Empire of Debt: Finance, Violence, and Accounting in the Ottoman Age of Crisis, 1770-1840

Mar 14, 2022, 12:00 pm1:20 pm


Open to public
Event Description

Speaker: Ali Yaycıoğlu, Stanford University

This talk is on the political economy of public and private debt in the Ottoman Empire during the severe crisis of the Ottoman order in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The center of the talk is a comprehensive fiscal register (MAD 9726), which includes financial accounts of 134 wealthy and powerful individuals. Majority of these individuals were part of a political movement, known as the New Order (Nizam-ı Cedid). The New Order ruled the empire between 1789 and 1808 and fell in 1807-1808 after three sequential popular revolts, knowns as the Révolutions de Constantinople in Europe. MAD 9726 was prepared by a group of Ottoman fiscal accountants to seize, reveal, appraise, and register financial assets, public and private debts and credits of these men and women, who lost their lives (or who fled or were exiled) between 1807 and 1809. With a thorough examination of the Mad 9726, the talk will have four main aims: First, it will discuss how Ottoman elites, which are politically and financially connected, accumulated power and wealth via various state-related financial activities as people of state, as contractors and/or as semi-private entrepreneurs. It elaborates how the state and non-state sectors, public and private finance, were intermingled in the Ottoman Empire during the period. Thus, the talk will also discuss the risks and guarantees on properties, assets and contracts (as well as lives) of people who were involved in, what we can call, the business of state. Secondly it examines how the expansion of internal borrowing system (public debt) since the early 18th century enabled such individuals to develop composite _networks of obligations _with chains of debts spread across the empire. The networks of obligations, the talk will argue, connected different state institutions and waqfs, financiers, foreign and Ottoman merchants, manufactures, local urban, rural, and nomadic communities with financial sinews from the Balkans to Anatolia, from Syria to Egypt. Third, the talk will briefly focus on the role of the Ottoman accounting practices and techniques, through which the Ottoman fiscal bureaucracy kept records to seize, reveal, appraise, and redistribute assets of the wealthy people in this age of fiscal-military crisis. I will particularly focus on the arcane accounting techniques, known as fenn-i siyaqat, which enabled the Ottoman fiscal scribes to deal with complex financial matters in their computations. Finally, the talk will make some arguments about the constitutional nature of this order of debt. It will discuss how indebtedness (and risks and volatilities came with it) shaped the nature of the Ottoman state just before the Tanzimat reforms.

Ali Yaycıoğlu is an Associate Professor of Ottoman & Middle Eastern history at Stanford and a Visiting Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University (2021-2022). His research centers on economic, political and legal institutions and practices as well as cultural, religious and intellectual life in the Ottoman Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries. He also has a research agenda on how people represented, recorded and reproduced property, territory, borders and nature in early modern and modern periods. Furthermore, Dr. Yaycıoğlu explores how we can use digital tools to understand, visualize and conceptualize these representations and recordings. Professor Yaycıoğlu's first book, Partners of the Empire: Crisis of the Ottoman Order in the Age of Revolutions (Stanford University Press, 2016), offers a rethinking of the Ottoman Empire within the global context of the revolutionary age in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Currently Dr. Yaycıoğlu is working on two different book projects: The State of Debt: Power, Wealth and Death in the Ottoman Empire analyzing public and private finance, capital accumulation, property and statehood in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. _Renewing the Order: The Ottoman Empire and its Borders after the Catastrophe (1699-1750) _examines transformations in Ottoman imperial order and ideology, geopolitics and territoriality and the forms of border-making (and public reactions to those) in the first half of the18th century as a response to dramatic military defeats and global hegemony of European powers. Ali Yaycıoğlu is the supervisor of a digital history project, Mapping Ottoman Epirus, housed in Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA).