PhD Dissertations

2019
Balikcioglu, Efe. “A Coherence of Incoherences: Graeco-Arabic Philosophy and the Fifteenth-Century Ottoman Synthesis of Philosophy with Sharia.” History and MES, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The fifteenth-century Ottoman world was a dynamic seedbed of philosophical and theological debates and was particularly marked by numerous adjudications produced by certain celebrated scholars who synthesized different domains of knowledge—whether it was speculative theology, philosophy or Sufism. This dissertation focuses on two important adjudications written on the renowned twelfth-century theologian Abū Ḥamīd al-Ghazālī’s (d. 505/1111) Tahāfut al-falāsifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), which arbitrates between Arabic philosophy and theology.

Sultan Meḥemmed II ordered two prominent Ottoman scholars of his time, Ḫocazāde Muṣliḥ al-Dīn (d. 893/1488) and cAlā’ al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 887/1482), to prepare an adjudication on al-Ghazālī’s arguments. Sources indicate that the Sultan ultimately favored Ḫocazāde’s text. This study focuses on Ḫocazāde’s and al-Ṭūsī’s responses to the discussion of secondary causation and occasionalism in al-Ghazālī’s Discussion Seventeen on how existent things interact with each other and come into being in nature in concomitance with God’s all-encompassing power. Ḫocazāde particularly defended certain aspects of Graeco-Arabic philosophy (i.e. the Aristotelian-Avicennan philosophical tradition), whereas al-Ṭūsī favored the more orthodox Ashcarite approach, in which he denied the agency and the causal contribution of any being other than God. This examination argues that Ḫocazāde’s response to this discussion indicates why he was included among the seven select scholars who synthesized philosophy with Sharīca according to the seventeenth-century encyclopedist and savant Kātib Çelebi (d. 1068/1657). Ḫocazāde’s and al-Ṭūsī’s divergent approaches to the issues of secondary causation and occasionalism typify other formulations in the fifteenth-century Ottoman world that combined different aspects of Graeco-Arabic philosophy, speculative theology, and Sunnī creed, constituting a synthesis.

This study assays the works of Ḫocazāde and al-Ṭūsī in physics, metaphysics and speculative theology with regard to the common medrese handbooks studied during the fifteenth-century, as well as their responses to al-Ghazālī’s aforementioned work—in comparative perspective with a third approach espoused by Şemseddīn Aḥmed bin Mūsā, also known as Ḫayālī (d. 875/1470?). This study traces the formulations of Ḫocazāde, al-Ṭūsī, and Ḫayālī in common medrese handbooks of the time by documenting how their approaches were motivated by post-classical scholars such as Athīr al-Dīn al-Abharī (d. 663/1255?), Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 672/1274) and al-Sayyid al-Sharīf al-Jurjānī (d. 816/1413). This research highlights a new group of scholars emerging in the second half of the fifteenth century, hailed as “verifiers” (al-muḥaqqiqūn), who were able to synthesize various philosophical and theological formulations from differing textual traditions. Ḫocazāde epitomized this new scholar type, developing a coherent argument by incorporating elements from Graeco-Arabic philosophy and speculative theology.

Kurtic, Ekin. “Sedimented Encounters: Dams, Conservation, and Politics in Turkey.” Anthropology and MES, 2019. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation is an ethnography of socio-natural encounters that shape, and are shaped by, the building of dam infrastructures within the Çoruh River Watershed of Turkey. Known as one of the fastest-running rivers in the world, the Çoruh River has been converted into a hydropower “resource” over the last two decades, through the construction of fifteen large hydroelectric dams. In contrast to the imagery of dam reservoirs as giant infrastructures that simply conquer and erase the natural landscape, this dissertation traces the formulization of soil sedimentation in the reservoirs as a problem to be solved by watershed forestry, which has refashioned forests as protective infrastructures of “water resources” and hydraulic infrastructures. This refashioning, I show, occurs through sedimented histories of nation-state building, developmentalism, and authoritarian populism taking shape in material infrastructures and environments. My ethnographic research among the implementers of the Çoruh River Watershed Rehabilitation Project to prevent sedimentation in dams reveals the encounters between the foresters’ and upland villagers’ conceptualizations of abandoned mountainous farmlands as landscapes of natural recovery versus desolation. I then shift my focus to the valley floor and examine the making of the Yusufeli Dam reservoir as a process narrated and experienced by town inhabitants through the trope of (self-)sacrifice for the greater national interest. In response, local state officials intend to compensate for these sacrificed zones by relocating agricultural soil and local fruit trees. These practices of what I call salvage agriculture render the sedimented and laborious histories of working the land a resource to be tapped into for the reconstruction of a new town. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic research along the Çoruh Valley and its mountains, as well as five months of archival research in ministries and other institutions, Sedimented Encounters explores dam construction as a generative process that enacts and intertwines the making of “natural resources,” the nation-state and its developmental and conservationist endeavors, and the politics of negotiation and sacrifice. Along this process, I argue, socio-natural landscapes are produced simultaneously as places of natural recovery, (self)-sacrifice, and salvage.

2018
McGonigle, Ian. “Genomic Citizenship: Peoplehood and State in Israel and Qatar.” Anthropology and MES, 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation describes basic genetic research and biobanking of ethnic populations in Israel and Qatar. I track how biomedical research on ethnic populations relates to the political, economic, legal, and historical context of the states; to global trends in genetic medicine; and to the politics of identity in the context of global biomedical research. I describe the ways biology is becoming a site for negotiating identity in ethnic genetics, in discourse over rights to citizenship, in rare disease genetics, and in personalized medicine. The core focus of this work is the way the molecular realm is an emergent site for articulations of ethnonational identities in the contemporary Middle East. This is thus a study of Middle Eastern ethnonationalism and state building through the lens of biology, specifically genetics and biobanking. In revealing the complex interdigitations of genomic technologies and articulations of ethnonational identity, this scholarship informs the biopolitics of the contemporary Middle East. I find that societal conditions (emerging national identities, immigration, demographic pressures, enskillment of citizens, biomedical capacity building, and globalization of the economy), and technological affordances (such advances in the speed and power of genomic sequencing technologies, and the entailed promises of biomedical progress), collide to overdetermine biological iterations of ethnic identity, and I show that biobanking projects serve, to varying degrees, to inculcate an imagination of shared history; a collective community; and a healthy utopian future. I argue that the Israeli and Qatari national biobanks imagine participation in ‘global science’ while at the same time they reinforce local ethnic identities. The Israeli biobank reflects pre-existing ethnic identities in Israeli society, while the Qatari biobank preferentially emphasizes the emergent national character of the Qatari population. As a comparative study of genetics and ethnic identity in the contemporary Middle East, this research, therefore, speaks both to the social theory of the co-production of science and society and to the anthropology of nation and state building.

Salikuddin, Rubina. “Sufis, Saints, and Shrines: Piety in the Timurid Period, 1370-1507.” History and MES, 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation is a study on piety and religious practice as shaped by the experience of pilgrimage to these numerous saintly shrines in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Timurid Iran and Central Asia. Shrine visitation, or ziyārat, was one of the most ubiquitous Islamic devotional practices across medieval Iran and Central Asia, at times eliciting more zeal than obligatory rituals such as the Friday congregational prayer. This dissertation makes use of a broad source base including city histories, shrine visitation guides, compendiums of religious sciences, court histories, biographies of Sufis, endowment deeds, ethical or moral (akhlāq) treatises, and material culture in the form of architecture and epigraphical data. This work contributes to a better understanding of how Islam as a discursive tradition informed and was informed by the piety and religious practice of medieval Muslims of all classes. It challenges a vision of a monolithic Islamic orthopraxy by showing how the very fabric of Islam in medieval Iran and Central Asia represented both continuity with an Islamic past and a catering to local and contemporary needs.

The aim of this study is three-fold. First, it argues that the forms of ritual prescribed in the Timurid shrine manuals largely coalesced into a coherent program in this period and reflect a vernacular understanding of shrine visitation found in the more scholarly Islamic literature. It also demonstrates how the performance of the physical practices and oral litanies of the ziyārat formed part of the habitus of a pilgrim. Second, the hagiographic stories of the holy dead revered at these shrines represent tangible ideals of pious living for society to imitate. They point to the centrality of esotericism, miracle-working and a rigorous adherence to the Sharia in constructing this template. For example, a major part of the saintliness of Abū Yūsuf Hamadānī, an important saint buried in Samarkand, stems from his extreme religious observance. He is said to have made the Hajj thirty-three times, finished the Qur’an over a thousand times, memorized over seven hundred books on the religious sciences, received over two hundred and sixteen scholars and spent most of his life fasting. On the other hand, the patron saint of this same city, Shāh-i Zinda, is revered for his supernatural powers and his relation to the Prophet Muḥammad. This amplified reverence for the Prophet Muḥammad and his family demonstrates the increasing precedence of shrines of people genealogically linked to the Prophet Muḥammad as objects of veneration by the largely Sunni populations in the Timurid period.

