Sie sind auf Seite 1von 10

Ottoman History Writing and Changing Attitudes Towards the Notion of Decline1

Donald Quataert, Binghamton University, State University of NY, US Abstract


The arguments presented below support, I hope, the following set of assertions. First, historical writing on the question of the decline of the Ottoman Empire presently is undergoing a sweeping, if incomplete, revision that vitally affects our perceptions not only of this now-defunct imperial system but also of the contemporary Middle East. Secondly, the debate over Ottoman decline only now is escaping from its thorough enmeshment in European norms of what constitutes political and economic development and the very concept of progress itself. Thirdly, from the later 18th century until about twenty years ago, notions of Ottoman decline had been a popular and unquestioned item in the intellectual inventory of Western academics and politicians alike. Fourthly, the challenges mounted to the decline paradigm reflect, among Ottomanists, an increasingly sophisticated sense of the past that owes much to the growth of global and comparative history. The collapse of the Soviet empire reinforced, but did not give rise to, these challenges.

Here, in brief, is the decline paradigm regarding the Ottoman Empire. Let me be clear: I believe this paradigm to be incorrect and misleading. Between 1300 and 1566, the Ottoman Empire expanded steadily under the guidance of ten sultans who were remarkable for their warrior and/or administrative skills. Decline set in at the apex of Ottoman power, under Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (152066), who foolishly allotted power to a concubine who became his wife, with devastating effects on the Empire. The accession of his son, Selim the Sot, affirmed the maxim the fish begins to rot from the head and the rule of the harem only made things worse. Coupled with the price revolution triggered by the influx of American silver, the foundations of Ottoman power were permanently shaken. In the paradigm under challenge here, Ottoman decline began in the late 16th century and continued until 1922, when the Ottoman Empire finally disappeared. While there were competent sultans and bureaucrats who occasionally struggled to right the ship of state, incompetence and backwardness prevailed. Thus, in the 17th century, incompetent, sex-crazed, or venal rulers were incapable of maintaining control. The disastrous defeat of the Ottoman army before the walls of Vienna in 1683 made the decline visible to all and the Empire subsequently staggered from one
1

History Compass, (Vol. 1, August 2003)

defeat to the next. Crowned with the title The Sick Man of Europe, the Empire survived because of divisions among its enemies. In the 19th century, possible salvation appeared in the form of westernization, as Ottoman leaders sought to import military and administrative models from Europe. But the changes made were incomplete, both too few and too late. Ineptitude and retardation permitted nationalism to spread among the subject peoples; the imperial structure, thus unable to adjust, was torn apart from within. The last of the groups to gain national identity, the Turks, administered the final blow in 1922 and the Turkish Republic was born in 1923. Having eagerly sought to end the Ottoman yoke, the Turkish and other successor states then struggled to eliminate its legacy and achieve modern nation statehood. This decline paradigm version of the Ottoman past and the Middle Eastern present has deep roots. Already during the late 16th century, members of the Ottoman lite wrote about the good old days, when virtue, particular patterns of training and hard work had been rewarded. But in their time, they complained, corruption, venality, and incompetence ruled the day. These and similar assessments from the 17th and 18th centuries were picked up by later Ottoman writers and chroniclers, who in turn were used by Turkish historians during the early Turkish republic, who in turn were adopted by Western historians of the Ottoman past. In the 1960s, a number of works based on these earlier studies appeared, especially Bernard LewisThe Emergence of Modern Turkey, and achieved a canonical status. (1) These works expressed a paradigm that, often eloquently, reiterated the earlier testimonies of Ottoman decline. Moreover, they placed these within the framework of modernization theory, then the rage among developmental economists and political analysts. (2) Briefly, modernization theory held that political systems and economies reached, or could achieve, modernity through a series of clearly defined stages of development, a path that if carefully followed led to modern industrial democracy. (3) The path to be taken was the one historically followed by the Western democracies of Great Britain and France. Modernization equaled westernization. Hence the key to Ottoman success lay in closely imitating westernizing patterns of change. For several decades after the 1960s, Ottoman history writing centered on the Ottoman westernizers who, it turned out, were also the Ottoman lites, effecting a process of change from the top down. The standard of measure became the West. In a certain sense, in this Weltanschauung, the Ottoman Empire declined because it was not Western or, perhaps more accurately, was not westernizing sufficiently. From this perspective, the Ottomans had been a hopeless case: absolutist, unresponsive, and degenerate sultans, with a rigid stranglehold over every aspect of the Ottoman economy. And, to boot, they had been incapable of westernizing properly. The field of Ottoman history writing (along with the rest of the historical discipline) exploded in the early 1970s, and since then it has become the largest subfield of Middle Eastern history. (4) Its expansion is readily visible in the pages of the annual bibliography,

