- Western Europe in the Ottoman World:Media, Mediation, and Intermediaries
The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment cambridge, mass.: harvard university press, 2018
xv + 340 pages; ISBN: 9780674975927
The Whispers of Cities: Information Flows in Istanbul, London, and Paris in the Age of William Trumbull
oxford: oxford university press, 2013
xvi + 192 pages; ISBN: 9780199672417
Engaging the Ottoman Empire: Vexed Mediations, 1690–1815
philadelphia: university of pennsylvania press, 2019
468 pages; ISBN: 9780812250602
as one of the most powerful, expansive, and resilient empires in history, the Ottoman Empire (ca. 1300–1922) has attracted considerable attention among scholars who have elaborated on Donald Quataert's insight into the "truly intimate way the Ottomans became part and parcel of everyday European life."1 From coffee and coffeehouses to tulips, percussion instruments, and smallpox inoculation, [End Page 199] this empire's material exports helped make Europe European. After all, the House of Osman, hailing from Islamic and Turkic Anatolia, considered itself the heir of Rûm, comprising the former Roman and Byzantine territories.2 And for centuries, this dynasty was intricately bound to its western neighbors through trade, diplomacy, and war. The three monographs reviewed here shed further light on these complex linkages by considering how various textual, oral, and pictorial media fostered cross-cultural communication and knowledge making in the late seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries. Although examining different cultural artifacts and grounded in different historical archives, Alexander Bevilacqua, John-Paul A. Ghobrial, and Daniel O'Quinn offer complementary accounts for why the culture of news, the advent of Arabic-Islamic studies, book history, and the visual arts cannot be adequately understood from within a Eurocentric or orientalist paradigm.
Movable-type print technologies, primarily printed books, have long been seen as the main vehicles by which people in Britain and Europe received information about the Ottomans and formulated knowledge about them. In particular, travel literature, the Oriental tale, and plays have been privileged in explanations of how this multiethnic Islamic polity came to be known alternately as Christendom's scourge, a friendly trading partner, or an object of envy.3 The ways in which knowledge was disseminated west depended on the travelers, diplomats, merchants, renegades (Christian converts to Islam), and dragomans (official interpreters) whom scholars have treated as the chief intercultural brokers—the polyglot go-betweens who regularly transacted with or worked for Ottoman authorities.4 But connecting this east–west informational nexus primarily to print and focusing almost exclusively on official [End Page 200] and semiofficial actors has had the unintended effect of devaluing other media and intermediaries.
In The Whispers of Cities: Information Flows in Istanbul, London, and Paris in the Age of William Trumbull, Ghobrial brings this neglected mediation to the fore. His monograph makes visible the oral, epistolary, and scribal communications from Istanbul that collectively informed early modern news in such capitals as London and Paris. Rumors circulating in or about the Sublime Porte and relayed through various Ottoman subjects, including priests, doctors, scribes, servants, and harem women, were integral to European news genres and newspapers in the late seventeenth century. In The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment, Bevilacqua describes how this information flow nurtured the formation of Arabic-Islamic scholarship, creating a community of European scholars who shared a humanistic investment in, and even a kinship with, Muslim peoples, empires, and histories despite their own Christian biases against this religion and its founder, Prophet Muhammad. Although Bevilacqua's aim is to center the underexamined Catholic contribution to this republic, he also shows the extent to which European publications on Islamic topics relied on oral and manuscript culture in Istanbul and the Ottoman bookdealers, scholars, and translators who made this ambitious academic enterprise feasible. Extending this intellectual transmission to British, French, and Dutch visual and performative mediums, O'Quinn's Engaging the Ottoman Empire: Vexed Mediations, 1690–1815 makes a cogent case for how the eighteenth-century discourses of orientalism and philhellenism were coproduced by European painters, draftsmen, engravers, book illustrators, and writers in Ottoman lands and with the assistance of Ottoman guides, interpreters, soldiers, and artists. The rigorous...