PhD Dissertations

Bordewich, Chloe La Verne. “Leaking Empires: The Struggle over Information in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1870–1952.” History and MES, 2022. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This is a history of information and its control as a political battleground. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the explosion of mass media and communications connected people across much of the world and made it possible to transmit more information across longer distances than ever before. But in many places, the same period witnessed the reimagining and retrenchment of official secrecy. This dissertation investigates this apparent paradox from the vantage point of Egypt. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt lay at the center of global networks of trade, transport, and technology. Coveting an empire of its own in East Africa, it was enmeshed in the Ottoman Empire and, after 1882, in the British Empire, too. Between the 1870s and the 1950s, a series of challenges to imperial governance, each tied to war or its specter, brought a pair of contentious questions into focus: What did the public have the right to know? And what was the state entitled to conceal?

When the nineteenth century began, states did not share basic details of how they functioned, such as the scale of debts and revenue, or the size of their armies, with people outside government. By the century’s end, a vocal “public” was demanding to know more. In Egypt, a conception of information about the state as a public good—about a public “right to know”—crystallized in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This was due to the confluence of three main factors. First, and most important, was a political environment riddled with frictions due to Britain’s semi-colonial rule, which foreclosed Egypt’s own imperial project and independence. The second was the widespread use of telegraphy, a technology on which the state relied heavily but did not fully control. The third was the expansion of the Arabic press, which attracted dissidents from across the Ottoman and Mediterranean worlds to Egypt and gave public demands a prominent platform.

Demand for more information about affairs of state provoked a backlash with long-lasting consequences. At first, authorities were ill-prepared to provide a rationale for secrecy. This changed in the decade before World War I, when high-profile assassinations prompted them to link the circulation of information to political violence. A corresponding shift from policing deeds to policing ideas took tighter hold amid the nationalist revolution of 1919, as colonial officials feared collusion between their Egyptian colleagues and a wider hostile society. When British officials began a gradual retreat following Egypt’s nominal independence in 1922, the compartmentalization of information within organs of state entrenched a renewed culture of concealment. In 1948, the Arab defeat in Palestine drew scrutiny to the secrets and silences this climate had nourished, and popular anger at the absence of information that convincingly explained the loss contributed to the ouster of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. Yet rather than leading to a new era of trust and transparency, the narrative that emerged in the gap between the propaganda people were fed and what they believed to be true was seized on by the military regime that took its place and helped to sustain it in power.

Kahlenberg, Caroline. “How Locals Became Settlers: Mizrahi Jews and Bodily Capital in Palestine, 1908-1948.” History and MES, 2021. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation explores early twentieth-century Palestine through the lens of bodies and material culture. While histories of modern Palestine often treat “Jews” and “Arabs” as naturally distinct categories, I examine how these categories were constructed as racialized, embodied, and opposing identities. At a time when Palestine witnessed major changes— including the transition from Ottoman to British rule, mass Zionist settlement, shifting labor patterns, and the rise of Palestinian nationalism—residents made sense of their identities by spreading ideas about whose bodies were like, or unlike, their own. This dissertation focuses on Sephardi and Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews, many of whom lived in Palestine prior to modern Zionist settlement, which offers a unique lens to explore the process of Arab-Jewish boundary-making. At the turn of the twentieth century, Mizrahi Jewish bodies were not always clearly marked as exclusively “Jewish” or “Arab.” Their clothing, accents, and cultural tastes were often indistinguishable from those of their Muslim and Christian neighbors in Palestine. However, the growing colonial-national conflict in the 1920s and 1930s forced Mizrahi Jews to confront their position vis-à-vis Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. They adopted several strategies in light of this new reality. Many abandoned “Arab” clothing and accents in order to assimilate into the Ashkenazi-dominated Jewish community (Yishuv). In doing so, they helped produce a visual and sonic Arab-Jewish division on the ground. Others challenged the emerging divide by refusing to change their bodies. They expressed pride in their cultural and linguistic heritage in the Islamic world. Yet others selectively employed their “Oriental” bodies as a way to assert Zionist belonging and nativeness in Palestine.

This dissertation makes three broader contributions. First, using photographs, oral histories, material culture, and written sources, it illuminates how clothing, sounds, sexuality, and age become racialized in circumstances of colonial-national conflict. Second, while scholars often point to one “year zero” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the founding of a political movement, the outbreak of ethnic violence, or the publication of a specific document, I demonstrate that building a Jewish-Arab division demanded the constant policing of how individuals looked and sounded. Finally, the dissertation’s focus on Mizrahi Jews pushes scholars of settler colonialism to think beyond a local-versus-settler paradigm. Many Mizrahi Jews in Palestine were locals who also became part of a settler movement; they were, as I term them, “local settlers.” The story of this dissertation, then, is the story of how the locals became settlers.

