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Art? Craft? Industry? Education and Emerging Discourses of Creation in the Late Ottoman Empire
Craftspeople, teachers, and reformers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century Ottoman Empire confronted substantial changes in production—from the construction of the first factories in the region, to competition with cheaper imported European goods, to the decline of local industries such as silk. One way to meet these challenges was the reformation of craft education. With the Public Education Act of 1869, the Ministry of Education standardized the curricula of craft schools (sanayi mektebi)—based on the first such school founded by statesman Midhat Pasha (1822-1883) in Danube Province in 1864—and ordered their establishment across the empire. This paper focuses on a key text in the development of such institutions, a school book named First Teacher (Hace-i Evvel) that was published by author and journalist Ahmet Mithat (1844-1912) in 1869. While initially written for the Baghdad vocational school to address what Mithat perceived as a deficiency in education and craft production in the city, the book was soon used throughout the empire for students to gain the academic knowledge and craft experience to attain employment upon graduation. Skills that had been taught for centuries such as carpentry and shoemaking are included in the textbook, whereas the operation of new technologies like the printing press and textile machines was commonly taught at many craft schools alongside the older crafts (as evident in provincial almanacs) and yet does not appear in the book. The identification of established crafts as “traditional” and their juxtaposition with new technologies mirrors the larger discourse that artists, architects, and intellectuals such as Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910) used to articulate a uniquely Ottoman artistic and architectural idiom that drew from the past yet was distinctly contemporary. Artists and architects “revived” medieval and early modern designs, techniques, and materials in search of a national style, just as schools resurrected, elevated, and standardized “traditional” crafts—in fact changing the meaning of “craft” by expanding its definition to include new technology. My paper is innovative in its exploration of the various terminologies that reformers, teachers, and textbooks used to describe the same kinds of production—such as "sanat" or "sanayi"—which were understood as “(hand)craft,” “industry,” “vocation,” or “art,” their meanings shifting with the artistic, educational, geographical, and political context. Lastly, by bringing attention to the transformation of craft, I establish a framework of artistic continuity—rather than sharp separation—between the Ottoman Empire and its successor states.
Architecture & Urban Planning
Art/Art History
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Arab States
Islamic World
Mediterranean Countries
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area