Workshop #3: ‘Visualising the Ottoman City’
Birkbeck Cinema, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London
41 Gordon Square (use entrance 43)
Friday 28 March 2014


1.00 pm   Welcome/Network Introduction
1.15 pm   Wendy M. K. Shaw (University of Bern):  ‘Dressing the Empire: Ethnic Diversity, Photography, and the Modernisation of the Ottoman Imperial Ideal’   Vazken Khatchig Davidian (Birkbeck, University of London): ‘The Artist and the Migrant Worker in Late 19th Century Constantinople: Simon Hagopian’s Hamal paintings’
2.15 pm – 2.45 pm   COFFEE BREAK
2.45 pm   Gabriel Koureas (Birkbeck, University of London): ‘Parallelotopia: Ottoman Assemblages’
3.15 pm  Yael Friedman (University of Portsmouth): ‘Reclaiming Jaffa’s past and present in contemporary Israeli/Palestinian visual Art’
3.45 pm   Laura Carderera (Curator and Arts Manager): ‘Speak, Memory: the role of the artist in the reactivation of cultural memory and the production of counter-narratives’
4.15 pm – 5:00 pm   COFFEE BREAK & Roundtable Discussion


Workshop 3 wendy shaw Wendy M. K. Shaw:  ‘Dressing the Empire: Ethnic Diversity, Photography, and the Modernisation of the Ottoman Imperial Ideal’

‘Often understood as an era of decline as provinces came under European control or gained national independence, the nineteenth-century was also an era of modernisation and re-consolidation in the Ottoman Empire. No longer conceptualising itself in the mold of ancient Rome governing distant and culturally independent provinces, the modernised empire increasingly characterised its rule along the lines of modern European empires. Like them, it administered uniform modern bureaucratic and legal structures across its dominion. In the guise of pan-Islamism, it also promoted a beneficent ideology that might be compared to the Mission Civilatrice of France. Despite the cessation of many regions from the empire, it nonetheless retained a high degree of diversity which continued to correspond more to an imperial than to a national model of identity formation. This paper will explore how photography in the late empire functioned in relationship with shifting policies about diverse ethnicities. It will use photographic examples from the “Les costumes popularise de la Turquie en 1873,” prepared by Osman Hamdi and Marie de Launay in honour of the 1873 world exposition, and the photographic archives collected under Sultan Abdulhamid in the 1890s’.

Workshop 3 VazkenVazken Khatchig Davidian: ‘The Artist and the Migrant Worker in Late 19th Century Constantinople: Simon Hagopian’s Hamal paintings’

‘This paper presents two paintings in a Western mode, Hamals on the Bridge at Karakoy and Portrait of a Hamal (both undated), by the native Constantinopolitan artist Simon Hagopian (1857-1921) through the prism of Edhem Eldem’s conceptualization of the Ottoman imperial capital as ‘point of contact’ (Eldem, 1999). Playing with the idea that Constantinople/Istanbul was unique among Ottoman cities, simultaneously portus (port), porta (gateway) and Porte (seat of government), Eldem’s concept renders this city, an entry point for goods, ideas and people, as interface in the realms of politics, culture, economics and power in all its forms.

The paper focuses on one such specific encounter – that between the urban Ottoman artist/intellectual and the rural migrant worker from Ottoman Armenia who worked as a porter (hamal) and lived in slum-like conditions in inns (hans) in the city. While both artist and subject under scrutiny belonged to the same Ottoman community, their interrelationship can best be understood within the context of the imperial megalopolis.

Finally, this paper examines how the indigenous ‘Eastern’ artist/intellectual has presented his environment, therefore challenging stereotypes. By engaging with and giving a voice to those excluded from official art-historiographies it provides a subaltern angle to Ottoman art history’.

Workshop 3 GabrielGabriel Koureas: ‘Parallelotopia: Ottoman Assemblages’

‘In recent years the idea of cosmopolitanism has undergone a revival in relation to globalisation and to a certain degree the Ottoman Empire although critics of the latter and especially of an Ottoman ‘grieving cosmopolitanism’ have drawn our attention to the drawbacks of such a model. This paper will attempt to work through an alternative theoretical framework drawing from Deleuze’s concept of ‘assemblage’ in order to question the visual culture of the Ottoman city in the late 19th century through the newly imported medium of photography. The paper will argue that the representation of the city and its people provided the means to naturalise spatial relations into a permanent landscape that appeared immutable and closed to contestation thus pre-empting the nationalisms that followed the fall of the Empire.

