Pocket Monuments of Historical Consciousness: Calendars and Almanacs in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic, 1875-1945

By Ceyda Karamursel
Submitted to Session P2792 (Materiality of Social Transformation in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, 1875-1945, 2011 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire; Turkey;
19th-21st Centuries;
Walter Benjamin once called calendars as monuments of historical consciousness. For him the first day of a calendar could be likened to a “historical time-lapse camera,” and that same day recurred over and over again, “in the guise of holidays.” Thus, calendars did not measure time, like clocks did by marking the passage of a minute, an hour, a day – dividing time into discreet segments. They, instead, marked what was there to be remembered and inadvertently erased what was not worthy to remember.
Taking Benjamin's observation as its point of departure, this paper looks at calendars and almanacs published in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic between 1870s and 1940s, in an attempt to understand how these items of popular reading helped to construct historical consciousness and served to maintain (or break) cultural continuities. Through a close examination of the content, as well as the paratextual material of two widely read almanacs (namely, Takvim-i Ebüzziya for the Ottoman and Saatli Maarif Takvimi for the republican eras), the first part of this proposed presentation addresses following questions: What events and practices were featured in these calendars and almanacs? How did they change over the decades? What were the concerns expressed by their authors and publishers? In its second part, the paper shifts its focus away from the almanacs and their makers to the readership and explores those who read these almanacs. Did the young and the old, women and men read them the same way or differently? In what ways writing constituted a part in this practice? Finally, through an analysis of such modernizing efforts as calendrical or scriptural change, the paper aims to understand different ways in which cultural practices, continuities or ruptures were experienced at a personal level.