“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.
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.
Beyond the Arab Cold War brings the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68, to the forefront of modern Middle East History. During the 1960s, in the wake of a coup against Imam Muhammad al-Badr and the formation of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), Yemen was transformed into an arena of global conflict. Believing al-Badr to be dead, Egypt, the Soviet Union, and most countries recognized the YAR. But when al-Badr unexpectedly turned up alive, Saudi Arabia and Britain offered support to the deposed Imam, drawing Yemen into an internationally-sponsored civil war. Throughout six years of major conflict, Yemen sat at the crossroads of regional and international conflict as dozens of countries, international organizations, and individuals intervened in the local South Arabian civil war.
Yemen was a showcase for a new era of UN and Red Cross peacekeeping, clandestine activity, Egyptian counterinsurgency, and one of the first largescale uses of poison gas since WWI. Events in Yemen were not dominated by a single power, nor were they sole products of US-Soviet or Saudi-Egyptian Arab Cold War rivalry. Britain, Canada, Israel, the UN, the US, and the USSR joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in assuming varying roles in fighting, mediating, and supplying the belligerent forces. Despite Cold War tensions, Americans and Soviets appeared on the same side of the Yemeni conflict and acted mutually to confine Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to the borders of South Arabia. The end of the Yemen Civil War marked the end of both Nasser's Arab Nationalist colonial expansion and the British Empire in the Middle East, two of the most dominant regional forces.
This internationalized conflict was a pivotal event in Middle East history, overseeing 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 that continue to lie at the core of modern-day conflicts in South Arabia.
This innovative multidisciplinary study considers the concept of green from multiple perspectives—aesthetic, architectural, environmental, political, and social—in the Kingdom of Bahrain, where green has a long and deep history of appearing cooling, productive, and prosperous—a radical contrast to the hot and hostile desert. Although green is often celebrated in cities as a counter to gray urban environments, green has not always been good for cities. Similarly, manifestation of the color green in arid urban environments is often in direct conflict with the practice of green from an environmental point of view. This paradox is at the heart of the book. In arid environments such as Bahrain, the contradiction becomes extreme and even unsustainable.
Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, Gareth Doherty explores the landscapes of Bahrain, where green represents a plethora of implicit human values and exists in dialectical tension with other culturally and environmentally significant colors and hues. Explicit in his book is the argument that concepts of color and object are mutually defining and thus a discussion about green becomes a discussion about the creation of space and place.
Partners of the Empire offers a radical rethinking of the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Over this unstable period, the Ottoman Empire faced political crises, institutional shakeups, and popular insurrections. It responded through various reform options and settlements. New institutional configurations emerged; constitutional texts were codified—and annulled. The empire became a political theater where different actors struggled, collaborated, and competed on conflicting agendas and opposing interests.
This book takes a holistic look at the era, interested not simply in central reforms or in regional developments, but in their interactions. Drawing on original archival sources, Ali Yaycioglu uncovers the patterns of political action—the making and unmaking of coalitions, forms of building and losing power, and expressions of public opinion. Countering common assumptions, he shows that the Ottoman transformation in the Age of Revolutions was not a linear transition from the old order to the new, from decentralized state to centralized, from Eastern to Western institutions, or from pre-modern to modern. Rather, it was a condensed period of transformation that counted many crossing paths, as well as dead-ends, all of which offered a rich repertoire of governing possibilities to be followed, reinterpreted, or ultimately forgotten.
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.
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.
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.
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.