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Ottoman Social and Environmental Engineering in the Long Nineteenth Century

Panel I-18, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • The early nineteenth century has long been framed by historians as the beginning of an Age of Reform throughout Ottoman territories. The New Order (Nezam-i Cedid), commenced in 1792 and the Tanzimat (the “rearrangements”) which rebooted reform efforts in 1839, have usually been understood as two cumulative waves of state-led social reorganisation and administrative centralisation. These same decades marked a period, globally, in which a re-emergent knowledge-object of “population” came to dominate debates about state and society. In a variety of settings across the globe, these population debates were increasingly articulated with reference to Thomas Robert Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, and republished in various revisions up to 1826. This paper considers how the recasting of “population” as the basis for a distinct demographic science and set of administrative practices was deployed and instrumentalised in the Ottoman Empire, within the context of these successive waves of social restructuring. To what extent does a “Malthusian” framework – of positive and preventative “checks” to population growth – make sense when mapped upon the discursive mobilisations of population in the Middle East during this period?
  • From the 1870s onwards until the last years of the Ottoman Empire, the port area in Istanbul’s Galata region was densely composed of "han"s, i.e. urban commercial buildings. These hans were newly constructed modern hans, also known as iş hanları, and they comprised office spaces in multi-storied apartment-style buildings. (Fidan 2009; Gülenaz 2011) In the port area, hans concentrated on international trade, particularly transit and import trade, against the background of the empire’s increasing integration into global capitalism. Galata, particularly the international trade that it facilitated, largely contributed to the expansion of the port of Istanbul into one of the biggest ports of Europe and the Mediterranean in the second half of the 19th century. (Müller Wiener 1998) Hans, as central organizational spaces of international trade, were instrumental in this development. Our knowledge of the history of modern hans is, however, rather limited. In Ottoman scholarship, urban commercial buildings have primarily been examined for the early modern period (Faroqhi 2009) and most of the attention has been directed to the architectural and art historical characteristics of these buildings, primarily in intra-muros Istanbul. (Cezar 1985) This paper brings the focus to the modern period and aims to situate the hans in their historical context. Through an examination of the commercial hans, the paper traces the interrelationship between socio-economic transformation and urban change in late Ottoman Galata. It concentrates on the area between Karaköy and Tophane, which became the spatial hub of international trade in the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Exploring the characteristics of selected hans, it shows the role of commercial companies in private initiative in the development of the hans, the impact of their trade activities on the urban landscape and the role of spatial organization in the making of commercial networks. The examination aims to make a contribution to urban social history and is based on a comparative analysis of Ottoman state documentation, trade yearbooks, contemporary commercial correspondence, and visual material. Selected Bibliography Cezar, M. 1985. Tipik Yapılarıyla Osmanlı Şehirciliğinde Çarşı ve Klasik Dönem İmar Sistemi. İstanbul: Mimar Sinan Üniversitesi Yayını. Faroqhi, S. 2009. Artisans of Empire: Crafts and Craftspeople under the Ottomans. London: I.B. Tauris. Fidan, M. S. 2009. Geçmişten Günümüze İstanbul Hanları. İstanbul: İstanbul Ticaret Odası Yayınları. Gülenaz, N. 2011. Batılılaşma Döneminde İstanbul’unda Hanlar ve Pasajlar. İstanbul: İstanbul Ticaret Odası Yayınları. Müller-Wiener, W. 1998. Bizans’tan Osmanlı’ya İstanbul Limanı. İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları.
