The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography

The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography

The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography

The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography


This discussion of historiography concerning the Ottoman Empire should be viewed in the context of our disciplines self-examination, which certainly has been encouraged by recent conflicts in southeastern Europe and the Middle East. Our contributors analyse the fashion in which the historiographies established in various national states have viewed the Ottoman Empire and its legacy. At the same time they discuss the links of twentieth-century historiography with the rich historical tradition of the Ottoman Empire itself, both in its metropolitan and its provincial forms. The struggle against anachronisms born from the nationalist paradigm in history doubtless constitutes the most important common feature of these otherwise very diverse studies.


Suraiya Faroqhi and Fikret Adanir

In the present volume, the authors hope to contribute to the ongoing discussion of historiography concerning the Ottoman Empire, focusing on issues in one way or another relevant to the history of southeastern Europe. Such an enterprise must be viewed in the context of our discipline’s self-examination, which has been going on for more than twenty years, since Edward Said published his scathing critique of ‘orientalism’. Admittedly, Said’s book but marginally addressed itself to the work of Ottomanists; yet it did not fail to make an impact on many thoughtful representatives of our field.

In a different vein, our questioning also has been directed at the performance of national states in general, with those established in southeastern Europe, present-day Turkey included, as the center of attention. This questioning has gained in urgency due to the conflicts of recent years. Given the political context, present-day rethinking of Ottoman history will often include a re-examination of sultanic policies vis-à-vis dissident provincials, with special emphasis on those political measures evaluated negatively in the past. Conflicts encouraging such a re-evaluation of the performance of both multi-ethnic empires and national states include the Cyprus war of 1974, the Lebanon conflagration (1975–1990), repressive measures against the Muslim minority in Bulgaria culminating in the mass expulsion of 1989, serious military confrontations in eastern Anatolia, and especially the horrors of the war in former Yugoslavia, of which the

Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1978). For much pertinent criticism of Ottomanists’ assumptions, see Rifa’at A. Abou-El-Haj, Formation of the Modern State, the Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Albany ny, 1991). For a recent evaluation of primary and secondary sources on Ottoman history see Klaus Kreiser, Der osmanische Staat 1300–1922 (Munich, 2001).

Engin Akarlı, The Long Peace, Ottoman Lebanon 1861–1920 (Berkeley, 1993). For a different perspective, see Ariel Salzmann, “An Ancien Régime Revisited: ‘Privatization’ and Political Economy in the Eighteenth-century Ottoman Empire,” Politics and Society 21, 4 (1993), 393–423, and also Karen Barkey, Bandits and Bureaucrats, the Ottoman Route to State Centralization (Ithaca, London, 1994).

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