The third and final aim of this dissertation is to provide a map of the actual places of pilgrimage and establish the importance of the “locality” of saints in creating a shared identity and history using the methods of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). It traces the ways that pilgrims would move through their cities to visit the various shrines scattered across the landscape. The journey to some shrines fell well within the normal daily movements of an inhabitant of a particular city, while other journeys proved more arduous, pointing to the possibility of a varied ziyārat experience. While many shrines were presented as single locations, there are instances when a pilgrim is advised to make a circuit of many important shrines in a certain area or of a certain type of holy person (e.g. prophets). The routes and spaces, along with mosques and madrasas, are embedded in a sacred geography of the city.

Liew, Han Hsien. “Piety, Knowledge, and Rulership in Medieval Islam: Ibn al-Jawzī’s Ameliorative Politics.” History and MES, 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation examines the political thought of Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201), a Sunni Muslim religious scholar who flourished as a preacher in twelfth-century Baghdad. During this period, Baghdad was the main arena of conflict between the Abbasid caliphs and the Seljuq sultans as both sides competed to exert control over the city. The militarized rule of the Seljuqs also entailed heavy taxation and harsh punitive measures on the populace. Through an intertextual reading of various genres in the Islamic intellectual tradition, this study reconstructs Ibn al-Jawzī’s intellectual response to the shifting political dynamics of the twelfth-century Islamic world.

This dissertation argues that Ibn al-Jawzī adopted an ameliorative approach to politics and emphasized the values of piety and religious knowledge as the hallmarks of ideal Islamic rulership. To ensure that the ruling authorities govern based on piety and the sharīʿa, Ibn al-Jawzī envisions a greater role for religious scholars in the political sphere. His ideal ruler is one who devotes himself to the Qurʾān and ḥadīth, adheres to Islamic legal and ritualistic precepts, and consults with scholars. These ideals depart from the dominant political discourses of his time that prioritize the ruler’s ability to maintain societal order, regardless of his moral and religious qualities. Yet Ibn al-Jawzī’s emphasis on piety and knowledge did not steer his political thought towards the radical ideologies upheld by certain fringe groups such as the Khārijites. Instead, he pursues an ameliorative approach to politics that aims at mediatory, moderate, and pragmatic reform. This approach is best represented by the preacher who uses his rhetorical skills to tame the arbitrary nature of power and guide the ruler towards righteous rule. It also comes across in Ibn al-Jawzī’s juristically prudent effort to protest against dismal political situations without overtly sanctioning the act of rebellion against a ruler who rules unjustly and impiously.

A study of Ibn al-Jawzī’s political discourses points towards a new reading of the history of Islamic political thought that, rather than focusing solely on Muslim thinkers who promulgated the principle of “might is right,” takes into account as well diverse and competing approaches to power. It sheds light on the various creative ways in which Muslim intellectuals utilized writings to effect social and political reform.

2017
Burton, Elise K.Genetic Nationalism: Scientific Communities and Ethnic Mythmaking in the Middle East.” History and MES, 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

“Genetic Nationalism” is a comparative history of human genetics research in Iran, Turkey, and Israel. Covering the century between the First World War and the present, I show how the technologies and discourses of racial anthropology and medical genetics have been locally adapted to construct national identities and control ethnic minorities in the Middle East. Furthermore, I investigate how the global biomedical infrastructure of the Cold War era reinscribed colonial patterns of scientific collaboration and technological development.

Intervening in existing postcolonial critiques of science, I argue that even as Middle Eastern researchers have been marginalized in the Western-dominated international scientific community, they have simultaneously acted as technocratic elites to reinforce nationalist hegemonies within their own countries. I base this argument on an original analysis of over 350 scientific publications on inherited physiological traits, blood group frequencies, and DNA variations among Iranian, Turkish, and Israeli populations. My analysis juxtaposes these scientific texts with the archived correspondence and oral history records of Middle Eastern scientists and their Western colleagues, examining how the two groups interacted with each other and with their research subjects to produce a set of “ethnic myths” merging scientific inquiry with local understandings of heredity, identity, and nation. My comparative work shows that despite the massive advancements in technological sophistication between anthropometry and whole-genome sequencing, geneticists have continuously relied on nationalist narratives of population origins to select research subjects and interpret their genetic data. Ultimately, these globally standardized research practices have reified sociopolitical categories into biological entities.

