Urban Modernity and Steamboats in Ottoman Istanbul

By Beyza Lorenz
Submitted to Session P5006 (Histories of Infrastructure and Techno-politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In the second part of the nineteenth century, Istanbul witnessed a major urban transformation and introduction of new forms of transportation. The establishment of ?irket-i Hayriye steamboat company in 1851 introduced the residents of Istanbul to rapid travel through the major arteries of the city: the Golden Horn and the Bosporus. Along with intensified publication, translation, and communication activities, the steamboat quickly became an integral part of the newly developing prose fiction. While scholars have addressed the importance of carriages and cars in modern Ottoman and Turkish literature, the central role of the steamboat in Ottoman urban modernity has not yet been acknowledged. In this paper, I seek to contribute to the discussion on urban mobility and modernity in the Ottoman Empire and I argue that the liminal space of the steamboat served as a contact zone where established boundaries of gender and identity were challenged. This liminal space became the epitome of the flux, change, and ephemerality that marked modern urban spaces. Particularly two key nineteenth-century Ottoman novels — Ahmet Midhat’s Mü?ahedat (Observations) and Recaizade Ekrem’s Araba Sevdas? (Love of Cars) — use the steamboat as a transient space of simultaneous integration and differentiation in a cosmopolitan setting. By close-reading these two novels, this paper seeks to answer the questions of how these new technologies transformed the way urban dwellers perceived space and how steamboats served as micro-spaces of urban mobility and changing notions of gender in nineteenth-century Ottoman ?stanbul.