Strategies of Display during the Late-Ottoman Era: The Imperial Museum and The Imperial Treasury

By Nilay Ozlu
Submitted to Session P4973 (Law, Legitimacy, and Laziness in Late Ottoman Imperial Culture, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
During the late-19th and early-20th century, Ottoman Empire went through a period of intense transformation and modernization and the Ottoman rulers used various strategies of legitimization and display to confirm their power and sovereignty. The politics of legitimization were targeting not only the subjects of the empire but aimed at presenting the prosperity and modernity of the empire to foreign gaze as well. The past was also utilized as a tool for promoting the regime and confirmed the dynastic continuity of the Ottoman sultans. Within this context, the Topkap? Palace was positioned as a showcase of history and Ottoman possession of the past with the establishment of the Imperial Museum and opening of Imperial Treasury for touristic visits.
During the Hamidian era, the Archeological Museum (Müze-i Hümayun)was institutionalized and reached Western standards. Together with the School of Fine Arts, a new and modern Archeology Museum building were erected in neoclassical style in the outer gardens of the Topkap? Palace. Modern cataloging and displaying strategies were adopted, which reflected the modernizing face of the empire. Thus, the archeology museum, with its collections composed mainly of Greco-Roman antiquities, reflected the Westernized and modernized face of the empire, manifesting itself as a part of the European league.
However, within the walls of the same imperial complex, a couple hundred meters away from the Imperial Museum, a different strategy for display and self-representation was followed. After the abandonment of the Topkap? Palace by Ottoman rulers during the 19th century, inner courts of the palace and the Imperial Treasury (Hazine-i Hümayun) were opened for touristic visits and became one of the major tourist attractions of Istanbul. A certain choreographed tour was performed, creating a mystic, yet exotic experience for foreign gaze. This self-orientalist spectacle, aimed at utilizing Ottoman past as an authentic scene to represent Ottoman glory.
Using a great deal of primary sources from various archives, local and foreign newspapers, periodicals, memoirs, travel accounts, photographs, videos, engravings, paintings, and postcards, I hope to present the politics of self representation and the foundation of first museums in the Ottoman Empire: one emulating a Western model of museology and the other adopting a self-orientalist strategy for representing the lost glory of the empire. This research hopes to shed light on different strategies of self-display performed within the same imperial complex.