Howell, Jesse C.The Ragusa Road: Mobility and Encounter in the Ottoman Balkans (1430–1700).” History and MES, 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation is a study of human mobility in the western provinces of the Ottoman empire in the early modern era. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Ottomans had absorbed nearly the entire Balkan Peninsula. Dubrovnik (also known as Ragusa), a small mercantile republic on the Adriatic Sea, found itself surrounded by Ottoman territory. Dubrovnik managed to maintain its autonomy and preserve its coastal territories by accepting the position of tribute-paying vassal to the Ottoman state. In this context, the Ragusa Road, which stretched across Ottoman Rumelia (the Balkan Peninsula) to Istanbul, developed into a major axis of trade, diplomacy, and exchange. Unlike other pathways in the region, such as the Via Egnatia to the south, the Ragusa Road did not play a prominent role in earlier Roman transportation networks. Furthermore, the route was longer and more mountainous than alternatives. Yet, by the early sixteenth century, the Ragusa Road had become established as the most important East-West highway across the Balkan Peninsula, a corridor of communications linking the Ottoman capital to western Europe.

I explore the forces that conditioned and propelled overland travel on the Ragusa Road. Ottoman and Ragusan actors used complementary policies and practices to reduce obstacles and encourage overland travel. The results were mutually beneficial, and led to the route's increasing prominence in long-distance patterns of movement. Merchants, diplomats, pilgrims and spies increasingly elected to travel in Ragusan caravans, avoiding the vicissitudes of the maritime route. The cultural ramifications of the Ragusa Road's development are thus significant, as caravan travel brought together members of multiple religious, ethnic and linguistic communities, all of whom traveled together across a topographically challenging and culturally complex region. The records of these travelers reveal the unique cultural space of the road – and that of Ottoman Rumelia – in the early modern Mediterranean.

2016
Gürbüzel, Aslıhan. “Teachers of the Public, Advisors to the Sultan: Preachers and the Rise of a Political Public Sphere in Early Modern Istanbul (1600-1675).” History and MES, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation focuses on preachers as key actors in the rise of a political public sphere in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Recently, literature on the political importance of corporate bodies and voluntary associations has transformed the understanding of the early modern Ottoman polity. Emphasis has shifted from the valorization of centralized institutions to understanding power as negotiated between the court and other stakeholders. My dissertation joins in this collective effort by way of studying preachers, and through them examining the negotiation of religious authority between the central administration and civic groups. I depict preachers as “mediating” religious power between the elite and the non-elite, and between the written and the oral cultures. I argue that the production of religious doctrine and authority took place at this intermediary space of encounter.

This study of early modern Islam with reference to the frame of public sphere has two main implications. Firstly, I present a “preacher-political advisor” type in order to demonstrate that the critical potential of religion was preserved in a new guise. Secondly, I show that informal circles of education gained primacy in the seventeenth century, giving rise to the vernacularization of formal sciences. The close reading of the manuscript sources left by preachers and their pupils also constitutes the first systematic exploration of the intersection between orality and literacy, and an important contribution to the study of Ottoman popular culture.

Sopov, Aleksandar. “Between the Pen and the Fields: Books on Farming, Changing Land Regimes, and Urban Agriculture in the Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean Ca. 1500-1700.” History and MES, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation goes “between the pen and the fields” in that it explores the relationship between the Ottoman discourse on farming as reflected in manuscripts, and the material and economic realities of farming shown in archival documents. Though a major focus is Istanbul and its surroundings, I also examine texts and documents related to agriculture in other regions across the Ottoman eastern Mediterranean. By studying farming treatises and manuals that were written, translated, copied, abridged, collected, and circulated in this region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as works in more well known genres in which agricultural knowledge was also shaped, I examine an Ottoman scholarly discourse on farming not previously acknowledged. Over time, I argue, this discourse became more spatialized, vernacularized, and practically oriented, emphasizing firsthand experience and observation over the classical Arabic agricultural canon.

