Murat Bozluolcay

7th-year Ph.D. student
Jones Hall

Before I found myself dabbling with documents at the Ottoman archives in Istanbul for the first time, I had already taken my degrees in Sociology (B.A.) and Computer Science (B.S.). What took me to the archives was my growing interest in the late Ottoman world, which offered me a context to rethink and mold theoretical questions shaped by my social theory background, contemporary politics, and personal experience. After a captivating visit to Syria in 2009, this temporal shift was accompanied by a geographical one. Having taught myself Ottoman and started learning Arabic, I embarked on the historian’s craft during my M.A. studies at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul.

In Princeton, my previous research on Damascus Events of 1860 extended to a more general interest in provincial politics and economy in the Ottoman Empire. My work, supervised by Professor Max Weiss, uses central and provincial Damascene archives and focuses on the blurry division between the state and local/imperial economic actors in Damascus in the early nineteenth century. My research seeks to shed an imperial light on Damascus as a constitutive entity of the Empire, instead of juxtaposing it to the center, and to establish Damascus as an important vantage point for developing an understanding of the Ottoman imperial order in general. Secondly, my research takes the Damascene marketplace and provincial treasury as sites in which mercantile and financial activities took place in a politically governed arena, not outside of it. Rather than dealing with abstract and frequently depoliticized categories of markets and provincial financing, I investigate the Damascus marketplace and treasury with their concrete actors such as governors, merchants, moneylenders, treasurers, political usurpers, tax-collectors, and many others, who together constituted, sustained, and/or interrupted imperial order. Thus, I try to bring together political and economic histories of the Empire and treat economy, state, and society as co-constituted spheres of political economy. Finally, in placing my research in the early half of the nineteenth century, I investigate a ‘dead period’ in historiography, squeezed between early modern and modern narratives of capitalism, the Ottoman Empire, its Syrian province, and the Eastern Mediterranean.