It was a great pleasure to meet in person over the weekend of 14-15 October for our workshop, Ottoman political economies, which continued the work and discussions of our online seminar series of the same name. The workshop, which was supported by the Past & Present Society, the Economic History Society, and the Trevelyan Fund in addition to CRASSH, welcomed early-career scholars from around the world for two days of conversations around questions of political economy in Ottoman history – an area often dominated by cultural and intellectual approaches. Because we started the series online during Covid, this workshop was the first time the group has been able to convene in person.
As in most of our previous meetings, the workshop was dedicated to discussing work-in-progress by members of the group, with two additional sessions dedicated to planning the next steps for our project. In the first session, on ‘state finance’, papers by Ellen Nye and Naz Yücel prompted discussions on the strengths as well as the shortcomings of existing scholarship in Ottoman economic history, and the tensions between quantitative economic history and more cultural questionings of economic categories. Discussion of Aviv Derri and Elizabeth Williams’ papers in the second session, on ‘finance’, turned on the concepts used to understand economic history, from ‘usury’ to capitalism and economic sovereignty. The third session, on ‘property’, with papers by Antonis Hadjikyriacou and Tolga Cora, featured discussion of the question of a ‘transition to capitalism’ in the Ottoman Empire, and the valency of different Ottoman terms used in the registration and definition of property (temettuat, tapu, mülk, waqf).
The second day began with a session on commodities, with papers by Herman Adney and Dan Stolz, in which we discussed the question of state monopoly of commodities, present in both these examples, as well as distinctions between the creation and extraction of value. In the second session, on ‘violence’, papers by Peter Hill and Anaïs Massot prompted discussion on the interplay between confessional categories and the Ottoman fiscal system, and the contrasts in perspective between the state archive and more vernacular sources. The last paper session returned to the theme of ‘property’, and discussion of Nada Moumtaz’s paper focussed on the diversity of conceptions and forms of property, drawing on examples from many different participants’ work within and beyond the Ottoman empire.
The conversations we had over the two days of the workshop were productive and intellectually generative, while the conversations we had in planning sessions about the future of the project allowed us to create a realistic agenda for the next stage of our collective project. Overall, participants left and were enthusiastic about the future of the OPE network.