Transottoman Cultures of Expertise

Barbara Henning / Taisiya Leber, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz; Ani Sargsyan, Universität Hamburg
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
13.04.2023 - 14.04.2023
Polina Ivanova, Faculty of History and Cultural Studies, Justus Liebig University Giessen

This workshop was the second of two workshops devoted to the topic of experts and expertise, organized within the framework of and with the support of the “Transottomanica” Priority Programme,1 funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The goal of the two workshops was to explore the meaning of expertise and experts in the Ottoman Empire and beyond from the early modern period onwards by focusing on case studies around persons who staged themselves as “experts” and disposed of knowledge they presented to others as “expertise.” The first workshop was devoted primarily to actors – “experts,” while the second shifted attention to institutions, traditions and power relations embedded in the establishment and legitimization of “expertise.”

Following the introduction by workshop organizers, the discussion was opened up by an overview of the results of the first workshop offered by two of its participants, ANDREAS HELMEDACH (Bochum) and YUSUF KARABIÇAK (Mainz). Helmedach provided a survey of the papers given at the first workshop and discussed the sociological frameworks of expertise applicable in his own field – Venetian military history. Karabıçak continued on the topic of military history and gave a brief presentation on the progress of his studies of complex social histories of the involvement of foreign experts in the “modernization” of the Ottoman military structures and practices.

The first panel was devoted to expertise in the modern period (19th and 20th centuries).
AYLIN DE TAPIA (Freiburg) discussed the role of Ottoman Rum (Greek Orthodox) scholars, writing in both Greek and Karamanli-Turkish, in the formation of 19th-century expertise on Cappadocia – a region for centuries inhabited by Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox communities, which has attracted much curiosity and fascination of 19th-century western travelers to the Ottoman Empire. As de Tapia demonstrated, Rum authors became central experts on Cappadocia’s history, geography and ethnography. She traced the paths of three of these authors: Nikolaos S. Rizos, Ioannis Ioannidis, and Ioannis Kalfoglou. Through the analysis of their biographies and writings, she sought to establish what motivated these authors to write about Cappadocia, why and how they became experts in this topic, what kind of interactions they had with each other and with other authors (especially European ones) writing about the history of Cappadocians and to what extent they were considered as experts in the Rum and Ottoman intellectual circles.

MERİÇ TANIK (Paris) explored the debates around the emergence of agronomists and veterinarians as new professional groups in the late Ottoman Empire and early Republican Turkey. Farmers who held deep belief that agricultural knowledge could not be learned and researched in university halls, considered agronomists’ profession superfluous. Veterinarians were met with even more contempt and were locked in a territorial dispute with farriers, who, besides shoeing horses, provided care for domesticated animals. On the other hand, the two professional groups considered themselves as holders of expert-knowledge essential to the welfare of the Ottoman Empire given its agrarian nature. Tanık examined the strategies they pursued to be recognized as experts and to gain the social standing they thought they deserved. Through the associations and journals they created and through the newspaper articles they published to target wider audiences, agronomists and veterinarians attempted to demonstrate the vastness and complexity of the scientific knowledge they needed to acquire to practice their respective professions. They branded themselves as the providers of food security, the protectors of public health, and, most importantly, the fosterers of economic prosperity and thus, Tanık argued, became the early advocates of the “political economy of knowledge.”

In her keynote lecture, ELISE MASSICARD (Paris) introduced the workshop participants to her recently published sociological study of the institution of muhtars or neighbourhood officials in contemporary Turkey. Designating them as “institutional hybrids,” Massicard discussed muhtars’ ambiguous position in the Turkish society functioning as intermediaries between the impersonal power of the state and complex webs of social relationships on the neighborhood level. Massicard’s presentation provided workshop participants with a sociologist’s perspective on expertise and offered a framework for viewing experts through the prism of social institutions and power relations imbedded in them.

The second day of the workshop was devoted to the early modern period. TOMISLAV MATIĆ (Zagreb) introduced his research on the 15th- and 16th-century Croatian “experts” of the Ottoman Empire. The motives of such “experts” were uniform – to organize of a pan-European crusade against the Ottomans and to liberate Christians living under Ottoman rule. Their methods of information-gathering, however, were quite different. Felix Petančić, for example, relied on second-hand or outdated material, but he nevertheless produced an intriguing genealogy of Ottoman sultans, complete with their portraits which he painted himself. His career of a distinguished Ragusan envoy and official of the Hungarian royal court was much different from the experiences of another “expert” – Bartol Đurđević, who spent a large part of his life as a slave of the Ottomans. His writings offered a view of the underbelly of the Empire and were extremely influential in their time, having been translated into English, French and other languages. The presentation provided a survey of the works of Petančić and Đurđević and the ways their works were received in contemporary Christian Europe.

