in this borderland. Ottoman bureaucrats benefited from the local news and information networks which they in turn further sustained and expanded. Through these networks, they gathered information about the world outside of the Empire, particularly on the ever-intensifying Russian threat. They developed practices to communicate news reliability, confirm their verifiability, and built trust along the borderland-Istanbul axis. Moreover, tools and technologies that shaped imperial knowledge production, such as the newspaper, entered the Ottoman state institutions through the borderland. Unlike Sahlins’ Pyrenees, Ottoman-Polish borderlands do not exist on contemporary maps or national imaginations. Instead, the same geography is today claimed by the Russian state. Studying these borderlands during the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine, offers additional insights not only into the conflict but also into an Eastern European spatial imagination that was once upon a time not delineated along national claims. This paper speaks of a past that leads one to imagine a future for the region that embodies ethnic and religious diversity and new forms of coexistence.
Geographic Area
former Soviet Union
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area