Tschoepe, Aylin Yildirim. “Brave New Turkey: Contesting the Production and Valuation of Bodies, Urban Space, and Ecology.” Archaeology and MES, 2021. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In this ethnography, I examine fragmented urban and social dynamics in Istanbul, Turkey. The issues of the country are mirrored and coalesced into these dynamics. Binaries of proper/valuable versus improper/abjected city and citizens emerge from a “New Turkey” politics. This creates hierarchies of bodies, urban spaces, ecological practices, and types of knowledge. Rooted in historical de/valuation processes, Turkey’s current technologies of power intensify and gain new momentum and scale. Lawfare, identity politics, urban planning, and technocratic ecological strategies are instrumental in implementing interdependent urban and social transformation. Drawing on two years of fieldwork, I analyze the contestation of governmental actors, local authorities, environmental activists, local residents, and garbage workers over the production and valuation of bodies, space, and ecology. From this, I address the broader picture of classist, gendered, ethnic, and racist discrimination as a process that most evidently manifests itself in urban space.

The socio-spatial impact of a “New Turkey” is most starkly felt among the urban poor whose livelihood depends on environmental practices. Here, I focus on a specific group that is invisible for many: non-municipal garbage workers who are targets of intersectional devaluation. Through green(wash)ing strategies, their homes are displaced by “healthy and sustainable” luxury housing projects and infrastructure. They are treated as second-class citizens and, therefore, socially and economically immobilized. At the same time, they contest the authorities over garbage as a commodity, and the law criminalizes their recycling practices. Conflict and resistance occur not only between actors but also within institutions, activist movements, and affected communities. As various players share risks, new—and sometimes unexpected—alliances are formed under the common goals of social and environmental justice and rights to the city. The ambiguity of all of this is reflected in the title: “BRAVE NEW TURKEY.” On the one hand it speaks to the forging of the current hegemonic Turkishness and Turkish urban landscape under the banner of the “New Turkey” politics. On the other hand a “brave new Turkey” addresses the creative conflict and resistance against this dystopian moment of governing bodies, urban space, and ecology. Indeed, this research deals with the continuous efforts of various groups who claim their place in their “new Turkey.” Under the current political and social circumstances, I consider this an act of bravery. After all, a new Turkey belongs not only to the hegemonically powerful but also to those who shape the country’s future through their creative struggle for diversity and inclusion.

Collaço, Gwendolyn. “The Image as Commodity: The Commercial Market for Single-Folio Paintings in Ottoman Istanbul, 17th–18th C.History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, for most of the sixteenth century, only royalty and close companions of the sultan enjoyed the experience of perusing an album, the premier form of preserving and viewing single-folio works on paper. Yet in the last few decades of the century, the first surviving cases of commercial albums reveal that the practice had moved beyond the palace, attracting both wealthy Ottoman urbanites and European travelers alike. This dissertation delves into the history of the art market from the production to the consumption of loose-leaf paintings in numerous compilation formats. Although scholarship on Istanbul’s early modern art market and single-folio paintings has often centered on analyses of individual manuscripts, such as costume albums, this study aims to contextualize these single-folio paintings as part of a wider network of urban production. In this network, models and designs circulated between artists of numerous social groups and specialties, as well as through foreign import. The study further refocuses attention on codicology in order to illustrate how the trappings of a collection could profoundly impact the reception of the works within it and reveal precious detail about the backgrounds of the owners, many of whom remain anonymous today.
The dissertation begins by setting the stage for the emergence of the market for single-folio paintings by analyzing the antecedents to the commercial album through Ottoman court albums, portraits, and the works of unofficial court artists who lived in the city. It then turns to European genres such as costume books and alba amicorum (friendship albums), before turning to the first commercial album, which fuses features from the aforementioned areas. Chapter Two assesses production techniques, emphasizing the mobility of model forms, before turning to artists’ multi-professional backgrounds. The next two chapters delve into the collecting practices of the two main consumer groups. Chapter Three follows the development of costume albums primarily collected by European travelers over the seventeenth century as objects of novelty crafted from a commonplace corpus of models. It tracks the expansion of the model corpus, shifts in binding and mounting practices, and the relationships between albums (as well as their identified forgeries).

