Current Research Projects

Working and Living Conditions of the Public Servants in the Late Ottoman Empire (1838-1922)

Work on Ottoman labor history within the wider historiography of the Ottoman Empire has evolved since it first appeared nearly a century ago. After initially focusing on the living and working conditions of unionized industrial workers and their organizational strategies and struggles, it has developed rapidly from the 1980s in parallel with international developments in labor historiography, such as studying ‘history from below’ and more recently, focusing on ‘global labor history’. The Ottoman labor historiography has now expanded its boundaries to include novel research areas such as: agricultural workers, peasants, female workers and gender issues, domestic producers, rural workers, organized labor in guilds, informal labor relations, different forms of compensation, and immigration. By addressing the working and living conditions and resistance strategies of Ottoman public servants (lower-level state employees such as teachers, clerks, soldiers, civil servants, police officers, embassy employees et al.) in the late empire, this paper aims to make new contributions to this growing literature.
The study firstly discusses the reasons for why public servants have attracted less attention than blue-collar workers, despite the expanding scope of labor historiography. One finding is that previous research did not see the state itself as a field of struggle. The tendency in labor historiography has been to ignore the agency of public servants and officers, perceiving them to be not workers as such, but as employees belonging to the world of the petite bourgeoisie, representatives of the state as a unitary entity within a regimented hierarchical structure. This view has been compounded by historical factors that constrained the ability of public servants to act and organize collectively compared to workers in the private sector. Historically, Ottoman statesmen also often advocated the view that public servants were responsible to the people and owed unlimited loyalty to the state as its representatives. Therefore, their resistance strategies met with severe and uncompromising reactions. Nevertheless, the Ottoman context reveals that public servants did not remain silent or unstintingly loyal but developed alternative organizational methods and resistance strategies when their working and living conditions deteriorated.
This study discusses three main developments that worsened the living and working conditions of Ottoman public servants in the 19th century and caused them to resist: centralization and the transformation of the bureaucratic organization; low salaries or late payment of salaries due to financial crises; and the decline in the purchasing power of public servants due to the increasing cost of living. The resistance strategies of public servants in response to these political and economic negativities are discussed at both the individual and collective levels. Individually, strategies by public servants to defend their rights included writing petitions, high levels of absenteeism, demanding bribes and gifts from the public, taking on second jobs, disobedience to superiors, and resignation. Collectively, public servants frequently expressed their grievances through strikes, writing collective petitions, and organizing under the auspices of mutual aid societies. By focusing on resistance strategies from almost every region of the Empire, this paper aims to reveal the agency of Ottoman public servants.

Carceral Labour and Resistance Strategies of the Ottoman Prisoners in the Late Ottoman Empire

The power relations in the Ottoman Empire were gradually governmentalised and centralised through modernist reforms in the long nineteenth century. As part of this process, the practice of intramural and extramural carceral labour became an important part of the Ottoman penal system in the late empire. Although the state emphasised the rehabilitative effect of prison labour in legal regulations, many specific cases and the extramural expansion of the practice reveal that providing cheap labour was the main driving force in the Ottoman case. However, the adverse reaction of prisoners to carceral labour was just as important as the regulations, disciplinary practices, and the administrative and financial limits of the state in determining the success of the practice.
By focusing on the resistance strategies of the prisoners, including desertion, writing petitions, collective walkouts, slowdowns, strikes, and pilferage, this paper aims to amplify their voices. This prisoner-centred view enables us to take a Foucauldian perspective in the context of power relations and resistance to such practices and to illustrate how prisoners weakened the governmentality and domination of the state through many forms of resistance.

International Cooperation Against Anarchism: A Historical Network Analysis (1898-1913)

By 1890s, anarchism and the anarchist movement began to be treated as equivalent to terrorism by the public authorities and the press in many countries. The increasing number of attacks allegedly made by anarchists in various countries led to an international cooperation such as Rome (1898) and St. Petersburg (1904) in order to jointly fight against anarchists. In the meetings participant countries decided to share information about anarchists and to make deportation easy for anarchists. The shared forms included detailed data and photos of the people who were accused of being an anarchist.
Historical development of the anarchist movement in terms of theory and practice has been investigated in several studies. What is not yet clear is the role of Ottoman Empire (the only Muslim participant of the international cooperation against anarchism) on ‘tackling’ with the European anarchist movement. Ottoman archival forms that were shared by Germany, Spain, Russia or other countries and were related to the workers who were blacklisted as being anarchists, show that only 20% of the forms have a hard evidence that the person was an anarchist. On the contrary, no hard evidence for the deport justification have been submitted in approximately 80% of the forms. In many cases, the use of anarchism went a step further in order to victimise ordinary workers and to purge political opposition in many countries. By reason of the fact that the international cooperation against anarchism was based on mutual information sharing, there are similar forms and photographs also in European archives. These forms and documents will also be used in the study.
This research will follow the historical network analysis method that will help to visualise the connection between countries in terms of sharing of anarchists’ information. The historical network visualization may give an opportunity to have a conceptualizing relationship and the transmission of this information and overall give us understanding the cooperation in more concrete and clear way. Network transitivity and centrality, two main elements of network analysis, is going to be used to understand the historical cooperation against anarchism with a broad and dynamic structure. In the light of historical network analysis, Ottoman documents and similar forms from various European archives may enable us to assess the functioning of the international cooperation and visualize the information sharing against anarchists.

