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Children, Women, and Sexuality in the Late Ottoman Empire

Panel VI-21, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 4:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Ottoman archival material indicates that Ottoman Empire's cultural life acquainted various dance genres from the European and American continents, primarily with diplomats who organized official balls in the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, a part of the Ottoman press focused on this field, resulting from a cultural transition due to closer contact with European societies. This interaction with modernized social life established a new lifestyle after the Second Constitutional Revolution (1908), which found its proper political framework with the Turkish Republic, coinciding with the changing role of Turkish women in society. Having the readers meet new dance styles, magazines portrayed this new way of life. Instructions for dancing fans, advice on manners to be a decent female dancer, life and work of famous dancers, news on organizations, and charity meetings took place in papers like Resimli Ay or Servet-i Fünun. Examining those articles, integrated with sketches, caricatures, and photos picturing women and men hand in hand performing various dances, dance malaria (as one paper depicts) can be considered a significant element of cultural and social construction in this transition era (Until the late 1920s). Papers opposing this social innovation, such as Sebilürreşad described dancing as a bad influence on Muslim youth. The criticism towards the expanding popularity of waltz and tango in official balls is based upon unrest that the intense meeting of men and women caused on various platforms. In general, literature refers to ballroom dance as a culture after the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Aside from the press, documents from the post-Tanzimat era indicate that the culture of ballroom dancing goes back to the 19th century. Ahmed Mithat Efendi's fiction "Karnaval"(1881) describes ballrooms and parties, while official documents indicate that imperial family members were invited to embassies' organizations. Officials danced the waltz, which was very popular in Europe in the 19th century. When tango became a phenomenon in Europe, the Ottoman was not entirely unfamiliar, contrariwise to a built-in perception assuming tango became a part of the social life after the foundation of the Turkish Republic. In this study, we will indicate the significance of dance becoming an element in the modernization of daily life and how it contributed to the changing social role of Ottoman women. The study relies upon the documents in Ottoman state archives and cultural magazines such as Resimli Ay, Servet-i Fünun, Sebilürreşad, and Aylık Mecmua.
  • Sexuality is located at the intersection of the discipline of bodies and the regulation of population. As Michel Foucault discusses, the instrumentalization of different axes including pedagogy, medicine, and economics, “made sex not only a secular concern but a concern of the state as well; to be more exact, sex became a matter that required the social body as a whole, and virtually all of its individuals, to place themselves under surveillance” (The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction, 116). In addition to the imperial control over bodies through disciplinary and regulatory measures, the increasing importance of population led to the imposition of the same measures upon sexuality and to the construction of a new regime of sexuality in Ottoman Empire during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Correspondingly, the promotion of ideas of family, nation, generation, futurity, hygiene, and public health positioned children as important agents who were subject to the same measures of the imperial regime of sexuality. In my paper, I will, first, investigate the manifestations of the imperial regime of sexuality in children’s magazines and, second, discuss the legacies of this imperial regime of sexuality in contemporary Turkey, with a specific focus on the Justice and Development Party (JDP) era. Discourse analysis will constitute the main methodology. The examinations of children’s magazines will be supported through discussions in alternative sources including women’s magazines, scientific publications, and literary pieces. I will mainly contend that even though sexual discourse was hidden, the concept of sexuality was deemed important through the promotion and encouragement of heterosexual norms, relations, intimacy, family, marriage, and reproduction. Through my argument, I not only aim to illuminate the processes of construction of heteroerotic and heterosocial intimacy in the late Ottoman Empire, but also would like to highlight the similar discourses used under the JDP government. In my paper, first, I will explain and discuss the developments with respect to sexuality during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in different areas by putting them into a conversation with the pre-nineteenth context and conditions. Second, I will examine varied children’s magazines in order to figure out the ways in which sexuality is discussed and represented and in which children’s sexuality is regulated, and (re)configured. Lastly, I will analyze the contemporary political debates on sexualities of youth during the last two decades of modern Turkey.
