Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire: The Design of Difference
WOMEN AND SLAVERY IN THE LATE OTTOMAN EMPIRE – Book Sample
Preface and acknowledgments – WOMEN AND SLAVERY IN THE LATE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire is a study of slavery in a particular time and place. it is in some respects, then, a local history. At its center is the city of Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, with the period of the eighteenth century through the 1830s as the time line for slavery’s portrait there.
Although the book has a specific geographical anchoring, any consideration of social practice in an imperial capital of Istanbul’s size and stature is ultimately about more than the habits and byways of the city and its residents. To be sure, the capital cannot stand for the entirety of the empire, but as its largest city and administrative center, it was deeply implicated in the life and well-being of Ottoman subjects elsewhere.
Notwithstanding the book’s microhistorical features, it is alsa intended to add to farther-reaching discussions regarding the place of slaveholding in human affairs beyond the Ottoman center and even beyond the Middle East. By exploring the social contours of the Ottoman trade as it functioned in the region of the capital, I have been interested in reconstructing this piece of the past for its distinctive roots, context, and temporal shifts, in short, for its own history.
As with any history of “its own,” however, the study is alsa implicitly – and here, sometimes explicitly – comparative. This is especially the case with regard to previous generations and other regions of the Mediterranean over which the Ottoman Empire was sovereign.
The purpose of comparison, however, is not to provide a parallel story. Rather, it is to underscore the singular and not-so singular features of this Ottoman Middle Eastem example of the practice of slavery.
I have also sought to engage with the growing body of historical writing on slavery in the Middle Eastem and lslamic past. in addressing the political dimensions of Ottoman slavery in the long eighteenth century, the book takes issue with two related histories, that of Middle Eastem and Ottoman slaveries, which foregrounds male and ethnic categories, and that regarding the Ottoman reform era, which, in neglecting the gendered parameters of Ottoman politics and early reformism, arrives at another, fundamentally male, story.
The centrality of women and female slavery, as social realities and as representations of Ottoman sovereignty and its vulnerabilities in the period of the study, constitutes the core argument of the book and the main counterpoint ta the conventional wisdom.
in arguing far the importance of gender – indeed, far its overriding importance in the place and period of the study – 1 also take issue with some of the perspectives of world-history narratives. The greater inclusiveness of world history and maritime and transnational farmulations has shed welcome light on intercontinental linkages and legacies, nowhere more so than in the his tory of trade and the circulation of valued commodities in the early modem era.
The study of slave trading has arguably been the primary beneficiary of world perspectives. Historians of Africa and the Americas especially have been involved in mapping and assessing the linkages and reciprocities among Africa and the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean trades. Significant findings have crowned their inquirie but not without cost to local context and conjunctural change.
An insistence on detail and specificity is the usual historian’s riposte to any attempt at universal history. Nonetheless, it speaks ta abiding epistemological concems.
The privileging of continuities and commonalities tends to reinfarce Eurocentric categories and premises or, in the case of slavery studies in partic ular, Atlantic-derived categories, most notably those of race and Africanness. Color was undeniably important in Middle Eastem and North African slavery in the period. Still, it did not hold the same value as in the Atlantic context, nor did race play the structuring role that it did in the Americas. in any case, blackness and Africanness are and remain unstable and subjective descriptors. Middle Eastem and North African bodies did not and do not comfartably fit the Atlantic_ frames of reference that characterize much of the conversation about world slavery inside and outside academe. Although Women and Slavery in the La.te Ottoman Empire disputes such racial framing, its larger purpose is to attend to historical complexity in context and to the contingencies of social values and organization within that context.
I anı indebted to the University of Maryland General Research Board far its generous and timely awards in support of the research far this book. 1 anı most deeply appreciative ofa yearlong grant from the National Humanities Center and the Tri Delta Foundation in 2005-6.
The grant provided me with uninter rupted writing time at the National Humanities Center, the wonderful luxury of expert and attentive support staff, and the warm and vibrant community of fellow scholars in the humanities. My earlier work on social regulation and women in the Ottoman Empire, both of which are faundational to the present study, was made possible by grants from the U.S. Fulbright Program, which has been far me, since my graduate-student days, an indispensable partal to the study of the Middle East.
Modern Turkish usage has been followed here for Ottoman Turkish terms and names. Exceptions are made for words in the text that have been absorbed into English. Thus, when the choice has been mine to make (as opposed to biblio graphical citations, quotations, and the like),pasha is written rather thanpaşa, agha rather than ağa, and so on.
Otherwise, the spelling ofTurkish words gen erally conforms to that employed in the Redhouse Yeni Türkçe-İngilizce Sözlük/ New Redhouse Turkish-English Dictionary (1968; repr., Istanbul, 1979). The number of diacritical marks has been further reduced, however, in the interests of readability but without, it is hoped, loss of meaning. For Arabic and Persian names and terms that are not a part of quoted material or bibliographical citations, a simplified system of romanization has been used.
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