  • By the Ottoman-Russian war that ended with the 1774 Kucuk Kaynarca Treaty, the Russian and Ottoman Empires claimed to be the guardian of the religious groups beyond their borders. While Russia used pan-Slavist claims, the Ottoman Sultan claimed Caliphate representing Muslims in Crimea, Tatarstan and beyond. The spread of pan-Islamist sentiments from the 1880s onwards has been explained in the scholarship as a response to increasing penetration of the European powers. However, this approach elaborates only one aspect of the spread of pan-Islamism. By approaching the pan-ideologies of the late nineteenth century as a backlash against globalisation, this paper questions the role of transport technologies in generating transnational collective identities. It argues that political and economic grievances about globalisation generated proto-nationalist formations and transnational ideologies in both industrialised and less industrialised economies in Europe and Ottoman territories. Power politics in Europe shaped German and Italian unifications and inspired transnational movements such as pan-Latinism to identify the superiority of France. Reactions to the imperialism of liberal trade treaties in the states producing mainly raw material generated proto—nationalist and pan- ideologies. The pan-Turkish, pan-Arabic and Pan-Islamist ideologies began to take shape and disseminate. Having concerns about maintaining its territorial integrity, the Ottoman government signed new trade treaties with Western European powers while investing in infrastructure to increase security. This defensive developmentalism included turning some cities, such as Beirut, into provincial capitals, building roads and railway networks, abolishing the internal tariff barriers, and imposing periodic bans on importing and exporting goods, such as motorised cycles and cars. The backlash against globalisation due to security concerns, however, was twofold. To avert the potential tribal rebellion in the Arab provinces besides settlement projects, railways extended central state power to the interior. Hijaz Railways could avert, if not delay, a potential tribal unification. Another strategy was positioning Ottoman Istanbul as the leading authority for Muslims across the globe by inculcating pan-Islamist sentiments among Muslims across the globe, calling them to support and sponsor the railway. On the other hand, roads built connecting Samsun port into the interior and Beirut to Damascus generated alternative transport hubs and identities. Asking if the era of new transport technologies inspired the imagining of new collective identities during the first wave of industrial globalisation, this paper offers a novel perspective on the global history of overland transportation by examining the Ottoman experience.
  • During the diverse Ottoman intellectual life in the Second Constitutional era (1908-1918), discussions on science have intensified in the form of different writings such as translations, adaptations and rewritings. Those scientific productions which could be considered as one of the aspects of late Ottoman modernization were carried out by Ottoman intellectuals from different political and religious backgrounds, such as progressivism, Islamism, materialism, and spiritualism. Among them, one intellectual community, a publishing house named as Teceddüd-i İlmî ve Felsefî Kütüphanesi (The Library of Scientific and Philosophical Renovation), whose founding and acting members are considered as materialists, had fruitfully contributed to the debates on different realms of knowledge production such as natural science, religion, psychology, sociology, and literature. As Ottoman intellectuals in this circle envisioned a comprehensive social transformation and discussed the limits of modernization within the context of novel science of the 19th century, specific focus was given to three main subjects: law of matter (madde kanunu), evolution (tekâmül) and theory of cell (hücre nazariyesi). This paper is concerned with one of the books published by the Library of Scientific and Philosophical Renovation on cell biology Hüceyre: Hayatın Esası (Cell: The Essence of Life) by Fikri Tevfik in 1911. Fikri Tevfik was the brother of Baha Tevfik, the founder of the above-mentioned publishing house. At the time of the publication of this book, Fikri Tevfik was a young graduate of the natural sciences department at the Darülfünûn (an Ottoman University founded in 1900 in Istanbul) and in preparation of continuing his education in Europe. Together with the knowledge he gathered from Darülfünûn lecturers, especially from Esad Şerafeddin Bey, Fikri Tevfik mostly benefited from the works of French botanists of the 19th century such as Gaston Bonnier, Georges Colomb and Édouard Lefèvre. Along with these influences, other intrinsic characters of the book encourage one to categorize it somewhere between a translation and an original writing. Broadly, present paper aims to contextualize this neglected book in the context of late Ottoman scientific production, and also claims that its hybrid character tells about different aspects of Ottoman modernization. Additionally, it aims to challenge the unquestioned views on Ottoman materialism by comparing this book with the other publications of the above-mentioned publishing house. Finally, it searches for its importance and influence in the Ottoman scientific community.
