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Ottoman Archaeologies: Actors, Processes, and Epistemologies

Session II-05, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
The Ottoman Empire was one of the most important hubs of archaeology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The increased interest in the ancient pasts of the Ottoman lands went hand in hand with Ottoman modernization and European imperialism. Stretching from the middle of the nineteenth century to the very last days of the Ottoman Empire, this panel uses diverse techniques, such as oral history and microhistorical approaches, to widen our understanding of the archaeological enterprise against this background. This panel seeks to show overlooked catalysts for the development of archaeology and archeological practices, and it spotlights historical actors that receive much less attention in the literature. The panel asks questions about the interplay between cultural and technological transformations of the Ottoman Empire and the larger world. It sheds light on the legacies of Ottoman archaeology in the contemporary world by interrogating historical actors, methods, and epistemologies. The first paper deals with the dawn of scientific archaeology and its entanglement with modernization schemes, especially of the development of communication and transportation infrastructure, and asks how science and technology have been put to work to study the past. Our second paper focuses on the impact of the First World War on archaeology and zooms on opportunities created by the war. This paper seeks to understand why the practices of archaeology converged on both sides of the war. The third paper uses oral histories to challenge the dominance of the perceptions and narratives of elite and state actors about our relationships with the material remains of the past and introduces ordinary people’s interactions with antiquities, reminding us that there are multiple valid ways to engage with the past. The final paper deals with an Ottoman archeology official, Makridy Bey, and delves into notions of patrimony and self-identity. This microhistory puts the spotlight on this overlooked figure to reflect on cultural transformations of the period and the intellectual legacy of the Ottoman archaeological endeavors and complicate the European/Ottoman and Christian/Islamic dichotomies.
  • During the First World War and the Allied occupation that followed, the Allied and Central Powers brought not only soldiers to the Ottoman Empire but their archaeologists too. This paper argues that the availability of manpower, from humble soldiers to celebrated professors, combined with new war technologies like airplanes, acted as a catalyst for archaeological activities and necessitated the development of many protection schemes by all of the belligerents involved during the war and the following occupation of the Ottoman Empire (1914-1923). The new war technologies unleashed a wave of destruction of cultural heritage. For example, the Ottomans used archaeological sites as quarries to build barracks. Belligerents dug trenches and threw bombs that severely altered landscapes. Soldiers used archaeological monuments for target practice and collected some archaeological artifacts as souvenirs or to sell back home. However, all these destructive activities combined with the presence of available manpower created what one British official called “an exceptional opportunity” to engage in archaeology. The war conditions also meant that there was virtually no Ottoman supervision of archaeological activities conducted by the Allied powers. However, these destructive activities and opportunities had to be coupled with protection measures. This was due to the development of international public opinion vis-a-vis the protection of cultural heritage as a marker of civilization during the war. The Ottomans and Germans created monument protection units in Europe and the Middle East. The Ottomans, along with the Russians, British, French, and Italians, issued regulations and laws to limit the destructive effects of the war on cultural heritage artefacts and monuments. This paper, by using sources from Ottoman, British, French, and Italian archives, along with secondary sources, traces the parallel developments of protection measures created by all of the belligerents of the war. This study underscores the entangled history of archaeology and cultural heritage protection schemes with the First World War and emphasizes the interconnected development of the ideas and practices of protection amongst all of the sides of the war. Multifocal lenses employed in this paper allow a larger and more united narrative about the development of the concept of protection of cultural heritage in Europe and in the Ottoman Empire. Finally, the paper aims to contribute to our understanding of the interplay between archaeology, technology, international law, and war that is still relevant today.
  • This paper discusses the reception of antiquities by ordinary Ottoman Greek men and women in late 19th and early 20th-century Ottoman Anatolia. At a time of growing interest in the history of archaeology, including in the Ottoman Empire, it aims to complement the picture that we have managed to recreate so far - one that focuses on state actors and elites, such as governments, museums, archaeological missions, learned societies and exploration societies – by shifting the attention to those whose views have largely been neglected, the ordinary people. The analysis is based on the concept of “indigenous archaeologies” as described by archaeologist and Brown University professor Yannis Hamilakis, i.e. “local, vernacular discourses and practices involving things from another time” (2011). It is true that capturing the voice of ordinary men and women from the past is usually hard, given a dearth of primary sources. Yet, in our case, the oral history archive at the Centre for Asia Minor Studies, which was put together in Greece between the 1930s and 1970s, provides access to thousands of ordinary people’s testimonies, including on antiquities, from across late Ottoman Anatolia. Through a multitude of unheard-of before incidents, attitudes, beliefs and (mis)understandings on the material remains of the past, and unique accounts on these people’s relations with their Muslim neighbours, the Ottoman authorities, and, on occasion, foreigners on archaeological matters that this archive brings to us, we shall be able to critically reconstruct the archaeological world of ordinary Ottoman Greeks, and significantly enrich our understanding of the history of (Ottoman) archaeology. As will be shown, in these people’s archaeological world, time and the past is conceptualised in the modern linear way, as well as in pre-modern atemporal ways. Engagements with antiquities speak of protection but also of harm and destruction. We come across instances of illicit traffic in finds at the same time that finds are consciously preserved on site. Significantly, antiquities may be endowed with talismanic value, which transcends the boundaries of Christianity and may attract the Muslim neighbours of our subjects. This paper, in other words, aims to critically analyse and organise the multitude of experiences that ordinary people could have with antiquities by stressing that reducing them to one type of engagement would be misleading. Even if ordinary Ottoman Greeks did not overall partake in elite understandings of antiquities, their reception of the past is consequential for understanding the history of (Ottoman) archaeology.
