Exchanging Ideas on the Mediterranean and Ottoman Empire

Some might say that the field of Mediterranean studies is rather small. But members of the UC Multi-Campus Research Project in Mediterranean Studies prefer to see that as an advantage.
“What the Mediterranean allows…is that we learn to talk across the disciplinary boundaries in which we’ve been trained,” said Sharon Kinoshita, a co-director of the MRP and professor of world literature and cultural studies at UC Santa Cruz, in her opening remarks at the MRP’s winter workshop held at UC Davis last Friday, January 30th, in a conference room in the Social Sciences and Humanities Building.
Associate Professor of History Baki Tezcan brought the MRP to UC Davis last week and joined it with a weekend gathering of the Western Ottomanists’ Workshop (WOW).
Kinoshita and Brian Catlos, co-director of the MRP and a professor of religious studies and history at CU Boulder, led the opening remarks and explained the history of the group and its intellectual mission. This winter workshop is the group’s fourteenth and penultimate meeting as its UC funding comes to a close. Catlos underscored the advantages of a small community and the origins in the MRP’s mission as encouraging cross-discipinary conversations.
Accordingly, the meeting was not a conference, but truly a social sciences workshop in its structure and aims. Papers were pre-circulated and read beforehand, the speaker and author gave a short presentation, and then fielded questions from the invited commentator and the rest of the audience. This sense of intimate and supportive community carried through the entire conference; Catlos and Kinoshita asked the entire audience to introduce themselves so as to better foster dialogue throughout the workshop.
That interdisciplinary focus was apparent in the first talk of the workshop, a paper by Fariba Zarinebaf, Associate Professor of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at UC Riverside.
Zarinebaf’s talk, “Ottoman-European Commercial Encounters in Early Modern Galata,” made use of a great deal of archive work, looking at original documents in fields as varied as economics, legal and court documents, and previous historical accounts of the Ottoman presence in Galata.
Her talk also made apparent the importance of thinking critically about one’s own approach to an academic subject and examining one’s own historiographic methods; discussion with the audience brought to the fore that “there is no one model” for conceptualizing the Ottoman Empire as, for example, either an empire of conquest or an empire of trade.
The programming for Saturday and Sunday consisted of similarly structured talks by the Western Ottomanists’ Workshop, which has partnered with the MRP in Mediterranean Studies once before at Davis. The two groups’ shared investment in interdisciplinarity and encouraging excitement about these specific, yet fruitful fields of inquiry was clear in the vibrant discussion throughout the weekend.
– Katja Jylkka, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in English