The paper will then move in parallel directions to the contemporary ex-Ottoman city and contemporary artistic interventions in the space of the city thus creating parallelotopia as opposed to utopian cosmopolitanisms in order to discuss the transformative politics of Ottoman cultural memories by separating, juxtaposing and recombining the dimensions of the Ottoman city’.

Workshop 3 Yael FYael Friedman: ‘Reclaiming Jaffa’s past and present in contemporary Israeli/Palestinian visual Art’

‘Jaffa (Yaffa), one the major ports in the Ottoman province of Palestine in the second-half of the nineteenth century, was an important centre of social and economic urbanity. In the aftermath of the 1948 war and the establishment of the state of Israel the city was driven into a state of marginality and decay.  Annexed to Tel Aviv, the epitome of Zionist modernity, governmental and urban policies have over the years turned it, materially and metaphorically, into the dark backyard of what is referred to in Zionist narratives as the ‘white city’. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Jaffa’s history, its beautiful buildings and picturesque seashore, although this is often manifested in the form of gentrification projects informed by neo-liberal politics that disenfranchises Jaffa’s local inhabitants and obscures its Palestinian past.

This talk will look at several recent political visual art projects, emerging from within the Jaffa locality, which subvert and challenge official narratives of the city, resist processes of  marginalization and neoliberal gentrification and give an image and a voice to its lived-in geography, its mixed inhabitants and its Palestinian past and present.  These include the works of the filmmakers Kamal Aljafari and Scandar Copti, the insulations and video art of the visual artist Raafat Hattab, the photographer Ariela Ushpiz and exhibitions curated by Rona Sela’.

Workshop 3 Laura CLaura Carderera: ‘Speak, Memory: the role of the artist in the reactivation of cultural memory and the production of counter-narratives’

‘Over the last decade, the Middle East has witnessed the proliferation of archival, historiographic and research projects seeking to question, document or shed light on the region’s 20th century cultural history, each of them adopting their own particular strategy or methodology. The plethora of players involved in this “scramble for history” include institutions such as universities and museums but also independent and private initiatives led by collectors, curators and artists.  Examples include the Arab Image Foundation, the Modern Art Iraq Archive (MAIA) or the History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group initiated by Beirut-based researchers Rasha Salti and Kristine Khouri. Although these new initiatives are laudable on may levels, the artistic community is wary of the risks of replicating hegemonic models of knowledge production that perpetuate specific historical narratives. This presentation will examine the role that artistic archival practices can play in the reactivation of cultural memory and the production of counter identities, counter narratives and counter memories, looking at specific examples such as Susan Meiselas’ archival project on the visual history of the Kurds, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s project on the Egyptian surrealism movement and Hrair Sarkissian’s Istory project delving into the erasure of Armenian history from Turkish archives and libraries’.

Workshop #2: ‘Ottoman Memories: Transculturalism and Empires in Comparison’
Birkbeck Cinema, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London
41 Gordon Square (use entrance 43)
Friday 1 November 2013


Welcome/Network Introduction
1.45 pm   Sami Zubaida (Birkbeck, University of London): ‘The Peculiarity of the Ottomans’
2.15 pm   Jay Prosser (University of Leeds): ‘Mahallah memories:  An Ottoman Jewish family in the British Empire’
2.45 pm – 3.15 pm   COFFEE BREAK
3.15 pm   John McLeod (University of Leeds): ‘Working with transculturalism’
3.45 pm   Claire Launchbury (University of Leeds): ‘Imperial Topographies: Navigating Beirut in Time and Space’
4.15 pm – 5:00 pm   COFFEE BREAK & Roundtable Discussion

Roundtable: (left) Gabriel Koureas, Sami Zubaida, Jay Prosser, Claire Launchbury, John McLeod

Roundtable: (left) Gabriel Koureas, Sami Zubaida, Jay Prosser, Claire Launchbury, John McLeod








Sami Zubaida: ‘The Peculiarity of the Ottomans’Sami Talk2

‘All empires create cultural syntheses of the different territories and peoples they rule, but the patterns of these syntheses and whom they reach and include vary. The Ottoman, in common with some other pre-capitalist empires, was not a ‘national’/Turkish hegemony, but embraced and absorbed elites from various ethnicities from its very beginning: the Janissary slave corps, Greek diplomats and administrators, Arab, Kurdish and Balkan aristocracies, and so on. The hegemony was not of Turks over others, but of the askari (military/ruling) class over ra`aya (subjects) Its official identity was as a Muslim power, defending the faith and maintaining its integrity. Yet, it embraced a great diversity of Islamic doctrines and practices, sometimes verging on syncretism. Its cultural syntheses, however, did not reach far beyond its elites and cities, and much of its population rural and tribal, remained isolated. In all these respects, the Ottoman was different from the later capitalist empires, the British, the French and the Dutch, which rapidly transformed the territories and populations under their rule in markets and economic dynamism, transport and communications, breaking up old modes of production and the households and communities that sustained them. It is interesting to trace patterns of cultural syntheses and transformations under the different forms of empire, looking at examples of language, music and food’.