  • This paper explores the contributions of Theodore Macridy (1872-1940) to the development of archaeology in the late Ottoman Empire. Macridy served for the Ottoman Imperial Museum, and its successor, Istanbul Archaeological Museums, for 38 years. Combining the roles of a museum curator, archaeologist, collector, connoisseur, and scholar, he presented a self-image of a scientist who persistently sought for opportunities to share his expertise on an international level and to carve a niche for himself in the scholarly scene. Despite being a self-taught archaeologist, like many of his contemporaries, he had a substantial knowledge about classical antiquity along with a good grasp of the literature on the subjects of his expertise. He participated in numerous excavations across the empire first as a commissar to monitor the foreign excavations, and subsequently, as a director undertaking archaeological investigations on behalf of the museum. However, despite being the most active and prolific archaeologist of the empire, his role in the formation of archaeology has been overlooked in mainstream historiographies while his legacy yet remains to be acknowledged. Drawing from historical and archival sources, including Macridy’s field reports and letters, the paper offers a microhistory of this prominent archaeologist to bring to light his imprint on the history of Ottoman archaeology. These documents are valuable resources for they reveal his notions and narratives of patrimony, self-identity, and belonging, in that, they help us establish Macridy’s position within a common scientific milieu shared by international scholars and institutions. Thus, the paper argues that his mindset closely reflects the cultural transformations of his era while offering hints about the intellectual legacy of the late Ottoman period. In this respect, this discussion stretches beyond the history of archaeology in its effort to display the strong commitment of the Ottoman intellectuals to be a part of the universal production of knowledge during the late Ottoman period. Their biographies, social networks, and somewhat unconventional positions in between the Western and Ottoman circles gives us a new perspective to unfold the complex processes involved in the making of archaeology around the turn of the twentieth century. In addition, departing from the case of Macridy, this paper unpacks the interaction between European scholars and Ottoman archaeologists, where negotiations over the legitimacy of interests present a useful framework for contextualizing the development of archaeological discourse and practice in Turkey both in the past and at present.
  • During the 19th century, archaeology emerged as a ‘scientific’ discipline with an increasing dependence on nascent technologies. Much archaeological fieldwork of this formative period took place in the Ottoman Middle East. Coinciding with a period of intense modernization in Ottoman lands, processes and epistemologies of archaeology became entangled with Ottoman modernization efforts. Many of the Ottoman modernization projects, especially the major infrastructural ones, were carried out with European involvement. European engineers, architects, and administrators flocked to the Ottoman Empire, in part, to help transform communication and transportation infrastructures. The resulting intensified and altered encounters with Ottoman lands fueled a growing interest in the ancient landscapes of the Middle East for a diverse group of European and Ottoman actors. In particular, two regions, rich in archaeological sites, were affected by modernization projects - western Anatolia with its early railroads and southern Mesopotamia with its steamboats and then its railways. Infrastructural modernization not only acted as a catalyst for new archaeological fieldwork, for example by making sites more accessible along railways, but the modernization of the region also directly impacted the way archaeology was practiced by a diversified group of actors. Tracing the development of archaeology as a scientific discipline within the context of a modernizing Ottoman Middle East helps us understand how science and technology have been put to work to study the past. While subjectivities, rooted in orientalism, colonialism and imperialism, affected the interpretation and reception of archaeological finds, the increasingly systematic and technologically dependent ways that the remnants of the past were explored both challenged and affirmed how people understood themselves and the world around them. Utilizing a range of sources, from archaeological reports and tourist guidebooks to correspondence generated by the expanding Ottoman bureaucracy, this presentation aims to situate the history of archaeological exploration in the Ottoman Empire during the second half of the nineteenth century within the complex dynamics of modernization and the concurrent transformations of technologies and the conceptual developments of science.