The Ottoman City between East and West: Aleppo, Izmir, and Istanbul. (Brief Reviews of Books)

By Stein, Mark L. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Ottoman City between East and West: Aleppo, Izmir, and Istanbul. (Brief Reviews of Books)


Stein, Mark L., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


The Ottoman City Between East and West: Aleppo, Izmir, and Istanbul. By EDHEM ELDEM, DANIEL GOFFMAN, and BRUCE MASTERS. Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1999. Pp. xvi + 244, illus. maps. $59.95.

In this fine volume, Edhem Eldem, Daniel Goffman, and Bruce Masters challenge the prevalent assumptions about what characterizes an "Islamic," "Arab," or "Ottoman" city. In doing so, they reject previous models of Middle Eastern urban development, whether Weber's idea of undifferentiated Islamic cities lacking in civic culture, or the more nuanced ideas of Lapidus and Hourani, who both emphasized the importance of local notables. The authors also question the use of Arab cities as normative models for the Ottoman period, a usage dictated in part by the available sources and in part by modern nationalist sentiment. Instead of offering a new normative model for Islamic or Ottoman cities, Eldem, Goffman, and the Masters draw on the methods of American urban historians to present narrative surveys of three cities that portray complex social, economic, and cultural dynamics. The cities they chose are Aleppo (Masters), an Arab Ottoman city; Izmir (Goffman), an Anatolian Ottoman city; and Istanbul (Eldem), the Ottom an capital. The narrative surveys allow these three cities in many ways to tell their own stories.

These three cities are excellent choices, in that there is an abundance of Ottoman documentation for the history of all of them--documentation employed by the authors in their own previous work on their chosen cities. Furthermore, all three towns were prominent centers of trade with European merchants, and this not only provides a body of documentation to augment the Ottoman sources, but also a basis of comparison of the cities as economic and cultural frontier zones. The authors focus on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the period in which Aleppo, Izmir, and Istanbul were at their "maturity." By emphasizing the cities at their height this book tries to assess the nature of the "Ottoman city."

Masters' contribution on Aleppo emphasizes that city's importance in the seventeenth century as the sales center for silk caravans from Iran. Access to Iranian silk drew resident European merchants away from Damascus to settle in Aleppo, allowing it to maintain its standing as an important caravan city.

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