Jay Prosser: ‘Mahallah memories:  An Ottoman Jewish family in the British Empire’JP Talk

‘Mahallah is a transcultural word. An Arabic term meaning ‘neighbourhood’ or ‘quarter,’ it came to be used in the Ottoman Empire, translated into the Turkish mahalle, to describe the smallest administrative ward or area.   Under the Ottoman millet system, religious/cultural groups had distinct mahallah, among them Jews, throughout Ottoman cities from Baghdad to Sarajevo, in which the Jewish quarter was known as the Jewish Mahallah.  Mahallah was not just a term of geographical zoning, however, but was thoroughly forming of identity and community – of family, social, religious and cultural life.  When Ottoman Jews migrated from the Ottoman Empire – not infrequently into other empires (the British Empire for instance) – they often took the mahallah with them:   the term, the geographic organisation, and more inextricably, the deep connotations of mahallah life.  This talk looks at how a family of Baghdadi Jews, my own, took the mahallah with them, from Ottoman Baghdad to British Bombay and then on to British Singapore.  The Ottoman organisation of space, driven by ease of taxation and minimal intervention and  accepted by the community as way of preserving traditions, demands comparison with the British Empire’s planning of urban zones based on its imperial concept of divide-and-rule segregation of communities (whitetown, greytown; European town; Chinese village, etc.). Reading the personal via a series of public court cases and newspaper articles, I discover two empires encountering each other at the very end of the Ottoman Empire period to produce pressures and perceptions in a family to make a choice, between assimilating into the British Empire, and clinging to an archaic Ottoman Jewish past; between the Mahallah, and the metropolis’.

John McLeod: ‘Working with transculturalism’John Talk

‘This paper explores the productive opportunities that transculturalism present for research into global, cosmopolitan and intercultural contexts.  It approaches critically the central concerns of transculturalism as a meaningful concept of cultural critique, initially by comparing it to a number of other competing and prevailing conceptual tools for which it is often mistaken (such as postcolonialism and cosmopolitanism).  In particular, it considers the fruitfulness of transculturalism’s multi-axial comparative potential that recognises how discrete transcultural trajectories are often cross-hatched with others which invisibly shape those trajectories; the possibilities for recognising how minoritised transcultural agency can resource, and be resourced by, seemingly unrelated activities in disparate contexts (times and places); and the incommensurability within the transcultural contact zone which inflects all transcultural encounters and deflects transculturalism from manifesting itself as a neoliberal strategy of prizing/pricing cultural distinctiveness while dominating it.  The discussion draws upon examples from my own research – diasporic critique, transcultural adoption – and seeks to support the workshop by supplementing its exploration of the conceptual energy of transculturalism as a key term’.

Claire Launchbury: ‘Imperial Topographies: Navigating Beirut in Time and Space’Claire talk

‘In the 1890s, Yusuf Aftimos designed a clocktower for the Ottoman barracks in Beirut. Only the second such structure in an Arab city space, Samir Kassir observed that ‘in a piece of supreme sophistication, the time was given in both the French and Turkish manner, as though to acknowledge the city’s hesitation between the time of the world, dominated by European expansion, and that of an empire that refused to die.’ (Samir Kassir, Beirut, p. 145). This co-existence of Ottoman and French imperial temporalities can be seen to imprint upon the topography of Beirut and even into the subsequent rebuilding of the city following the end of the civil war. Transcultural layers of memory then are revealed through wartime destruction and reconstruction. In this paper, I argue that navigating Beirut in time and space is a palimpsestic tour of different memory cultures that antagonise and provoke, particularly in contesting the globalising trend of neo-liberalism, especially when we look at clocks, railways and trams’.

