The description is submitted to:


Session C5036 (Is There a Modern Muslim Mediterranean?), 2017
I would like to focus on how and why the Eastern Mediterranean emerged as a meaningful unit of analysis for understanding historical processes in the long 19thC. What factors lent coherence to it as a distinctive geographic space? What made commercial ports like Salonika, Constantinople, Smyrna, Beirut, and Alexandria more comparable to one another than to their counterparts on the western shores of the Mediterranean? Especially since the publication of the special issue “Port-Cities of the Eastern Mediterranean, 1800-1914” (Keyder, Kasaba and Tabak, 1993), the Eastern Mediterranean has been recognized as a region bound together, shaped, and integrated through the rise of global capitalist trade networks. This conceptualization, akin to what Arjun Appadurai refers to as “process geography,” has told us a great deal about the ascendance of certain global flows (like capital-intensive infrastructure projects) in the Eastern Mediterranean; who the main global-local agents of this dominance were; and whom these processes empowered or marginalized. But it has been unable to account for why, despite the existence of similar world-systemic flows and networks around the Mediterranean, the Eastern Mediterranean generated more shared spaces, practices, and identities than other parts of the same sea. Hence, without losing sight of what world systems approach has taught us, I suggest a foregrounding of the role the Ottoman state played in the production and maintenance of a relatively integrated and distinctive Eastern Mediterranean landscape. As an architectural and urban historian, my methodological and disciplinary penchant calls for a close reading of the urban fabric and the actors who produced it. Such a granular approach to space reveals a variety of transactions and legalities that were produced either by the Ottoman state or through the interactions of various state and non-state actors working within Ottoman institutional frameworks. In other words, despite its flaws and vulnerabilities, the Ottoman state, the common element across a very wide region, facilitated complex self-definitions and interactions that eschewed fixed categories bounded by ethnicity, religion, or provenance. Indeed, pluralistic modalities of citizenship, identity, and civic engagement continued to thrive in the Eastern Mediterranean (sometimes well into the 20thC) at a time when nation-state demands for uniformity had taken hold in other parts of the Mediterranean. In short, I argue that, while not central, the Ottoman state helped the production of a cognate landscape with shared characteristics in the terrains that remained within its domain, albeit with various degrees of sovereign control.