[R4727] Defining Early Modernity in Ottoman History

Created by Bogac Ergene
Tuesday, 11/21/17 10:30am


This event will focus on "early modernity" in the Ottoman context. In Western historiography, "early modern" is often used for settings that are difficult to characterize: specifically, milieus that are neither medieval ("post-medieval") nor modern ("pre-modern"). Thus, the label has a heuristic utility, emphasizing the transitional nature of the contexts to which it is applied. Why and how these settings are considered to be transitional are issues on which scholars have disagreed, based on their different understandings of societal development and modernization, which range from Weberian to Marxist-inspired, from predominantly economic or technology-focused to more politically oriented, from Euro-centric to globally conscious.

The notion of early modernity has recently come to be popularly employed in the scholarly literature on Ottoman history mainly to discuss how Ottoman political, administrative, and military structures were transformed between circa 1600 and 1800. Building upon previous debates on Ottoman periodization, the adoption of the term early modern has been an attempt to transcend the limits of labels such as "post-classical" and period-specific designations such as "decline," "consolidation," and "decentralization." The notion has also garnered appeal as a way to counter the still-popular perception of Ottoman exceptionalism by bringing to the fore the historical overlaps between specific aspects of Ottoman state and society and its Eurasian counterparts, as part of broader world or global history discussions.

Nevertheless, the relative vagueness of the notion of early modernity remains a problem. Many Ottomanists use the label merely to mark a period that has resisted previous attempts at categorization. For others, the term is linked to a specific set of arrangements, practices, and institutions that they associate with (eventual) "modernity," defined according to European models; thus, its use entails a range of teleological and Orientalist traps.

The roundtable aims to encourage the critical (re)conceptualization of Ottoman early modernity as a conceptual tool and chronological designation. It will do so by exploring the possible definitions and attributes of early modernity in the Ottoman context and the historiographical implications of the use of this notion in the study of Ottoman history in general, but also specifically in the realms of Ottoman politics, culture, law, literature, military administration, sciences, and arts. The conversation will reflect on the possible roots and particularities of Ottoman early modernity in relation to non-Ottoman models and how assertions that insist on this notion's historiographical aptness and utility might be empirically tested.






Virginia Aksan

(McMaster University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Linda T. Darling

(University of Arizona)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Palmira Brummett

(Brown University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Jane Hathaway

(Ohio State University)
MESA Board of Directors
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Bogac Ergene

(University of Vermont)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Organizer;

Antonis Hadjikyriacou

(Bogazici University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;