Ottoman Imperial Diplomacy: A Political, Social and Cultural History

By Delgado, Jibreel | Insight Turkey, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Ottoman Imperial Diplomacy: A Political, Social and Cultural History


Delgado, Jibreel, Insight Turkey


Ottoman Imperial Diplomacy: A Political, Social and Cultural History

By Dogan Gurpinar

London and New York: I.B.Tauris, 2014, 350 pages, $99, ISBN 9781780761121.

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Dogan Gurpinar's most recent contribution to Late Ottoman History places the formation of modern Turkish nationalism not in any externally imposed ideology diametrically opposed to all that the Ottoman identity stood for, but rather he finds it emanating from the reformist trends within the Ottoman diplomatic service. Gurpinar situates his study within the new paradigm generated by the work of a generation of historians, "beginning with the avant-guarde study by Rifa'at Abou-El-Haj... such as Linda Darling, Ariel Salzmann, Butrus Abu-Manneh, and Beshara Doumani" (p. 3). Starting in the 1990s, this paradigm identified the early modern period of the Ottoman Empire as a time of dynamism and complexity, challenging earlier historians who gave a reductionist description of the period as one of total decline and degeneration. Continuing along these lines, the current work under review along with Gurpinar's other recent publication, Ottoman/Turkish Visions of the Nation, 1860-1950, trace the continuities between the early modern period and the late 19th to early 20th century.

The book is divided into seven chapters with an introduction and conclusion. The first three chapters--"Nationalism and the ancient regime: politics of the Tanzimat," "Primacy of international politics: diplomacy and appropriation of the 'new knowledge,'" and "A social portrait of the diplomatic service"--examine the institution of the Ottoman diplomatic service in the shadow of the Tanzimat era of the mid-1800s, providing insight into the social status of those involved in international diplomacy and their consideration of the skill of international relations as another of the many types of "new knowledge" that Ottoman reformers were looking to attain. Throughout the following two chapters --"The routine of the diplomatic service and its encounters abroad," and "The mentalities and dispositions of the diplomatic service: the great transformation"--the author traces intellectual developments from the Tanzimat generation to the generation of the Young Ottomans in the First Constitutional Era, the Hamidian reforms, to the time of the Young Turks and Unionists of the Second Constitutional Era and the rise of the Turkish Republic. He does so, all through the lens of the bureaucrats of the Ottoman Foreign Ministry. In the final two chapters--"The European patterns and the Ottoman Foreign Office," and "Passages of the diplomatic service from the Empire to the Republic"--Gurpinar argues that the roots of Turkish nationalist identity are to be found within the sociocultural and intellectual exchanges taking place among Ottoman diplomats and their European counterparts, and that many aspects of the conceptualization of Ottoman identity that were being developed in the transformative period of the Tanzimat/Hamidian regime were then transferred over into the conception of Turkish national identity.

Gurpinar's argument is explicitly based on the idea of continuity between the Ottoman Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the late 1800s and the formulation of Turkish nationalist values of the early 1900s. The author's use of Bourdieusian sociological theory is particularly noteworthy in helping to explain the social and cultural habits, tastes, and education that united elites within the Foreign Ministry throughout the Hamidian and post-Hamidian eras. …

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