Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Meltem Toksoz ─ On Late Ottoman History Writing: Is There a New Kind?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

12 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room

Register for lunch by emailing CMES@Brown.edu.

Middle East Studies Luncheon Seminar with Meltem Toksoz, associate director of history, and director of Center for Asian Studies, Bogacizi University.

Ottoman “narrative sources” such as chronicles and historiography — not to mention biographies, fiction, diaries and political essays — have been neglected, perhaps with the exception of fifteenth-century sources, for a long time in favor of archival sources and first cadastres under the influence of the “Annales” school and the works of Ö.L. Barkan, then judicial archives as well as other document series. When used, Ottoman historical writing from any age has served as primary source. However, during the last twenty years, grosso modo, there has been a turn of attention towards Ottoman narrative sources. In the same period, a tremendous production of transcriptions and scholarly editions have appeared, especially in Turkey.

In addition, the existing scholarship has already established a powerful motif of transformation in late Ottoman history writing toward the standards of objective and documented historicism. In other words, late Ottoman historiography has been discussed as a refashioning along European lines within the context of the Tanzimat era. Similarly, this late Ottoman historicism has been viewed as the result of mere translation, which in turn pointed to an understanding of Ottoman modernization only as a linear development of positivistic Westernization, without any input of its own.

In her research, Toksoz attempts to contextualize history writings in the late empire as narratives in their own right and she analyzes the ways in which they defined the study of the past. She will pay particular attention to the world of universal history texts as part of an analysis of the much complicated intellectual, historiographical and educational legacy of the last era of the Ottoman Empire in a combined framework. Indeed, historical works produced outside chronicle writing allow us to study a variety of practices and forms of historical knowledge, particularly after the opening of higher education institutions in the Ottoman Empire. One of these histoires universelles, that of Mehmed Murad written in the 1870s in 6 volumes (Tarih-i Umumi) was used as a textbook in the Mekteb-i Mülkiye, while those penned by Ahmed Midhat were first published as newspaper series. Meltem Toksoz believes such universal histories embody what she will -for now- call a new genre that simultaneously embodies Ottomanism, historicism and public education; signaling perhaps, a multiplicity of Ottoman historical/intellectual/academic genres.

Middle East Studies