Head of Project: Dr. Kadir Yildirim

Military Cultures of Violence during the two "Great Turkish Wars" (1683-1718): The Habsburg and Ottoman Militaries in Comparison

In cooperation with the University of Potsdam, the project, which is funded by the DFG, focuses on the illegal military cultures of violence of the Ottoman and Habsburg armies in the so-called Turkish Wars of 1683-1699 and 1714-1718 from a micro-sociological perspective.
While the Ottoman Empire increasingly lost its significance as a threat in the dominion of Vienna, the sense of threat in Ottoman Southeastern Europe towards its rivals steadily increased. It is, first of all, this change in consciousness against the background of changed military conditions that raises the question of the shaping of cultures of violence in a period of transformation. In structural-historical terms, the two wars fell in a period seen as the beginning of a phase in which the "modern state" increasingly appeared as an actor of violence. Homogenization and professionalization of the armed forces are defined as decisive features in this process. This raises the question of whether and to what extent the Ottoman Empire fits into this pattern and whether structural changes in the military sphere had an impact on the shaping of cultures of violence. Historical research has dealt with this transition process in Southeast Europe mainly in the sense of classical military and diplomatic history, so that the analysis of violent phenomena or the question of cultures of violence has hardly been dealt with in depth so far. Our research project thus intends to contribute to a closer intertwining of military history with historical research on violence within the framework of a history of empire and thus to strengthen the necessary interdisciplinary exchange.
Within the framework of this concept, a distinction is made between three spaces of violence, in which the perpetrators of violence and its victims, as well as the structures and mechanisms of violence defined as illegitimate, are investigated: Spaces of the actual battlefield, spaces of soldierly life, and spaces of civil societies, at least temporarily, directly affected by the war. In addition to the official documents in the state and military archives in Istanbul and Vienna, unofficial sources, such as first-person documents, tracts, chronicles, memoirs, folk poems or captivity diaries will be considered, which enable a micro-sociological analysis of the military cultures of violence.

Head of Project: Barbaros Köksal M.A.

Families and Households in late-Ottoman Palestine: Jerusalem, Gaza and Villages

The research project deals with families and households in late Ottoman Palestine, with a special focus on Gaza and the surrounding villages. Thanks to the Ottoman census gathered in 1905, we can gain new insight into the quite differentiated social worlds of households, which could consist of one to more than fifty persons, as well as into their wider family relations. The 1905 census was the most comprehensive ever undertaken in the Ottoman Empire and included, unlike previous population counts, individual data for women and children and not only for adult males.
The census records include information on various aspects of social life, such as occupation, health and residential patterns. By combining census data with evidence from other sources (e.g. travelogues, memoirs and contemporary photographs), we can discern different patterns of households from all social milieus. We are able to reconstruct strategies of elite households for achieving and maintaining status and influence, but our sources also provide information about subaltern groups that have been widely neglected in the historiography of Palestine and the Middle East.
The project draws on results of the GIF-project „Gaza during the Late Ottoman Period“ lead by Prof. Yuval Ben-Bassat and Prof. Johann Büssow. Sarah Büssow was involved in this project between May 2017 and December 2018.

In the context of this project, the following article was published in 2020:

Büssow, Sarah und Büssow, Johann, „Domestic Workers and Slaves in Late Ottoman Palestine at the Moment of the Abolition of Slavery: Considerations on Semantics and Agency”, in Conermann, S./Sen, Gül (Hrsg.), Slaves and Slave Agency in the Ottoman Empire, Vandenhoeck&Ruprecht Verlage: Universitäts-Verlag Bonn, Bonn 2020.