Agriculture in the Ottoman eastern Mediterranean before the nineteenth century has been characterized as stagnant or “traditional,” occurring in countrysides at a remove from mainstream commercial and intellectual concerns; yet the archival materials I discuss (study of court records, endowment deeds, tax surveys, surveys of agricultural laborers in the city, market price lists, etc.) show a more complex picture. They show that beginning around 1500, in certain regions—my study focuses mainly on Ottoman Thrace and the Balkans, but also other regions including Egypt—legal shifts concerning the status of land were connected with increased investment in farming by urbanites and members of the military class, including bureaucrats, scholars, and merchants. A new readership for scholarly works on farming thus emerged as well. On both state land, where urbanites were taking over the usufruct, and land belonging to charitable foundations, which was increasingly leased to urbanites with long-term contracts (even within the walled city of Istanbul), market-oriented farm estates, vineyards, orchards, and produce gardens were established. I show the ramifications of this in trade, consumption, environmental change (e.g. water usage), migration, labor, and agricultural discourse and knowledge. Spaces whose history this dissertation illuminates to a completely new degree are the urban market gardens of Istanbul, a few of which still exist today.

Turker, Deniz. “Ottoman Victoriana: Nineteenth-Century Sultans and the Making of a Palace, 1836–1909.” History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation is a historical reconstruction of the last Ottoman palace in Istanbul known as Yıldız. Using a diverse and largely untouched collection of archival sources (including maps, architectural drawings, pattern-books, newspapers, photographs, and countless expense records), the five subsequent chapters chronologically examine the building and growth of the now fragmented site, situating it in the international circulation of ideas and forms that characterized the accelerated and porous world of the nineteenth century. This understudied palace may belong, nominally, to the rarefied realm of the Ottoman elite; the history of the site, however, is profoundly connected to Istanbul’s urban history and to changing conceptions of empire, absolutism, diplomacy, reform, and the public. The dissertation explores these connections, framing the palace and its grounds not only as a hermetic expression of imperial identity, but also as a product of an expanding consumer culture.

The first chapter tackles the site’s static historiography that has overlooked its extremely dynamic architectural evolution. The literature overview contextualizes the reasons for such scholarly lacuna: Sultan Abdülhamid II’s contested presence in nationalistic narratives factor into the discussion. Yıldız’s neglect is part of an endemic dispossession in scholarship of Ottoman art and architectural output from the eighteenth century onwards, because its forms are believed to be foreign and threatening to local craft traditions. The chapter argues instead that Yıldız’s patrons and artists approached their commissions with historical rigor and with an eye for artisanship and the vernacular.

The second chapter follows Yıldız’s eighteenth-and nineteenth-century histories through the eyes of the Ottoman court chroniclers. Their meticulous day-to-day descriptions of the lives of sultans and how they used their capital’s royal grounds show us that for a long time before Yıldız became Abdülhamid II’s royal residence, it belonged to the sultans’ powerful mothers and wives. The collective efforts of these entrepreneurial women converted Yıldız from a minor imperial retreat to an income-generating estate. The site started its life, then, as an exemplary gendered space that uproots conventional notions of the Oriental harem.

The third chapter traces the grand landscaping project undertaken at Yıldız by Christian Sester, the court’s Bavarian head-gardener. Not only does this chapter outline the site’s dramatic physical transformations under Sester’s tutelage from the 1830s to the 1860s, but it also tracks his establishment of a cosmopolitan gardeners’ corps. The diverse members of this corps, the chapter shows, deeply impacted the urban landscapes and marketplaces of Istanbul well into the 1910s.

The fourth chapter examines Yıldız’s light, pavilion-like structures in the context of the century’s Alpine appeal as well as the world expositions that commodified the use of these small-scale typologies. While exploring the functions of these structures in the courtly context, the chapter also highlights the mass-appeal of catalogue-order chalets among the Ottoman bureaucrat classes and the competition these buildings engendered in Istanbul’s domestic spaces. This chapter also speaks more broadly about the nature of architectural styles, designs and taste in the Ottoman world of the late-nineteenth century.

Yıldız’s history cannot be written without photograph albums, central to Abdülhamid II and his reign. The fifth and final chapter does precisely that by focusing on the previously unknown, last and most intimate photograph album that the sultan commissioned of the site. The album exhibits Yıldız in its most up-to-date incarnation and in the way that Abdülhamid II wanted it to be seen: grounds that required active engagement, that were simultaneously intimate and sublime, and that incorporated both untouched and cultivated landscapes. The chapter draws formal comparisons with earlier, better-known photograph albums of the palace that were prepared for an international audience. Unlike any other, this album gets us closest to Abdülhamid’s own biography of imperial spaces, the precedents that he inhabited during his princely years. These sites, in turn, influenced his architectural patronage in Yıldız. Therefore, the album is conceptualized here as a revealing visual biography of the most elusive of sultans and his similarly elusive palace.

