“Hürriyet" in the Name of the Machine: Singer Sewing Machines in the Late Nineteenth Century Ottoman Empire and the Changing Nature of the Ottoman Household

By Ceyda Karamursel
Submitted to Session P2072 (Situating Slavery in the Context of the Nineteenth-Century Middle East, 2009 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
The main purpose of this proposed project is to look at an object, the sewing machine; its arrival and reception in the late Ottoman Empire. The sewing machine, from its inception in 1850s until the mid-twentieth century had a peculiar character, it would seem, not only in the Ottoman Empire but throughout the world: it was modern, yet at the same time traditional, it was consumed but for the purpose of production, it was foreign, yet it was quickly nationalized during
the times when the nationalist sentiments were at their highest. Such was the case when Singer
Company introduced a model called Hürriyet, meaning freedom, during the proclamation of the
Second Constitution in 1908, which had been demanded with the slogans of “Freedom, Justice,
Equality and Brotherhood.”

Hürriyet heralded not only the return to the constitutional regime and representational
government but also, in literal terms, the official ending of slavery in Ottoman Empire. Yet,
before Hürriyet, nameless other models of the sewing machine, arriving in the empire roughly in
the last quarter of the nineteenth century and advertised at least in the 1890s as a domestic item, presumably had touched Ottoman Empire’s largely domestic slave population. This project aims, through a series of questions, to understand the nature and possible outcomes of these presumed encounters. For instance, what sort of sewing techniques did the sewing machine replace in the domestic settings? How was it advertised? What did women and, in a more indirect way, men think about the domestic usage of the sewing machine? How and where did they learn to use it? Who was it that bought it? More specifically, what were the implications of hard stitches and
endurable clothing? How did it, or did it, change people’s ways of dressing or life-styles? In
short, by positing such questions and inquiring about some of the forces that governed and
transformed the Ottoman household, this project hopes to shed light on how slaves themselves were transformed to fit into an advancing new social and economic order.