Living in an ‘Afro-Eurasian’ Port-Town: Daily Life and Sociocultural Interactions in the Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Galata

By Ali Atabey
Submitted to Session P4754 (The Allure of the Mundane: What to Do with the Micro and the Daily in Middle East History?, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
13th-18th Centuries;
In 1617, Fatma Hatun, an ordinary Ottoman woman, agreed to pay the Venetian merchant Pavlo to save her son, a war captive imprisoned on Chios Island. Fatma Hatun’s ability to contact Pavlo reveals various crucial points related to contact, fluidity, and interdependence in 17th-century Galata, the main commercial and diplomatic district of the Ottoman capital Istanbul. This paper takes as its subject the lived experiences of Europeans and local Ottoman subjects with a specific emphasis on their sociocultural interactions at the ground level. As evidence, I utilize an extensive set of archival sources composed of legal court records, commercial records, consular reports, diplomatic correspondence, and personal writings.
In tracing individual trajectories of Galata’s permanent and temporary residents, this paper combines micro- and macro-historical approaches. In doing so, it aims both to conduct an in-depth analysis of the interactions and networks within Galata and to connect this Mediterranean hub with world-historical processes of the seventeenth century. First, by utilizing a micro-historical perspective, it closely investigates the everyday lives of Galata’s heterogeneous inhabitants through evaluation of issues like network formations, marriage, illness, housing, and socialization at coffeehouses, public baths, brothels, and taverns. Second, it establishes linkages between larger processes, such as the changes in global trade and politics, and the local and regional dynamics of the Mediterranean hub of Istanbul. The combination of these two historical approaches provides a vivid picture that situates within a coherent narrative the social and cultural interactions between Europeans and local Ottomans subjects and the ways in which Galata’s local history intertwines regional and global histories.
Besides its epistemological objectives, this paper tackles several important historiographical questions through the case of Galata: whether and to what degree is a micro history of a dynamic and well-connected port-town meaningful?; what are the uses and limits of legal court records in writing micro-histories of early modern port-towns?; and how micro- and macro-historical processes can be tied together in a meaningful way within a single narrative? By seeking answers to these questions, I aim to contribute to the growing yet insufficient body of literature on micro and everyday histories of the Middle East. I argue that micro histories of early modern port-towns like Galata can help us understand early modern European-Middle Eastern interactions on their own terms without transferring modern habits of thought to its study.