  • The paper focuses on women migrants in the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. With the loss of Ottoman territories from the early 19th century onwards thousands of Muslim refugees and migrants streamed into the remaining Ottoman domains. The influx of such large numbers of people, often in the context of war or other acts of violence, presented considerable challenges to the Ottoman state as it encountered the pressures of their urgent accommodation, subsequent resettlement, and economic integration. The encounter with the refugees also generated responses and discussions within Ottoman society. As the authorities sought to address the needs of the migrants, certain groups became the focus of more specific attention. Among them were women and children, particularly those who had lost families or had no protection and economic means. This paper looks specifically at women migrants while pursuing two lines of inquiry. First, it examines the institutions set up by the Ottoman state and benevolent societies that catered to women migrants. And, second, even more importantly, it explores how the subject of women migrants was intertwined within an array of public discourses concerning gender, charity, morality, patriotism, and health. In such a way it aspires to contribute to the history of migration and the history of women in the late Ottoman Empire. The paper argues that public discourses portrayed different images of women migrants. They were seen as a socially, physically, and morally vulnerable group, and consequently, needed special protection. Yet the support provided by the state and charitable associations was often inadequate. At the same time, women migrants were regarded as resilient, so with proper support and disciplining they could be transformed into productive members of Ottoman society. The paper draws on sources produced by Ottoman state institutions, the press, and other publications dating to the period under consideration.
  • In recent years, historians of the Ottoman Empire have asserted that by the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Ottoman law treated miri (treasury-owned) land as something increasingly similar to mülk (freehold) property. Such a transition suggests that Ottoman land law was evolving organically and without Western influence toward recognizing property rights on land that were very close to private property. The appeal of this narrative has been very strong for Ottomanists who wish to combat the notion of a hidebound and stagnant empire and to highlight the transformation of Ottoman political economy in the eighteenth century. In this paper, I question the narrative of miri land transitioning toward private property in the later Ottoman centuries. I contend that the more prevalent trend in evolution of land law in this period was a deeper institutionalization of a conception that had been dominant since the sixteenth century: namely, treating land as an exceptional legal entity that was primarily a means of livelihood for cultivators. To illustrate this trend, I will examine how orphans could assert a right to a parent’s miri land and the powers of the orphan’s guardian to transact this land. Consulting kanunnames, fetvas, and fiqh manuals produced in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, I will demonstrate that the rights of orphans to claim miri land remained quite different from their rights over their mülk inheritance, allowing them to “undo” decisions of their guardians and reclaim land that would be their means of subsistence in adulthood. Moreover, the eighteenth-century muftis extended these rights to non-orphan minors, going further than the kanuns in establishing rights to reclaim miri land that did not exist for mülk inheritance. My conclusion is that the exceptional status of miri land did not disappear in the eighteenth century but was in fact more extensively elaborated and more ubiquitously incorporated into both fetvas and the academic texts of fiqh. Stubbornly persistent, this exceptionalism continued to surface in the provisions regarding minors and orphans in the 1858 Land Code and even the liberalizing amendments to the Code adopted in 1878. Ultimately, my point is to call into question how well the narrative of “the rise of private property” captures the realities of Ottoman evolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ottoman dynamism, I maintain, is often found in adaptations that defy conventional narratives of modernization and which have the potential to reshape these conventional narratives.
  • In between the Old and the New: The Birth of the First Maternity Hospital in the Ottoman Empire The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed the dizzying transformation of the medical sciences and healthcare practices. From pasteurization to the transformation of midwifery, changes in medicine and pharmaceutical sciences provide useful lenses to observe the political and social transformation on a global scale. Besim Omer (Akalin) Pasha (1862-1940), the founder of the first maternity hospital, was one of the most influential actors of modern healthcare in the history of the Ottoman Empire and later the Turkish Republic. He studied in France as a medical doctor and wrote more than a hundred books in various subfields of medicine. As a prominent Ottoman scholar (of his time period), Besim Omer Pasha also attended numerous international conferences often putting the Ottoman medical world on the radar of global healthcare professionals. One could argue modernization process in the Ottoman medical field and healthcare happened almost simultaneously with the European and North American counterparts even though the empire was in social and economic turmoil and fighting for its survival. Besim Omer Pasha and the continuation of his medical work from the 19th to the 20th century provides an excellent case study to reflect on the transition from an empire to a republic as a continuous process not as a moment of sudden rupture. This paper focuses on the first viladethane (maternity hospital) in the Ottoman Empire (opened in 1892 in Demirkapi) to examine the institutional transformation from traditional medicine to modern medicine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by closely examining women’s reproductive health, their reproductive rights, and their bodies as medical sites. Based on Omer Pasha’s own writings as well as archival records, this paper will investigate how Omer Pasha navigated the complex political transformation of the late Ottoman Empire into Republican Turkey to be able to establish the first maternity hospital.