Istanbul Memories

An interdisciplinary and international research project of the Orient-Institut Istanbul and academic cooperation partners

As a consequence of the political developments following World War I, the Ottoman Empire has been treated by a great number of historians above all as an intrinsic part of Turkish national history. Although the academic community has recognized that the Ottoman Empire was in fact multiethnic and multicultural, this recognition has only rarely been translated into scholarly practice. This is due in large part to the fragmentation of Ottoman studies into various academic disciplines that only rarely communicate with one another. E.g., Turkish-language literature predominantly produced by Muslims is treated by Turkish Literature experts and Turkologists in the West; Ottoman Ladino literature falls within the purview of Romance studies; the empire’s Greeks are the responsibility of Byzantine and Hellenic studies.

This project aims to bring all of these perspectives together in a historically specific and responsible way. It takes as its starting point first-person narratives written in key late Ottoman literary languages (Arabic, Armenian, Greek, various languages of the Balkans, Ladino, Turkish, and French) in the period spanning from the late 18th to the early 20th century. The geographic focus of the project is historical Constantinople/ Istanbul, whose population was up to one-half non-Muslim through the nineteenth century. Many of these autobiographies, diaries and other ego documents (Jacques Presser) –perhaps a majority of them–, were produced in nationalist contexts following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and thus offer a very particular, often skewed, view of the Ottoman past. In doing so, they point to the methodological challenges of using first-person accounts as historical sources, and make the project a fundamentally interdisciplinary and international endeavor.

This project is coordinated by Dr. Richard Wittmann (Orient-Institut Istanbul, www.oiist.org) in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Christoph Herzog (Lehrstuhl für Turkologie, Universität Bamberg, http://www.uni-bamberg.de/turkologie/). It aims at collecting, recovering and rereading these texts as sources for the study of late Ottoman social realities in all their inclusiveness and complexities. It aims at collecting, recovering and rereading these texts as sources for the study of late Ottoman social realities in all their inclusiveness and complexities.

For inquiries, please contact:

info@istanbulmemories.org