[P5830] Show Me the Money: New Histories of Capitalism in the Ottoman World
Created by Choon Hwee Koh
Friday, 10/16/20 11:00 am
SUMMARY:The relative decline of political economy approaches in Ottoman historiography since the cultural turn of the 1980s has ceded the territory to older, Marxist-inflected scholarship and, more recently, the New Institutional Economists. Both groups tended to favour quantitative approaches to their sources, whether they were working with tax registers, fiscal documents, or commercial statistics. Whether focusing on the sixteenth or the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, their studies have contributed a great deal to the study of Ottoman economic history, even if they assume an institutional equilibrium within the empire. What their often sweeping arguments about Ottoman institutional stasis fail to capture, however, are the new infrastructures of exchange and finance that appeared from the late-seventeenth century to the last quarter of the nineteenth century as a direct byproduct of Ottoman governance.
This panel responds to both historiographies by introducing new, empirical materials that illuminate the institutions that modulated a host of economic activities in the Ottoman empire from 1690 to 1881. The papers examine the work of smugglers who sought to evade the new salt monopoly in the 1860s and 1870s; communications infrastructure in the Ottoman empire that encouraged the growth of medium-distance regional trade; and the relationship between evkaf and the formal banking sector. Inspired by the New History of Capitalism, these papers combine both quantitative and qualitative approaches, adopt a comparative perspective, and utilize a diverse range of sources to demonstrate how the infrastructures of Ottoman exchange were inflected by common actors. What they reveal is a hitherto overlooked history of institutional development carried out by local actors and only obliquely captured in state-centric narratives. By reclaiming economic history from an exclusive focus on numerical data and by bringing the ‘social’ back into the economic sphere, these papers ask what new histories of capitalism in the Ottoman Empire and broader Islamic world would look like.