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Reviewed by:
  • Cities of the Mediterranean: From the Ottomans to the Present Day
  • Robert J. Pranger (bio)
Biray Kolluoglu and Meltem Toksoz, Editors: Cities of the Mediterranean: From the Ottomans to the Present Day. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010. 256 pages. ISBN 978-1-84885-127-6. $95.00 (hardcover).

To appreciate the scholarly nature and ambitious scope of this book, it is best to begin by reading the first essay by the editors (both on the faculty of Bogazici University in Istanbul), "Mapping Out the Eastern Mediterranean: Toward a Cartography of Cities of Commerce"; then the second by Caglar Keyder of the same institution and also of the State University of New York, Binghamton, "Port-cities in the Belle Epoque"; and finally the last, "The Deep Structures of Mediterranean Modernity," by Edmund Burke III of the University of California, Santa Cruz. This approach sets the stage for an impressively exhaustive study—nine additional essays—of key Ottoman cities of commerce on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean since the sixteenth century.

In our age of globalization there is much to be learned from this history, not the least being its emphasis on space in a cartographic sense that transcends empires and nation-states as a kind of universe of cosmopolitan cities, all part of existing political entities but also providing more inclusive opportunities for human enterprise and interaction. The authors are unanimous in their view that the Mediterranean has been, and still is to some extent, such a special space.

The editors recount a 2004 meeting in Berlin at the Wissenschaftskolleg where they were invited by the Institute of Advanced Study as part of the working group New Approaches to the History of Merchant Cities in the Ottoman Empire and Its Successor States. Their working group "was only one among many if one considers the large number of conferences and workshops, post-graduate research programs, and dissertations, [End Page 119] articles and books on the Mediterranean cities of commerce in the nineteenth century, testifying to an explosion of interest in these spaces since the closing decade of the twentieth century." Some of this new scholarship on the Mediterranean, the editors say, has gone so far as to see the region "as an economic, cultural, and socio-political unity, but very little has been said on what made that unity last, from its inception per se in the sixteenth century to the first quarter of the last century." The latter consideration would become the focus of this book of essays, originating in Berlin and with a subsequent planning workshop in Beirut during the last days of 2004. Since then, the editors note, Beirut "once again has become the stage of violent confrontation that makes us reconsider the historical possibility of the Mediterranean." However, they believe that "this collection is timely and necessary, precisely because world societies and politics at the beginning of the twenty-first century are over-ridden with the opportunities and risks that come with increasing global interdependencies and connectedness." There is no word about the funding for such an ambitious project as this one, although it would seem that the first meetings in Berlin and then in Beirut might give the reader some indication, as would the fact that both editors and four other contributors are Turkish.

This book is about "the cities of commerce of the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean that have been spaces of links, networks, and riches, also awash by conflicts, wars, and boundary contestations . . . in the ever-expanding and ever-intensifying circuits of global exchange since the sixteenth century." All of these cities were ruled by the Ottoman Empire at some point until its final collapse in World War I. Of primary interest are Algiers, Alexandria, Athens, Beirut, Cairo, Constanta, Izmir, Pireaus, Salonica (Thessaloniki), Tripoli, and Tunisia (Tunis). The expression "cities of commerce" instead of "port-cities" (Keyder's phrase) is preferred by the editors: "a juncture of space, class, community and political authority," relatively autonomous from imperial suzerainty but with a "cosmopolitan attachment" to the rule of the state.

The book's methodology is a "cartography that looks at the terrains themselves, rather than the forces...


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pp. 119-122
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2019
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