The Ottoman Balkans and Its Legacies in Comparative Perspectives

Course Description: 

This course introduces students to the history of as well as contentious debates regarding the Ottoman Empire’s long presence and legacies in the Balkan Peninsula.  The first half of each meeting will consist of a brief lecture component in which the instructor provides the students with a long-duree lens to understand the shifting socio-economic and cultural impact the Ottoman presence had in the region from the late-medieval to twentieth century in order to contextualize course readings that will be drawn from the latest scholarship from and about the region.  While the study of the Balkans is considered a legitimate field of inquiry, this class will challenge this Cold War, geo-political designation and emphasize how the pre-twentieth-century (and arguably modern) Balkans should not be studied according to the needs of the political entities that lie within current national boundaries that scholars anachronistically use to demarcate the region’s past since people, goods, ideas, trends, and movements constantly flowed throughout the Ottoman world based on a different logic than today’s national boundaries, small markets, and narrow understandings of identity and belonging.  That being said, the course will nevertheless integrate local perspectives, past and present, with those of the Ottoman imperial center without reifying center-periphery/imperialism vs. resistance dichotomies and place the Balkans in their rightful, trans-regional—and central—place in Ottoman, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern history.  Given the backgrounds of students joining the class, the instructor may also assign primary texts as well as the latest scholarship from different Balkan countries in order to enhance our discussions of the latest scholarship in English. 

Learning Outcomes: 

The course will focus on how competitions the Ottomans had over the centuries with imperial rivals like the Byzantine, Hungarian, Hapsburg, Safavid, Venetian, Russian, French, and British empires and how they impacted the peoples of the Balkans in different ways in order to instill in the students the need to understand the region in the context of inter-imperial, global history. While a great deal of scholarship on the Balkans focus on national awakenings and struggles and other centrifugal forces that inevitably end teleologically with new, Christian nations’ over-throwing an alien, Muslim “yoke” in the nineteenth century, this class will emphasize how central peoples from the Balkans were to the Ottoman venture much to the chagrin of Anatolian and Middle Eastern Muslims throughout the centuries and how indigenous “East”-“West” divisions played out according to a different logic within Ottoman society, a logic that has little to do with the European vs. Asian, Western vs. Oriental, and Christian vs Muslim dichotomies usually evoked in talking about the Balkans. The class will place early, nineteenth-century “nationalist” uprisings (i.e., Serbian, Greek, etc.) into their time-honored Ottoman-Islamic template for collective action and rebellion whilst considering how the impact of changing power configurations among the Ottomans and their Christian imperial rivals beginning in the eighteenth century helped fuel new political imaginations in the Balkans. This class is an inter-disciplinary history class that borrows heavily from anthropology, sociology, gender studies, and ethnography/folklore studies to focus on poignant social issues at the forefront of the social-sciences such as intra- and inter-confessional relations, the symbiosis between imperial governance/legal regimes and local custom, the blurry lines between effective government and criminality, group self-fashioning instead of collective identity, as well as the link between masculinity and an enduring ethos of insubordination to state institutions shared by peoples well beyond the Balkans from Serbia to Syria.


Discussion Leading Activity and Class Participation (10 pts): every student will be in charge of leading the discussions at least two or three times during the semester depending on class size.  This does not mean that the student simply gives a summary of the article or book chapter that everyone has already read. Rather, it means that the student should ask 5 questions about the article that will stimulate conversation in the classroom.  It is in this discussion of the questions that the presenter can offer her own opinion and answer to his/her questions, only after other students have attempted to answer them.  In this sense, the students will be evaluated on their ability to stimulate and sustain an intellectual conversation with her peers and professor.

Every student will be expected to come to every class and actively participate in the class discussions. Up to two excused absences are allowed, if professor is notified before the class. Any further absences will result in an automatic decrease of the final grade by half a letter grade.   Students should come to class on time and are not allowed to surf the internet during class.

Response Papers (60 pts—20 pts each): 3 two-to-three-page response papers on weekly sets of readings of their choice. The first response paper has to be submitted by (including) Week 3, the second by Week 6, and the third by Week 9.  In the response paper, the student should not provide a mere summary of the readings’ contents  but is expected to write an analytical paper that has a thesis and a point, compares and contrasts different approaches in an intelligible manner, and offers the student’s personal opinion regarding the works compared.  The most successful papers will also make use of readings from previous weeks to further develop the student’s analysis of her chosen week.

Final Paper (30 pts):  Students must all turn in a 10-12 page historiographical essay based on course readings and/or additional research.  That being said, students are also welcome to analyze important primary sources (some translations will be discussed during the semester) using important concepts and approaches garnered from the readings introduced this semester.