POLINA IVANOVA (Giessen) turned to the notions of expertise among early modern Ottoman Armenians, looking at the case study of a miscellany manuscript copied in a monastery near Tokat in the late 16th century. The manuscript (Matendaran collection MS 532) contained records of extremely specialized knowledge: a glossary of rare poetic terms, a medical glossary, a list of Hebrew names, a philosophical glossary and a list of Zoroastrian terminology. Contextualizing these glossary lists within Armenian intellectual traditions and evidence of education and scholarship in early modern Armenian cultural centres like Tokat, Ivanova pondered whether manuscript miscellanies like MS 532, extremely popular in the 16th and 17th century, could be interpreted as evidence of expertise on the part of their owners or rather as material symbols of their owners’ aspiration to associate themselves with intellectual traditions of the past.

EDA GENÇ ATALAY (Istanbul) presented her research on the career of the scholar and diplomat Evgenios Voulgaris. Voulgaris was born in Venetian Corfu in 1716, lived in the Ottoman Empire, and then in Leipzig and Russia. Hailing from a notable family in Corfu, like many young people of his background he attended University of Padua after which he was invited to teach in Ioannina. Later in his teaching career, he was invited to Constantinople to become the head of Great School of the Nation. Having left his teaching career in the 1760s, he moved to Germany where he engaged in translation. It was then that he gained the patronage of Catherine the Great of Russia and became an intellectual servant of Russia’s imperial thought and foreign policy. An expert in ancient Greek, Byzantine history and a champion of Enlightenment ideas and Orthodox Christian identity, he was perfectly positioned to legitimize Russia’s expansion in Crimea. In the context of Russian-Ottoman rivalry in the Black Sea region and the Balkans, the expert knowledge of scholars like Voulgaris acquired immense political significance.

In the last presentation of the workshop, HASAN ÇOLAK (Ankara) offered a critique of the common uncritical perceptions of multilingualism of Ottoman subjects. Ottoman multilingualism, Çolak argued, is often taken for granted by scholars of the Ottoman world, and very few have ventured to examine it closely and critically. Likewise, discussions of Ottoman multilingualism have mostly focused on the multiplicity of the languages spoken in the Ottoman realm rather than on people who spoke and wrote in multiple languages. Çolak’s presentation explored how multilingual Ottoman intellectuals defined their expertise on account of their knowledge of languages that their audiences did not necessarily know. As a case study, it focused on 18th-century Greek-speaking Muslim intellectuals who used sources written in Greek but produced works on ancient Greek history, philosophy and science in what the Ottomans called the elsine-i selâse, “the three languages” consisting of Turkish, Arabic and Persian. Çolak explored how these Muslim intellectuals defined their expertise and how they acknowledged the agency and expertise of the Orthodox intermediaries who assisted them in preparing their works.

The concluding round table focused on the common guiding questions which emerged from workshop discussions and which workshop participants could follow when transforming their presentations into articles to be submitted to the special issue of “Diyâr: Journal of Ottoman, Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies” devoted to Transottoman Cultures of Expertise.

Conference overview:

Opening Remarks

Barbara Henning (Mainz) / Ani Sargsyan (Hamburg) / Taisiya Leber (Mainz): Introduction

Andreas Heldemach (Bochum) / Yusuf Karabıçak (Mainz): Outcomes of the first workshop on expertise (2021)

First Session

Aylin de Tapia (Freiburg): Cappadocia as a field for expertise: Paths of three Rum “experts” of Cappadocia in search of a historical identity

Meriç Tanık (Paris): Proving one’s worth: Ottoman agronomists’ and veterinarians’ rhetoric on the essential utility of their expert-knowledge

Keynote Lecture

Elise Massicard (Paris): Brokering the state

Second Session

Tomislav Matić (Zagreb, online): Croatian experts on the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th Century

Polina Ivanova (Giessen): Matenadaran MS 532: expert knowledge or antiquarian’s curio for an Armenian monk in sixteenth-century Tokat

Third Session

Eda Genç Atalay (Istanbul): Eugenios Voulgaris and the Enlightenment in the Orthodox Church

Hasan Çolak (Ankara): Multilingualism as a form of transcultural expertise: A study of multilingual Ottoman Muslim intellectuals in the eighteenth century


Publication Strategy – leading questions and steps on the way to the special


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