Similarly, the publication of another article is being prepared:

Büssow, Sarah, “Elite Households in Gaza, c. 1900: Beyond the ‘Notable Family’”, in: Ben-Bassat, Y./Büssow, J. (Hrsg.), The household from the inner to the wider world…

Head of Project: Dr. Sarah Büssow

The Venetian Army on Ottoman Land 1684-1718. Translociation, War Experience, Transculturation

The project is part of the DFG-Priory Programm 1981 “Transottomanica: Eastern European-Ottoman-Persian Mobility Dynamics”. It explores the war experiences of soldiers in the Venetian army in Ottoman Southeastern Europe, that is in those territories of Dalmatia, Albania and Greece which were conquered, occupied, and for the most part lost to the Ottoman Empire during the Morean (or Peloponnesian) Wars 1684-1699 and 1715-1718. Military journeys are a core topic of migration history; the history of such mobility in the context of the Morean wars will lead towards a better understanding of transcultural processes in the Southeast European region. Similar to other forms of travelling, military journeys not only link up points of departure and arrival, but they also mean crossing through given spaces and territories. It is here that translocalization and transculturalization happens. Such processes in fact have always been constituent elements of soldiers’ and combatants’ war experiences, at all times.
In which ways did the circumstances of military campaigns in Ottoman Southeastern Europe mould the soldier's daily routines, perceptions, and experiences of war? The focus is on the life worlds of officers, sergeants and ordinary soldiers. The project explores their daily routines during their voyage towards and away from the theatre of war; their service in the garrison, the camp, and the field; their encounters with civilians (not least with women); the coming to terms with combat and violence, with desertion, imprisonment, slavery and (if the occasion arose) ransoming; with illness, wounds, invalidity, and death. The backdrop of these men’s experiences, imaginaries, and discourses about their experience of “migration as transcultural entanglement” was the Ottoman Empire. From their socialization in their home countries they had to match new modes and patterns of interaction and cooperation both with their peers, who constituted the ethnic and religious heterogeneity of the Venetian army, and with the "locals", who also were heterogeneous as far as their ethnicity, religion, and social origin were concerned. The framework of early modern times seems particularly befitting to explore the transcultural processes involved, as it forced upon the men a particular intensity of interaction as such, but especially, beyond the battlefields, a cooperation with the “other”, with individuals on the “enemy”’s side.

Head of Project: Prof. Dr. Markus Koller
Project officer: Dr. Andreas Helmedach
Website: SP Transottomanica
Start: 1st October 2017

Revolution in the Mediterranean. A South European History of the Greek War of Independence 1821

The aim of this project is to investigate the Greek War of Independence of 1821 in the context of the contemporaneous revolutionary movements in the western Mediterranean, which questioned for the first time the European Restoration Order created by the Congress of Vienna of 1815. The focus of interest is first on transregional mobility cycles and networks of groups and individuals who in the period of the Napoleonic Wars acted as recipients as well as multipliers of revolutionary potentials and played a decisive role in their acute manifestation in the 1820s. In this context, mechanisms of political mobilization as well as dynamics of evolving media publics and their impacts on state-run action are examined. The focus of interest is also on phenomena of exchange and transfer of ideas with regard to the articulation of political goals, to legitimation strategies and, in particular, to the formation of institutions of statehood in the context of revolutionary constitutional discourses. Subsequently, the further regional impacts of these processes in southeastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean are examined. By this way, a contribution to research is to be made, that overcomes well established national-historiographical and Euro-centric perspectives and integrates the Greek war of Independence two hundred years after its beginning into an (trans-)Mediterranean intertwined history of the “Age of Revolutions”.

Head of Project: PD Dr. Ioannis Zelepos

Reconstructing the daily life of Ottoman Muslim merchants in 18th and 19th century Trieste

Although there is an abundance of literature detailing the history of Ottoman-European cities’ relations, studies on the issue have mostly focused on major Italian city-states, such as Venice, Genoa, and sometimes Florence; in addition, they generally focused on periods before the 18th century mostly because of a general consensus among historians that the political, military, and trade relations between the Ottoman Empire and European cities were at their strongest in the 15th and 16th centuries. Due to the aforementioned conception, the field of eighteenth century Ottoman history was a bit absent from historiography until last decades. The Port of Trieste, despite being an important commercial hub contemporaneously, was to share this neglect till recently and still does in a certain aspect; for instance, no research has been conducted on Muslim merchants in the context of Ottoman Trieste relations until this time, though there is a considerable number of work shedding light on non-Muslim communities’ –particularly Orthodox merchants’– activities there. This study thus aims to contribute to the literature on this subject with a specific focal point to include in the scope Muslim merchants as well.

Contact: Zeynep Arslan M.A.

Research Cooperations

You can view ZMS's cooperation projects here.