Our focus is the Ottoman Empire, which is the subject of our discussions, readings, workshops, a conference and an exhibition, publications and this website over several years. The Ottoman Empire is at once one of largest and longest empires, and yet it is still relatively (compared to other empires) understudied. Given current contestations around the relevance and conception of the Ottoman Empire, in Turkey, in Europe and in the Middle East, never has there been a more important time to examine Ottoman memories. We are bringing together an international research network to expand the field substantially by pooling expertise and innovating new research.
The Ottoman Empire was rich in cultural exchanges. Its multiethnic cities stretched from East to West and included places such as Baghdad, Beirut, Jerusalem, Gaza, Sarajevo and Belgrade. We now associate these names mainly — too much — with conflict, but for over 600 years, from the start of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1300s, to its demise in 1922, these cites were cosmopolitan centres, places of largely peaceful cohabitation and exchange.
Exchanges between cultural groups — between Muslims and Jews, Armenians and Mesopotomanians (Iraqis), Anatolians and Serbians and so on — hinged on trade, of course; and one reason why the Ottoman Empire was so successful and different, we suspect, is that it prioritised trade and travel above all else.
But key to Ottoman exchange was also ‘culture’ — that is, architecture, art, food, music, literature, language; and dare we say it, religion, love and life itself. It is the memory of these cultural exchanges — what we call ‘transcultural memories’ — passed down through generations, often through families (including our own), that we are especially interested in exploring. In order to capture these transcultural memories, all of our events and publications take an ‘interdisciplinary’ approach, putting alongside one another different scholarly methods with creative, artistic and life-writing practices.
The Ottoman Empire has a very long historical reach. Our research interests are mainly, but not exclusively, focused on the period from the 1780s to the present. Since it was then that the Ottoman Empire confronted different colonialisms most obviously, namely British and French, and transitioned into postcolonial nationalisms and sectarianisms which are our heritage, this later period of the Ottoman Empire is especially productive for exploring what has happened to Ottoman cosmopolitanism and its transcultural memories.