The Coal Heavers’ Strike in Istanbul (1910): A Case Study in the Politics of the Constitutional Period

01/02/2021 6:00 pm
Zoom meeting
The Coal Heavers’ Strike in Istanbul (1910): A Case Study in the Politics of the Constitutional Period

Yaşar Tolga Cora (Boğaziçi University)

In the autumn of 1910, coal heavers in Istanbul, more than a thousand men, predominantly Kurdish, went on strike. Disrupting sea transportation in the capital and leading to the unlawful police detainment of ringleaders, the strike turned into a major incident that elicited a variety of political responses. Focusing on this strike as a case study, this presentation examines the political sphere in general and the politics of labor activism in particular as they existed at the turn of the twentieth century in the Ottoman Empire.

The presentation will first reconstruct the history of the strike through sources produced by a variety of state and non-state actors. Approaching the strike as a field of contestation in which various actors were pitted against one another, it will address not only the specific labor issues involved but also broader problems in Ottoman society that the strike made visible, including those of political economy, freedom of expression, and intercommunal relations. Thus this presentation aims to contribute to recent discussions about why, in an age in which coal was a driver of the global economy, labor activism in the coal sector did not turn into a broader democratic movement in the Ottoman Empire.

As a second goal, following various scholars’ calls in recent decades for the issue to be brought into the study of labor history, the presentation seeks to examine the central role that ethnicity played in the labor activism of the Second Constitutional Period, both in discourse and in politics on the ground. It thus aims to address broader historiographical concerns, particularly the challenge of writing about the working classes who went largely unrepresented in urban politics and the limits such lack of representation places on our ability to understand the wider politics of the era.

Intervention en anglais


Scholar-Bureaucrats and the Making of the Early Modern Ottoman Empire: Bearers of Authority, Legitimacy, and Expertise

15/02/2021 6:00 pm
Zoom meeting

Abdurrahman Atçil (Université Sabanci)

Séance modérée par Denis Hermann (IFEA)

In the pre-modern Ottoman Empire, a large group of Muslim scholars, specialists of Islamic religious knowledge, constituted a significant branch of the Ottoman bureaucracy. In addition to participating in the transmission of religious knowledge and providing religious guidance, these scholars acted as the agents of the sultans’ government, serving as judges, financial officials, administrative investigators, diplomats, etc. They pursued a career in government service, climbing up a ladder of hierarchically organized positions with regular promotions. The functions they fulfilled and the form of their relationship with the government distinguished these scholars from their predecessors and their contemporary colleagues. They were a unique group, and deserve a unique label: “scholar-bureaucrats.”

Muslim scholars traditionally claimed the moral authority in the Islamic world and usually esteemed independence from the ruling authorities. For this reason, their incorporation into the government was a significant development. It was a gradual process and had many ups and downs and turning points. From the second half of the fifteenth century, many factors, such as the construction of largescale educational complexes, the institutionalization of the state, international developments, and scholars’ increasing desire to participate in the government, dynamically interacted and brought about the rise of the group of scholar-bureaucrats.

The special position of scholar-bureaucrats was one of the distinctive characteristics of the early modern Ottoman Empire. Scholar-bureaucrats contributed legal and administrative expertise to the Ottoman government. They also helped the Ottomans to acquire and strengthen their legitimacy. Last but not least, the presence of scholar-bureaucrats hindered the rise of a body of religious authorities, with parallel and competing claims to those of the government. 

Abdurrahman Atçıl is an associate professor of history at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago in 2010. Before joining Sabancı University in 2020, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Law School and as an assistant professor and associate professor at Queens College of the City University of New York and Istanbul Şehir University.

In terms of research, Dr. Atçıl is particularly interested in questions of law, religion, and politics in the early modern Ottoman Empire. His first book, Scholars and Sultans in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire, details Muslim scholars’ transition from independent and cosmopolitan actors to scholar-bureaucrats. His other published work is devoted to addressing issues, such as the Ottoman-Safavid conflict, scholarly mobility and theology and philosophy in the Islamic legal tradition.

Dr. Atçıl is currently working on two projects: The first, funded by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey-Career Development Grant, uses social-network-analysis technologies to examine the professional and intellectual networks of over 750 high-level Ottoman scholar-bureaucrats in the period 1470–1650. The second, funded by European Research Council-Consolidator Grant, investigates the formation of law in the Ottoman Empire between 1450 and 1650. Examining the religio-legal opinions (fetva) of scholars and decrees of sultans (kanun), it aspires to develop a model of lawmaking that will account for diversity and change in early-modern societies.

Intervention en anglais

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