Chapter Four offers a history of compilation among urbanite Ottomans of a literati persuasion over the seventeenth century as a story of taste-making on the page. As the practice grew, artists began offering a wider range of works to suit multiple price points of paintings and bindings among their consumers. Chapter Five continues to follow Ottoman compilers into the eighteenth century after the court’s return to Istanbul in 1703, which coincided with a significant increase in album-making. This period brought about the rise of specialized painting collections. The market also began to engage with its past as later commercial albums provided a wider chronological range of paintings from numerous traditions, which included refurbished and creatively over-painted works. Rather than Westernization, these albums indicate a global outlook that reflected mercantile networks of the time. The last two chapters delve into the case of an unstudied trilogy of albums at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France that exemplifies these later trends. Together, they offer a hypothesis for the background of the owner while situating the albums in the local and transregional contexts that created this cosmopolitan work.

Razzaque, Arafat Abdur. “The Sin of Ghība in Early Islamic Thought: Disciplining the Tongue in the Zuhd Tradition and Its Late Antique Background.” History and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation explores the form, substance and social context of pious exhortations in medieval Islamic history, focusing on ideas about gossip and slander. It is a study on a single concept of enduring significance in Islamic ethics, the notion of ghība or backbiting, defined as unwelcome statements of fact as opposed to false slander (buhtān). Prohibited by the Qurʾān, the mundane social vice of speaking ill about other people in their absence was a source of great moral concern, with ramifications in discourses of piety, religious ethics, ritual law, and eschatology. Early proponents of the isnād method for the authentication of ḥadīth had to frequently address the ethical quandary that their criticism of transmitters might be tantamount to sinful gossip. I demonstrate that the discourse on ghība stems from a broader ethics of “disciplining the tongue” among the early Muslim renunciants of the so-called zuhd movement. A major work by the Baghdadi scholar Ibn Abī l-Dunyā (d. 281 AH/894 CE), the Kitāb al-Ṣamt wa-ādāb al-lisān or “Book of Silence and Etiquettes of the Tongue” serves as a key point of departure for this study. I examine the traditions, stories and wise maxims on ghība in the context of zuhd, ḥadīth, tafsīr and fiqh sources, as well as their broader reception in pious ethics literature of the ninth and tenth centuries CE. Through close attention to motifs, I argue further that some early Muslim ideas about gossip and slander reflect older traditions of religious thought in late antiquity. The commonalities are evident especially in the Apophthegmata Patrum or Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Resonances can be traced as well through eschatological motifs common to Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian apocalyptic literature and Islamic imaginations of hell, in which the sin of backbiting is met with severe punishments. In contrast to conventional ancient punishment motifs for slander, Islamic eschatology introduces new types of scenes informed by the Qurʾānic metaphor of ghība as eating the flesh of another. Early Muslim ethical discourses thus interpreted a universal moral concern through a combination of inherited traditions and original elements.

Schwerda, Mira Xenia. “How Photography Changed Politics: The Case of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911).” History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

My dissertation reconceptualizes the Iranian Constitutional period (1905-1911) as an era of spectacle, in which photography played a central role in defining, mobilizing, and memorializing political movements and their leaders. The first chapter of my dissertation traces the role and impact of one specific photograph: a portrait of Joseph Naus, the Belgian head of the Iranian tax and customs systems, in the costume of an Iranian mullah. The circulation of the photograph, which had been reproduced as a postcard with a caption that purposefully misinterpreted the image, sparked a nationwide protest and turned the previously economic protest into a religiously legitimated one. The photograph became the basis for a fatwa and death threats to Naus. The second chapter discusses photographs of political protest. It focuses on a key event of the Constitutional Revolution, a several weeks-long sit-in during the summer of 1906 in the gardens of the British Legation in Tehran. In my research, I was able to prove that the so far unattributed series of photographs of this event was taken by the well-known photographer Antoin Sevruguin. The third chapter focuses on political portrait photographs from the second half of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, which was characterized by revolutionary and counter-revolutionary violence. I analyze portraits of Iranian assassins and their victims and show how these acts of violence were influenced by global political movements and international media coverage. The epilogue of my dissertation focuses on the events directly following the Constitutional Revolution, when the Russian army invaded Tabriz and executed the remaining revolutionaries. I discuss the photographic documentation of the events, the circulation of the images, and their changing interpretations.