Official Launch Workshop: ‘How was the Ottoman Empire Transcultural?’
Room 112, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London
41 Gordon Square
Friday 21 June 2013


1.30 pm   Welcome/Network Introduction
1.45 pm   Sahar Hamouda (Alexandria University) “‘Five Races, Five Creeds, a Dozen Languages”: The Multiculturalism of Cosmopolitan Alexandria’
2.15 pm   Colette Wilson (Institute of Germanic Studies and Romance Studies, University of London): ‘Jacques Hassoun’s Alexandries: Voices in Time, Space and Text’
2.45 pm   Panel Q&A
3.15 pm – 3.45 pm COFFEE BREAK
3.45 pm  Fred Anscombe (Birkbeck, University of London): ‘The End of Empire and the Origins of
Ottoman Nostalgia’
4.15 pm   Yair Wallach (SOAS, University of London): ‘Jerusalem Between Segregation and Integration: Reading Urban Space Through the Eyes of Justice Gad Frumkin’
4.45 pm   Panel Q&A
5.15 pm – 5.45 pm COFFEE BREAK
5.45pm – 6.45 pm ROUNDTABLE


Sahar Hamouda: ‘”Five Races, Five Creeds, a Dozen Languages”: The Multiculturalism of Cosmopolitan Alexandria’

‘When Mohamed Ali, an Ottoman subject from Cavalla, became Wali of Egypt in 1805, Egypt was a backward country and Alexandria a forgotten backwater with a citizenry of 5-8 thousand citizens. Mohamed Ali and his descendants embarked on a programme of modernization that lifted the country out of its poverty and apathy, making it a leading power in the region. Alexandria in particular received his attention. He encouraged foreigners from around the Mediterranean and beyond to make it their home, and in return for the security it offered, they brought her wealth and modernization. Mohamed Ali adapted the Ottoman millet system, whereby foreign communities became secular structures that offered their members social, cultural and financial support. Alexandria eventually became a leading economic force as well as an innovator in many social and cultural fields, while its institutions displayed how people from different ethnic and denominational backgrounds could work together for the benefit of the city. This paper will examine how Alexandria’s peculiar cosmopolitanism and tolerance allowed its citizens to live peacefully and productively together, until nationalism and wars made such an existence an impossibility’.

Colette Wilson: ‘Jacques Hassoun’s Alexandries: Voices in Time, Space and Text’

‘Jacques Hassoun, an Arabic and French-speaking Jew, was born in Alexandria in 1936 and died in Paris in 1999. Best remembered today as an influential Lacanian psychoanalyst, he was also the author of many books, articles and essays on his native Alexandria, Jewish history, diaspora, exile and trauma, as well as the interaction between language, memory and identity. A major concern for Hassoun was transgenerational transmission, with a special emphasis on the need for the descendants of exiles to learn about their history and culture of origin. In his only novel, Alexandries (1985), Hassoun grapples in autofictional, polyphonic form with these major themes. Rather than the work of a nostalgic exile as other critics have suggested, I will argue that Alexandries is a complex example of memory work which not only brings the specificity of Jewish Egyptian exiles to the fore but also rejects the common assumption that, to quote Michael Rothberg, there is a straight line running ‘from memory to identity and that the only kinds of memories and identities that are therefore possible are ones that exclude elements of alterity and forms of commonality with others.’ Rothberg’s theories on multidirectional memory fit well with Hassoun’s project, and indeed for our own research on ex-Ottoman cities for, as Rothberg reminds us: ‘our relationship to the past does partially determine who we are in the present, but never straightforwardly and directly, and never without unexpected or even unwanted consequences that bind us to those whom we consider other’.

Fred Anscombe: ‘The End of Empire and the Origins of Ottoman Nostalgia’


Yair Wallach: ‘Jerusalem Between Segregation and Integration: Reading Urban Space Through the Eyes of Justice Gad Frumkin’

‘Jerusalem is typically presented as a city where religious and ethnic segregation is deep-rooted. This article challenges this portrayal, while problematising the ways we theorise and measure segregation. Building on recent debates in urban studies, I follow the life history of one Jerusalemite, Justice Gad Frumkin, to examine how encounter and separation played out in the lived experience of the city.  Frumkin, who was born to a Jewish Ashkenazi family in the “Muslim Quarter”, studied law in Istanbul, and became a judge in Palestine’s Supreme Court under British rule, was a Zionist with excellent ties with the Arab elite. Through his writing emerges a complex picture of Jerusalem, that does not conform to the stereotype of entrenched ethnic residential segregation. I show that the re-organisation of the city in the late Ottoman period facilitated the creation of new civic spaces associated with a common identity. Such possibilities became impossible under the British Mandate and the emerging Zionist-Arab conflict; however, trade and work relations persisted in numerous places of encounter up until the 1947 inter-communal war. I suggest that in analysing segregation in conflict environments, attention should be paid to the quotidian rhythms of commerce, labour and movement through the city, and not only to the question of residential segregation’.

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  1. Pingback: Ottoman Cosmopolitanism Network workshop: Visualising the Ottoman City | Imagining Jerusalem

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