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Food, Animals, Poetry, and Marriage: New Approaches for Studying Individuals and Communities at the Margins of Early Modern Ottoman Social History

Session IV-06, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
While there is consensus that the early modern period was a time of considerable flux for the Ottoman imperial administration that both impacted, and in some cases, transformed Ottoman society in general, we still know comparatively little about how “ordinary” Ottoman subjects weathered these tumultuous centuries. Recent decades have seen scholars thoroughly challenge the longstanding statist and elite-centred focus of Ottoman studies and broaden the working definition of Ottoman “social history” from imperial institutions, administrative practises, and systems to include the “everyday” experiences of the communities who constituted the empire’s demographic majority. They have done so by applying multiple and overlapping categories of analysis such as class, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or yet other positional indices to their sources. The papers that comprise this panel all seek to continue and expand this tradition by highlighting the social-historical experience of Ottoman individuals and communities who currently exist at the margins of Ottoman studies, even if they were not all utterly marginal during their own lifetimes. At the same time, each paper also engages in a critical reevaluation of aspects of the Ottoman normative establishment, whether legal, courtly, culinary, or provincial, as a means to complicate our understanding of the many hegemonic forces at work in the Ottoman world by examining them through the eyes of understudied groups. Drawing on perspectives from animal studies, food history, social network analysis, and mobility studies, among other fields, this panel aims to render the experiences, practises, and lifeways of historiographically marginal individuals and communities more visible by using source genres that remain under-represented in Ottoman social history or by creatively, yet critically, (re)interpreting genres that are already established in the field The first paper investigates how the lower-ranking and multitudinous members of the Ottoman learned establishment self-fashioned themselves and positioned themselves critically towards the Ottoman political regime and social order. The second paper analyses the violent local consequences of Ottoman courtly residence for the humans and animals living in Anatolian and Rumelian municipalities as portrayed by both Ottoman and non-Ottoman observers operating largely, or totally outside of the court retinue’s social nexus. The third paper takes food as a vantage point to reconstruct how dietary differences paralleled the social stratification of Ottoman society. The final paper challenges narratives of masculine power in Ottoman Algeria by highlighting the agency of women in shaping social politics and arbitrating the social networks of the regional ruling elite.
  • This paper investigates the forms of self‑fashioning and positionalities among the Ottoman learned elites and ties these efforts into a discussion about the perception of state power in Ottoman society during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Taking the premise that power and resistance can co‑exist, the paper identifies acts of defiance among the Ottoman litterateurs. Various demonstrations of “centrifugal” attitudes fall into this category, including the writing of satires, leaving the scholarly profession to seek alternative employments, performatively engaging in improper professional conduct, or expressing sympathy with ideas which were deemed antinomian and heretical. Although these undertakings were far from being overt critiques of power, or maybe even conscious ones, they did urge the Ottoman centre to continuously neutralise and re-implant these individuals in its own mechanisms. The scholarship on the Ottoman learned establishment has hitherto highlighted the hardships met by Ottoman scholar‑jurists who wanted to advance to the higher echelons of the competitive career track through its numerous increments. Yet, their individual lives and personal worldviews have only recently started to attract scholarly attention. The biographical dictionaries, concerned with the lives of the Ottoman scholars and poets, reveal numerous cases in which students, scholars, and litterateurs combined their posts with other preoccupations, sought alternatives to state service or quit the career path altogether. As the selection criterion to be included in a biographical compendium of poets was not necessarily one’s rank in the scholar‑jurist career track, these texts provide valuable insights into the lives and careers of the less‑prominent members of the scholar‑jurist hierarchy as well as of those litterateurs outside of the career path. Poetry collections further reveal personal opinions recorded by learned individuals regarding the political and social order of which they were a part. By considering a wider range of opinions and actions by the members of the Ottoman learned establishment, the paper strives towards a more holistic understanding of the relationship between the Ottoman regime and its intellectual elites during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
  • This paper traces popular and intellectual approaches to the access and consumption of food in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Focusing on three aspects of early modern diet; bread, meat, and wine, it compares dietary differences as well as reactions to these differences among various groups in the Ottoman Empire. Doing so, this paper brings together uncustomary sources such as travel accounts, scientific treatises, court registers, and poems, and calls to study food history as a social and political critique in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Bread, or any sort of grain, makes up the basis for human diet, and at the same time, its consumption is most indicative of social stratification. The early modern Ottoman society was no exception. While bread constituted the main staple in all households, its variety as well as ratio pointed to social status. While Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (d.1730) provides a foreign perspective onto the consumption of bread among the elite and the military, Evliya Çelebi’s (d.1682) Seyahatname illuminates the role of bread in various part of the Ottoman Empire. The access and quality of bread provide a significant look into popular expressions of critical attitudes towards the Ottoman regime. Meat is yet another most critical element of consumption. The elite consumption of game went hand in hand with the basic and typical consumption sheep. This, of course, calls for distinguishing hunting as an elite activity, practiced in the imperial court. The elite interest in hunting, as a free time sport, contrasts with herding as an essential human necessity. Thus, the contrasts between herding sheep or hunting game parallel the dietary difference between the consumption of sheep or game. Wine constitutes yet another aspect of elite consumption, especially in the Ottoman Empire, where it is a “forbidden pleasure” as indicated by Priscella Mary Işın. Poems offer more as to the extent and practice of wine consumption among various classes. For the elite wine consumption, miniatures and paintings provide us with an illustrative tool to contextualize the place of wine in the early modern imperial setting, demonstrating the differences among various groups in the Ottoman Empire not only in consumption, but also in the transparency of consumption.
  • Most histories of Ottoman Algeria focus on masculine forms of political power. This study, however, considers the networks that Ottoman officials and local elites co-constructed through marriage and political appointments - networks that were essential to the preservation of imperial authority. Ironically, the Sultan had banned the very unions that maintained Ottoman sovereignty in Algeria, but due its increasingly marginalized position within the empire, officials in the regency were able to stretch beyond the confines of official policy. Through their acceptance or denial of imperial officials’ marriage proposals, Algerian women, then, served as arbiters of Ottoman administrators’ right to rule and either conferred power or marked the suitor as unworthy of high office. Therefore, women played a significant role in shaping Ottoman-Algerian social politics and maintaining Ottoman sovereignty. To understand how women, marriage, and kinship connections legitimated Ottoman rule, I employed both text-mining and close-reading techniques to construct a social network graph that incorporates both named actors and unnamed, most of whom were women. The few extant fragments of knowledge from Ottoman Algeria emerge from French and Arabic chronicles of the governors, travel narratives, and consular records.Through text mining to extract named and unnamed entities and social network visualization to illustrate their relationships, unnamed women’s spectral presence may be recovered and represented despite their absence in the archival record. These kinship connections and the sub-communities to which they give rise can be meaningfully investigated quantitatively using social network analysis measures, such as betweenness centrality scores. By examining these quantitative measures, we learn more about both named and unnamed women’s positions within the structure of Ottoman-Algerian society. Through an analysis of the individual lives, relationships and underlying structure that make up the Ottoman-Algerian network in Constantine between 1567 and 1837, I argue that Algerian women were essential intercultural mediators and conduits to power.