Winter, Meredyth Lynn. “Silks Withdrawn: A Re-Contextualization of the Medieval Fragments from Rayy.” History of Art and Architecture and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The corpus of silks recovered from the medieval tombs of Rayy, which lies to the South of modern-day Tehran in Iran, date from the late tenth to the early thirteenth centuries. Their span corresponds to a period of time referred to here as “late Abbasid” (ca. 950-1250), in which the hegemony of the Abbasid dynasty (r. 750-1258) had faded, giving way to a soft power propped up by a series of vassal sovereigns—principally, the Buyids (r. 945-1030), the Ghaznavids (r.1030-1032, Iran), and the Seljuks (r. 1032-1250, Iran). While the tombs can be attributed to the early decades of Seljuk reign in the mid-eleventh century, the textiles included in the graves were woven both before and after the monuments’ construction. As a result, the finds at Rayy offer a unique opportunity to observe, within a fixed frame of context, how artistic forms were maintained, and their meanings slowly altered over this tumultuous period. By analyzing the textiles according to art historical and material culture methods, the dissertation argues that the Rayy textiles reveal the ambivalent identities and evolving ambitions of the successive dynasties that made use of them. They show, at once, a conscientious upholding of the caliphal norms and ceremonials required of dynastic elites, as well as a concerted manipulation of those rules aimed at projecting kingship amid the changing realities of the Abbasid empire. To highlight the fundamental cross-purposes these textiles served, the dissertation divides them into three, seemingly straightforward categories: textiles of the public sphere, the private sphere, and the funerary sphere. These spheres conform to the ideals of Abbasid ceremonial and decorum and serve as an opportunity to question how principles of proper conduct were enacted aesthetically. At the same time, the spheres reveal the limitations faced by dynastic rulers and their elite circles, as well as how they responded by pushing the boundaries of each category. The duality of each sphere demonstrates how the textiles from Rayy were integral in the self-fashioning that allowed the vassal kings to nominally uphold the Abbasid order, while simultaneously carving out a place for their own modes of sovereignty, worship, and commemoration. Although textile finds rumored to come from Rayy have been studied since their initial “discovery” by dealers in early 1925, forgeries made in the 1930s and thereafter have forced scholarship to deal almost exclusively with modern questions of authenticity. The origins, debates, and outcomes of the so-called “Buyid Silk Controversy” receive further elucidation here. It is, however, principally the question of medieval authenticity which lies at the center of this study. That is to say, textiles were often a medium of display and luxury; as such, they provide a means of understanding how authenticity—be it a marker of public position, self image, or faith—was enacted visually and materially in the late Abbasid period. The Rayy corpus offers a crucial glimpse of these processes, as late Abbasid artistic products rarely have clear dates or places of manufacture, let alone provenances. As such, the dissertation takes a hermeneutic look at this corpus, deriving evidence from their formal, technical, and material analysis, in order to elucidate the contrived continuity of self-fashioning in the late Abbasid period, as well as the nuanced variations compelled by each successive ruling dynasty as they adapted Abbasid ceremonial to their own aspirations.

Yerlioğlu, Akif Ercihan. “Paracelsus Goes East: Ottoman 'New Medicine' and Its Afterlife.” History and MES, 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This dissertation investigates how early modern Ottoman medical scholars viewed the concept of novelty and how it manifested itself in the socio-political domain. Appearing in the mid-seventeenth century and maintaining its substantial impact throughout the eighteenth century, ṭıbb-ı cedīd (new medicine) became a very significant concept and practice that almost all the prominent scholars of the era explored. This was the first time that discussions regarding the utilization of al/chemical ideas and practices in medical philosophy and pharmacology were introduced into the medical scholarship via a group of Ottoman scholars. In previous scholarship, this era has either been portrayed as a “transitional” period, which represented the abandonment of the “traditional medicine” for adoption of European medicine, or as a time when intriguing works were produced without yielding any substantial novelties in medical practice.

Primarily by undertaking a close reading of the representative texts of the ṭıbb-ı cedīd corpus, this study demonstrates the complex interactions between the various epistemological approaches available to the Ottoman physicians as they produced the medical corpus of a new era. This study shows that the eighteenth-century scholars never disowned their Galenic heritage completely, while embracing new al/ chemical ideas. Moreover, they did not accomplish their intellectual endeavors as part of a state-sponsored Europeanization/Westernization project. This emerging corpus created fertile ground for lively discussions in Ottoman medical scholarship, which went hand in hand with the application of new curative substances, imported from various parts of the world, including, but not exclusive to the Americas. I approach these moments of critical translation and adaptation from lived aspects of medical practice, which are overlooked in current scholarship in the history of medicine that has restricted the material to the intertextual domain of books and ideas. Furthermore, this study, regards the physician as one among the artisans of the marketplace, which brings to light how their practice and profession were negotiated with the Ottoman State during the eighteenth century. Last but not least, I look at the nineteenth-century afterlife of ṭıbb-ı cedīd, when western-influenced reforms were taking place in every aspect of life and a new discourse on medicine and medical education were being introduced. I show that the Imperial Medical School (Mekteb-i Ṭıbbīyye-i Şāhāne) had an immense impact on the physicians of the era on their evaluation of their medical past, including ṭıbb-ı cedīd, and created a lineage of physician-historians who produced modernist-positivistic historiographies, which still influences medical history-writing today, especially in Turkish scholarship.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.