  • The Ottoman Empire’s control of its most agriculturally productive, "core" territories in the Balkans of southeastern Europe (Ottoman Turkish: Eyālet-i Rūm-ėli; Rumelia) eroded throughout the nineteenth century, devastating state revenues that depended on the agricultural tithe collected from these regions. As dominion over Rumelia eroded, Ottoman administrators turned attention to compensating for the material environments and political prestige that was lost. The interests of Ottoman administrators drifted eastward to Anatolia. For Ottomans, especially Ottoman Turkish and Muslim refugees (muhacir) fleeing Balkan splinter-states, Anatolia was a space both old and new. It was an ancestral homeland about which little factual information was known. Anatolia was a frontier ripe for financial speculation. Bringing Anatolia into the European fold meant rendering its landscapes legible, negotiable, and productive. To these ends, Ottoman administrators and European firms formed fateful partnerships not just to compensate for the lost Balkan lands; but to recreate the Balkans in Anatolia. This chapter argues that Ottoman administrators, enmeshed in modernist discourses about the manipulation of natural environments, attempted to compensate for its territorial losses in southeastern Europe, by attempting to reengineer the landscapes of Anatolia in the Balkans’ image. Drawing on archival documents from Turkey, France, Britain, and Germany, as well as published memoirs and traveler's accounts, this paper applies the tools of environmental history to explore how late Ottoman administrators sought to compensate for the loss of Balkan territories by literally reengineering Anatolian environments in the image of southeastern Europe. As uprisings peeled off many of these districts in the nineteenth century, the Ottomans experienced a loss of political prestige and a severe contraction of the resource base of their fiscal state. To compensate for these losses, administrators adopted Tanzimāt discourses about state centralization and novel ideas about environmental and economic geography to transpose features of Balkan environments onto the Empire's remaining Anatolian territory. Beginning in the 1850s, administrators implemented a project of reconstructing Balkan environments on the Anatolian steppe. The result was a modification of social ecologies, landscapes, labor, and financial networks in styles advocated by European scientists, technocrats, and bankers. This set of projects reached its apex under Abdülhamid II and was the basis for the speculative attention of European capitalists who became entangled with Ottoman policymakers.
  • "The exordium of Ottoman History has perished": The Bursa Earthquake of 1855 and Reconstruction of a Tanzimat City “MESA 2023 Annual Meeting” Conference Proposal, 23 Feb 2023 This paper explores the ways in which natural disasters affect an urban environment on physical and societal levels. Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, was rebuilt in the wake of two earthquakes in the nineteenth century. The paper investigates these earthquakes which took place in 1855 resulting in the deaths of 1,500 residents. The major damage to the physical environment was caused by a fire that began in the business quarter where all the khans and bazaars were accumulated. The estimated number of houses and shops burnt down in this fire was around 2,000. Following these calamitous events, the imperial administration initiated a reconstruction program as it identified Bursa as a pilot project for the second phase of the ongoing Tanzimat (the official name for the grand Ottoman modernization project) reforms. Bursa recovered from this ‘crisis’ through the reconstruction of its quake-ridden monuments executed according to a new city plan, which created a gentrified area now inhabited by silk merchants and factory owners in place of the former Armenian neighborhood. The recovery was made possible by the cooperation of central government bureaucrats and local elites but not always appreciated by common city dwellers. Using mainly the documents from the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives in addition to the UK National Archives and the Archives Diplomatiques of France, this paper tells the story of how these actors interacted during the post-disaster recovery. It argues that the case of Bursa in the second half of the nineteenth century shows that a crisis in the physical, demographic, and economic urban environment may determine the pace of reform, facilitate the implementation of novel ideas and projects, and mobilize local and central governmental actors to take advantage of an extraordinary moment of destruction. The responses to the earthquake of Bursa demonstrate that even supposedly standardized grand reform programs aiming at centralization are informed heavily by local conditions.