Norman Itzkowitz, Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus, Dies at 87

Friday, Jan 25, 2019

Norman Itzkowitz, Professor of Near Eastern Studies, passed away on January 20, 2019, at the age of 87. Itzkowitz was born in 1931 on the Lower East Side of New York. He attended Stuyvesant High School and the City College of New York, graduating in 1953 with a major in history—winning the Cromwell Medal in History—and varsity letters in lacrosse and fencing. Following the advice of his advisor, Hans Kohn, he entered Princeton’s Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures that fall to study Persian, but he “soon found the field of Turkish studies embodied in the person of [his] mentor Lewis V. Thomas much more attractive.” In 1958 Itzkowitz joined the faculty of the Departments of History and Oriental Languages and Literatures as an instructor and the following year completed his dissertation, “Mehmed Raghib Pasha: The Making of an Ottoman Grand Vezir.” In 1961 he was hired as an assistant professor in the just renamed Department of Oriental Studies, in 1966 he was promoted to associate professor, and in 1973 he achieved the rank of professor.  In addition to his teaching, Itzkowitz served as the Master of Wilson College, a residential college, from 1975 to 1989, on the Committee on Undergraduate Life, and as a faculty advisor to the fencing and lacrosse teams. He also directed numerous NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for elementary, secondary, and college teachers. In 2001 Itzkowitz retired from teaching and joined the ranks of the emeritus professors.

Itzkowitz was the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants, including a Buitoni Scholarship, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, a Carnegie Teaching Fellowship, a Proctor and Gamble Fellowship, two US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Near East Central Grants for Study Abroad, an SSRC Travel Grant, a Littauer Foundation Fellowship, and a Center for International Studies Fellowship.

One of the few scholars of that time working on eighteenth-century Ottoman history, Itzkowitz’s most influential piece of scholarship was his article “Eighteenth Century Ottoman Realities,” which appeared in Studia Islamica 16 (1962). One piece of advice that Itzkowitz often gave to graduate students was to find the biggest plate glass window and throw a brick through it. In “Eighteenth Century Ottoman Realities,” Itzkowitz took aim at Albert H. Lybyer’s definition (1913) of the Ruling and Muslim Institutions of the Ottoman empire, a thesis that argued that the military/administrative elite of the Ottoman empire was dominated by Christian converts to Islam and that the Muslim Institution was filled with Muslim-born individuals. Accepted by Arnold Toynbee and, more importantly, with some reservations  by H. A. R. Gibb and H. Bowen in their major work Islamic Society and the West (1950, 1957), the Lybyer thesis dominated the field for half a century until its underpinnings were shattered by Itzkowitz’s prosopographic research into eighteenth-century (and earlier) Ottoman career lines. According to Zachary Lockman (’74), “Eighteenth Century Ottoman Realities” establishes Itzkowitz as one of the first American critics of Orientalism.

Itzkowitz’s pioneering work in Ottoman prosopography was a significant contribution to the field of Ottoman studies and resulted in three additional articles: “‘Kimsiniz Bey Efendi,’ or A Look at Tanzimat through Namier-colored Glasses” (1969), “The Office of Şeyh ül-Islâm and the Tanzimat—A Prosopographic Enquiry” (1972, with his student Joel Shinder), and “Men and Ideas in the Eighteenth Century Ottoman Empire” (1977).

A second major contribution occurred in the field of psychohistory, an outgrowth of Itzkowitz’s interest in psychoanalysis. Having trained at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis to become a lay analyst, he started a long-time collaboration with Vamik Volkan of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Virginia Medical School, which resulted in three books: The Immortal Atatürk: A Psychobiography (1984); Turks and Greeks: Neighbors in Conflict (1994); and Richard Nixon: A Psychobiography (1997). He also edited with L. Carl Brown Psychological Dimensions of Near Eastern Studies (1981).

In addition to these books, Itzkowitz wrote, edited, or translated a number of other works in Ottoman studies. Many a student has read his excellent short introduction to Ottoman history, Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition, which has remained in print since its publication in 1973. His collaboration with Russian specialist Max Mote resulted in Mubadele: An Ottoman-Russian Exchange of Ambassadors (1970), a work that offered a new perspective on the eighteenth-century diplomatic procedures of the two countries. Following the death of Lewis V. Thomas, Itzkowitz edited and revised his mentor’s Elementary Turkish (1967) and A Study of Naima (1972). He was also a co-translator of Halil İnalcık’s The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300–1600 (1973).

Finally, note should be made of five works for young readers that he co-authored with Enid Goldberg: Genghis Khan: 13th-Century Mongolian Tyrant (2008); Grigory Rasputin: Holy Man or Mad Monk? (2009); Tomas de Torquemada: Architect of Torture (2007); Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula (2009), all in the Scholastic Books Wicked History series; and The Balkans: Ethnic Conflict, a study kit for high school students (2000).

Norman is survived by his wife of 65 years, Leonore, his son Jay and his wife Pria Chatterjee, his daughter Karen and her husband A. Norman Redlich, and four granddaughters.