Lastly, I take victoriana in the title to imply a global designation, a trigger that to my mind best describes the push and pull of tradition at the onset of modernity. At no other site than Yıldız is this tension played out so clearly in the Ottoman lands. I mean to draw thematic connection between Victorian England and the Ottoman Empire at specific moments in which the latter found itself negotiating between local craft and global industry, between its imperial image and its newly emerging social classes, between royalty’s austerity and its requisite international presence, and between tradition and invention.

Yildiz, Emrah. “The Ways of Zainab: Visitations and Valuations between Iran and Syria via Turkey.” Anthropology and MES, 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Ways of Zainab: Visitations and Valuations between Iran and Syria via Turkey follows the pathways of a ziyarat (visitation) route, also known as Hajj-e Fuqara’ (pilgrimage of the poor) from bus stations in Tabriz, Iran through informal bazaars in Gaziantep, Turkey to shrines in Damascus, Syria. I propose that Sayyida Zainab’s ziyarat can be productively understood as a region- and subject-making route. By accounting for the spatial and historical production of these territories and the subject formations of their inhabitants, this dissertation charts out two broad avenues of inquiry. First, it analyzes how pilgrims, merchants and other border-crossers of various socio-economic and political backgrounds have interacted with one another on a trans-regional scale and encountered doctrinal difference, economic opportunity and political possibility. Second, it traces the inter-articulations of pilgrimage and Islamic ritual with contraband commerce as differentially regulated forms of cross-border mobility. Through these two avenues of inquiry, and developing a historical anthropological approach, The Ways of Zainab turns transnational religious mobility from a predetermined stage for the unfolding of sectarian violence into an autonomous and generative dimension of social action on a regional scale. In doing so, this dissertation aims to reinvigorate the analytical and political debates around ritual and religious practice in anthropology of Islam through studies of mobility and borders as well as economy and markets.

2015
Schwartz, Kathryn. “Meaningful Mediums: A Material and Intellectual History of Manuscript and Print Production in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Cairo.” History and MES, 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Meaningful mediums is a study of the political economy of writing in the first Ottoman city to develop a sustained urban print culture. Cairo’s writing economy comprised the longstanding manuscript industry, the governmental printing industry from the 1820s, and the for-profit private press printing industry from the 1850s. I investigate these industries’ functions, interactions, and reputations to explore why Cairene printing developed and how contemporaries ascribed meaning to textual production during this period of flux.

This study relies on the texts themselves to generate the history of their production. I aggregate the names, dates, and other information contained within their openings, contents, and colophons to chart the work of their producers and vendors for the first time. I then contextualize this information through contemporary iconographic and descriptive depictions of Cairene texts. My sources are drawn from libraries and private collections in America, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France. They include formal and ephemeral manuscripts and printings.

Against narratives that invoke printing as a catalyst for modernity, I argue that printing was simply a tool. Its adoption increased because it was useful for different actors like the state, private entrepreneurs, and scholars who employed it to respond to specific political, economic, and intellectual needs. My argument reverses the causality of modernization narratives, in that I establish that printing was the result of practical demands instead of the origin of new demands. As a tool, printing was deployed by Cairenes flexibly. Some used it to appropriate western norms, including the idea that printing is a civilizing force. Others used it to enact manuscript tradition.

The history of this process is important to social practices, like the creation of new professions. But it is also important to historical legacy. Nationalism, Enlightenment, and civil society are assigned their origins and proof in Cairene printings from the 1870s and 1880s. Yet this narrative of the Middle East’s generic print modernity draws from the expectation for printings to engender public discourse and galvanize society, instead of from the words that these texts actually contain or an understanding of who made and consumed them and why. To counter the prevailing idea that printing is fixed and universal in its value and effects, Meaningful mediums examines printing as both a social and economic practice, and itself a space for ideas. It therefore emphasizes the significance of human agency, local context, constraints, and continuity during a period of momentous technological, textual, and cultural change.

In conclusion, this study documents Cairenes’ incorporation of printing into their political economy of writing and revises the widely held notion that this process was an agent of social change, a marker of modernity and colonial restructuring, and a foreign disruptor of local textual tradition.

