[P6535] Legal belonging and imperial jurisdiction in the Ottoman Maghrib (18th-20th c.)

Created by Youssef Ben Ismail
Tuesday, 11/30/21 2:00 pm


This panel explores the relationship between legal belonging and identity making in the Ottoman Maghrib from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. The papers examine the quickly evolving and highly contested history of categories of subjecthood as they were applied to -and claimed by- North Africans. During this period, the Ottoman Maghrib increasingly fell prey to European imperialism. In this context, legal debates pertaining to subjecthood, citizenship, and nationality had far-reaching consequences, both for the lives of ordinary individuals and for the policies of empires. From the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, the question of what it meant to be the “subject,” “citizen,” or “national” of a state became the object of passionate arguments and high-stakes disputes in courts of justice, imperial chanceries and personal petitions. Taken together, the four papers shed light on these claims and situate them in the broader context of the history of Ottoman-European imperial rivalries in North Africa.

The first paper examines a corpus of late eighteenth-century petitions which North African captives enslaved in Europe wrote to their rulers in North Africa in order to ask for their liberation. These captives were enslaved in foreign lands. How can their petitions shed light on the way they conceived of their own legal status vis-à-vis their state of origin? The second paper focuses on the legal arguments and administrative paperwork deployed by Algerian émigrés in the Ottoman Empire in order to claim French nationality following the conquest of Algiers in 1830. Following their colonization of Algeria, France claimed jurisdiction over Algerians who had been previously treated as regular subjects by the Ottomans. How did Algerians navigate this new economy of legal belonging? The third paper looks at another émigré community in the Ottoman Empire, namely that of Tunisians. Despite the establishment of a French protectorate in Ottoman Tunis in 1881, Istanbul continued to claim sovereignty over the province and jurisdiction over its people. The paper examines the legal ways in which the Sublime Porte argued in favor of the Ottoman nationality of Tunisians. The fourth paper takes a microhistorical approach to constructing an autochthonous understanding of citizenship in Tunisia. Using the debates over the nationality of a Jewish government official who died in Italy in 1873, it argues that North African Muslims and Jews conceived of citizenship as rooted in Islamic tradition, rather than as a concept imported from Europe.


American Institute for Maghrib Studies (AIMS)


Hist; Hist




Jessica Marglin

(University of Southern California)
Jessica Marglin’s research focuses broadly on the history of Jewish-Muslim relations in North Africa during the modern and early-modern periods. Her dissertation examines how Jews used the various legal institutions available to them in nineteenth-century...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Lale Can

(CUNY, City College and Graduate Center)
Lâle Can is an associate professor of history at The City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center. She specializes in late Ottoman history, focusing on migration and questions of imperial belonging. She is the author of Spiritual Subjects: Central...
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

M'Hamed Oualdi

(Sciences Po - Paris)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Youssef Ben Ismail

(Columbia University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Noureddine Amara

(Kamel Center. Yale Law Scholl)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;