2014
Alsaleh, Yasmine F. “'Licit Magic': The Touch and Sight of Islamic Talismanic Scrolls.” History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The following study traces the production and history of the talismanic scroll as a medium through a Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk historical periods. My dissertation understands the protocol of manufacturing and utilizing talismanic scrolls. The dissertation is a study of the Qur'an, prayers and illustrations of these talismanic works. I begin by investigating a theory of the occult the medieval primary sources of the Neo-platonic tenth century Ikhwān al-Safa and al-Bunī (d.1225). I establish that talismans are generally categorized as science (`ilm). Next, a dynastic spotlight of talismanic scrolls creates a chronological framework for the dissertation. The Fatimid talismanic scrolls and the Ayyubid pilgrimage scrolls are both block-printed and are placed within the larger conceptual framework of pilgrimage and devotion. The two unpublished Mamluk scrolls from Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah are long beautiful handwritten scrolls that provide a perspective on how the occult is part of the daily life of the practitioner in the medieval Islamic culture. Through an in depth analysis of the written word and images, I establish that textually and visually there is a template for the creation of these sophisticated scrolls. Lastly, I discuss the efficacy of these scrolls, I use theories of linguistic anthropology and return to the Islamic primary sources to establish that there is a language of the occult and there are people that practiced the occult. The word of God and the Qur'ān empower the scrolls I studied. As for the people who practiced the occult, I turn to the tenth century Ibn al-Nadim and Ibn al-Khaldun (d.1406), the people of the occult are understood. Yet, keeping in mind, that there is always a tension with the theologians that condoned practices of Islamic magic.

Gordon, Jennifer Thea. “Obeying Those in Authority: The Hidden Political Message in Twelver Exegesis.” History and MES, 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In the tenth century, a confluence of two unrelated events shaped the Twelver Shia community in Baghdad: the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam in 939/329 and the takeover of Baghdad in 945 by the Buyid princes, who were largely tolerant towards their Shia subjects. Twelver intellectual life flourished during this era, led by the exegetes who are the subject of this dissertation. Chief among them were al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Sharif al-Murtada, who - along with many of their contemporaries - comprised a "Baghdad school" of Twelver intellectuals. This dissertation analyzes the Qur'anic commentaries (tafsir) written by this core group of medieval Twelver exegetes, most of whom lived and wrote in Baghdad, although others - such as al-Ayyashi - remained on the margins.

Mitter, Sreemati. “A History of Money in Palestine: From the 1900s to the Present.” History and MES, 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

How does the condition of statelessness, which is usually thought of as a political problem, affect the economic and monetary lives of ordinary people?

Orkaby, Asher. “The International History of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68.” History and MES, 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The deposition of Imam Muhammad al-Badr in September 1962 was the culmination of a Yemeni nationalist movement that began in the 1940s with numerous failed attempts to overthrow the traditional religious legal order. Prior to 1962, both the USSR and Egypt had been cultivating alliances with al-Badr in an effort to secure their strategic interests in South Arabia. In the days following the 1962 coup d'état, Abdullah Sallal and his cohort of Yemeni officers established a republic and concealed the fate of al-Badr who had survived an assault on his Sana'a palace and whose supporters had already begun organizing a tribal coalition against the republic. A desperate appeal by Yemeni republicans brought the first Egyptian troops to Yemen. Saudi Arabia, pressured by Egyptian troops, border tribal considerations and earlier treaties with the Yemeni Imamate, supported the Imam's royalist opposition. The battleground between Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and al-Badr was transformed into an arena for international conflict and diplomacy. The UN mission to Yemen, while portrayed as a symbol of failed and underfunded global peacekeeping at the time, was in fact instrumental in establishing the basis for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Bruce Condé, an American philatelist, brought global attention to the royalist-republican struggle to control the Yemeni postal system. The last remnants of the British Middle East Empire fought with Nasser to maintain a mutually declining level of influence in the region. Israeli intelligence and air force aided royalist forces and served witness to the Egyptian use of chemical weapons, a factor that would impact decision-making prior to the 1967 War. Despite concurrent Cold War tensions, Americans and Soviets appeared on the same side of the Yemeni conflict and acted mutually to confine Nasser to the borders of South Arabia. This internationalized conflict was a pivotal event in Middle East history as it oversaw the formation of a modern Yemeni state, the fall of Egyptian and British regional influence, another Arab-Israeli war, Saudi dominance of the Arabian Peninsula, and shifting power alliances in the Middle East.

Tusalp, Ekin Emine. “Political Literacy and the Politics of Eloquence: Ottoman Scribal Community in the Seventeenth Century.” History and MES, 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In 1703, the chief scribe (reisü'l-küttab) Rami Mehmed Efendi (d. 1708) was appointed as the grand vizier in the Ottoman Empire. In scholarship, Rami Mehmed epitomizes the transition in the political cadres from the people of the sword/seyfiye to the people of the pen/kalemiye as the first chief scribe to be appointed as the grand vizier. While this transition has long been accepted as a crucial aspect of eighteenth-century Ottoman history, the cultural and intellectual formation of "the people of the pen" as a distinct community before this period has not been adequately examined.

2013
Akisik, Aslihan. “Self and Other in the Renaissance: Laonikos Chalkokondyles and Late Byzantine Intellectuals.” History and MES, 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman armies of Mehmed II in 1453 was a cataclysmic event that reverberated throughout Renaissance Europe. This event intensified the exodus of Byzantines to Italy and beyond and they brought along with them the heritage of Greek antiquity. Laonikos Chalkokondyles contributed to the Renaissance with his detailed application of Herodotos to the fifteenth century, Apodeixis Historion, and made sense of the rise of the Ottomans with the lens of ancient history. The Apodeixis was printed in Latin, French, and Greek and was widely successful. The historian restored Herodotean categories of ethnicity, political rule, language, and geography to make sense of contemporary events and peoples. This was a thorough study of ancient historiography and Laonikos thus parted ways with previous Byzantine historians. I refer to Laonikos' method as "revolutionary classicizing", to describe the ways in which he abandoned the ideal of lawful imperium and restored the model of oriental tyranny when he described the nascent Ottoman state. What appears to be emulation of the ancient classics was radical revival of political concepts such as city-states as ethnic units, freedom defined as independence from foreign rule, law-giving as fundamental aspect of Hellenic tradition which did not encompass the Christian period. Laonikos has often been studied in the context of proto-nationalist historiography as he had composed a universal history, wherein he had related extensive information on various ethnic and political units in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, such proto-nationalist application does not fully capture Laonikos’ classicizing interests. Laonikos referred to his contemporaries as Hellenes, not because he was a nationalist who defined political identity only by recourse to language and common history. Rather, Laonikos believed that Hellenic identity, both referring to paganism as well as ethnicity, was relevant and not bankrupt. Importantly, we introduce manuscripts that have not yet been utilized to argue that Hellenism as paganism was living reality for Laonikos, his Platonist teacher Plethon, and their circle of intellectuals in the fifteenth century.

Day, Will. “In the City, Out of Place: Dispossession and the Economics of Belonging in Southeastern Turkey.” Anthropology and MES, 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation analyzes everyday talk about livelihoods, or about the challenges of work and getting by, among displaced Kurds in the city of Diyarbakır in southeastern Turkey. Over the past two decades, Diyarbakır has grown dramatically with the influx of tens of thousands of displaced and dispossessed rural Kurds uprooted by state policies of forced migration. These policies were designed with two strategic aims in mind: eliminating rural support networks for the Kurdish armed rebellion (the PKK), and concentrating populations in less dispersed and thus theoretically more easily policed spaces. However, it is argued here that while the former ambition has perhaps succeeded, the displacement and dispossession of rural Kurds throughout the 1990s, rather than suppressing dissent, has generated new fields and new forms of political struggle. Based on two years of fieldwork in Diyarbakır, this study explores the ways in which ordinary talk about livelihoods, about how to make a living and pay the bills, is, in this context, about more than ‘the economy’ alone. The interplay of people’s efforts to rebuild life and livelihood and the semiotic interpretation of these efforts is analyzed as a rich and under-appreciated site for the everyday practical generation of the political in Kurdish Turkey. This study contributes to the anthropology of Kurdish Turkey and of the Middle East, as well as to theories of displacement and dispossession, evaluative discourse, and the pragmatics of political stance.

Fonder, Nathan. “Pleasure, Leisure, or Vice? Public Morality in Imperial Cairo, 1882–1949.” History and MES, 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

I investigate the social history of Egypt under British imperial occupation through the lens of morality in order to understand the contestation of cultural change and authority under empire. Points of cultural cleavage between European and local inhabitants in British-occupied Cairo included two customs, gambling and the consumption of intoxicants, which elicited sustained and dynamic reactions from observers of Egyptian society on the local and international level. I show that the presence of alcohol and gambling in public spaces in Cairo contributed directly to the politicization and selective criminalization of public morality. However, the meanings attributed to social practices relating to leisure were continually under negotiation and challenge as state authorities, British liberals, Egyptian reformers and religious leaders, foreign missionaries, and representatives of international temperance movements vied to impose their visions of morality upon Egyptian society.

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