the Turcology Annual/Turkologischer Anzeiger, produced by an international team of bibliographers coordinated from Vienna. In its initial year, 1976, this was a slim volume, but today some thousands of entries mark a vast compendium of scholarship. (5) As the field of Ottoman history has developed, so has the critique on the decline paradigm. Ottoman history writing is becoming more outward looking and more comfortably situated in global and comparative history. Already in 1974, for example, an important work traced the place of the Ottoman state in world history, with contributors including no less than Arnold Toynbee and William McNeill. (6) World systems theory, beginning in the middle 1970s, has played a crucial role in broadening the discourse and placing Ottoman history on a world stage. In this world systems view, things appeared differently: the center of attention moved away from blaming the victims the Ottomans, whose empire disappeared in 1922. Instead, a global context was seen as crucial for understanding domestic Ottoman development. (7) Systems theory posited that Ottoman integration into the world economy was predicated upon an unequal exchange, one that profited the (Western) center and impoverished the (Ottoman) periphery. As some Ottomanists began to look outwards under the influence of world systems theory, others independently began to critically analyze the sources underpinning the decline paradigm. During the 1980s, a number of historians began to point out that the early writers on Ottoman decline were hardly disinterested parties but, rather, participants in partisan struggles disgruntled losers, who had failed to obtain the promotions and recognitions they felt they deserved. (8) Perhaps understandably, they attributed their own failures to a system of promotion and recognition that had broken down and become corrupted. The objectivity of the Ottoman observers of Ottoman decline came into question and, consequently, many scholars now refuse to accept their assessments at face value. By the early 1990s, questioning of the sources had led to formal challenges to the very notion of decline. A host of studies have appeared that offer a more nuanced view of the Ottoman experience, often discussing the realities of those experiences rather than Ottoman failures to follow particular patterns of change. This discussion of Ottoman realities also involves a reconsideration of the nature of European power. Thanks especially to work being done in East, Southeast, and South Asian history, there is increasing emphasis on the autonomous development of capitalism across many regions of the world in the pre-1500 period. (9) Our new understanding about this global capitalism is helping to resituate both the West European and Ottoman developments of the post-1500 era. Increasingly, European experiences are seen not as unique, but as shared with those in India, China, Southeast Asia, and the Ottoman Empire. The hegemonic rise of Europe in the post-1500 era is being understood in a more critical sense, as a growth that subverted and destroyed competing forms of capitalism elsewhere in the world. Thus, Europe is seen to have enjoyed a complex

development based partly on its particularly aggressive form of capitalism, one accompanied by significant technological breakthroughs. Europes emergence to global domination during the post-1500 era in some significant measure derived from a number of factors, from which it uniquely benefited. These include the New World wealth that poured into Europe and provided so much of the capital that underlay subsequent expansion and investment. Europe was enriched immensely from the consequent emergence of the Atlantic economy, and from the capture of the trade and later the lands of Asia. In this new context, remnants of the decline paradigm narrative remain; namely, an acknowledgement that there was a substantial relative decline in Ottoman military and political power in the international arena. After all, since 1500 political and economic systems everywhere (except in Japan after 1868) have been subordinate to European expansion. In comparison to the West, most regions were weaker in 1900 than in 1500. But when the focus turns to the domestic arena, had these regions including the Ottoman Empire actually declined? Ottoman decline once had been attributed to a twin failure: (1) to adhere to classical norms, due to the inability to maintain government as it had been in the 15th and early 16th centuries; and (2) later on, to modernize along Western lines. Many, perhaps most, Ottomanists no longer concede decline in the domestic arena of political and economic life. Rather, they increasingly inquire into the actual nature of the changes occurring within the Ottoman world, rather than adhering to some (classical or Western) set of norms floating in the ether. The emerging new scholarship is revealing an Ottoman state (society and economy) in the process of continuous transformation, rather than a decline or fall from idealized norms of the past or a failure to successfully imitate the West. In this new understanding, the Ottoman state underwent continuous modifications in its domestic policy, an ongoing evolution in which there is no idealized form, since change itself is understood as the norm. Take the role of sultans in the Ottoman political structure. They began as primus inter pares first among equals in the early days of the state; but then, between c. 1453 and the later 16th century, sultans ruled as true autocrats. Subsequently, others in the imperial family and members of the palace lites often in collaboration with provincial lites took real control of the state until the early 19th century. Thereafter, bureaucrats and sultans vied for control of the state. (10) In sum, the sultan presided over the imperial system for all of Ottoman history but actually, personally, ruled only for portions of the 15th, 16th, and 19th centuries. And so, rather than looking for sultanic despotism as the norm and deviation from it as decline, scholarship is revealing a constantly shifting locus of power. Thus, in the mid-1990s, a dissertation shed startling new light on the so-called dark ages of the 18th century. This period was once seen as the nadir of political fragmentation and decentralization. Upon careful investigation, however, the author found not confusion and anarchy but, instead, a financial trail leading from the imperial capital to remote provinces.

Istanbul lites auctioned off tax farms to provincial notables, sales that bound the periphery to the center and made it dependent on the center for wealth and power. (11) The move away from decline theory in political history has been paralleled by developments in Ottoman economic history. The decline paradigm noted above powerfully influenced views of the Ottoman economy, as readers assumed that economic stagnation accompanied, was caused by, or triggered political and military ossification. Just as Ottoman scholarship was beginning its extraordinary growth, a noted Ottoman economic historian wrote, in 1975, on the price revolution and its catastrophic effects during the late 16th century. Implicitly, this downturn during the late 16th century was taken to mean that the economy subsequently went into a permanent downwards slide from which, during the entire Ottoman era, it never recovered. (12) Such simplistic notions partly derived from the lack of a larger body of scholarship in which to place the particular research; but they were given life because they fitted so well into already existing attitudes and development models. That is, convictions about permanent Ottoman economic decline reflected already existing perceptions of the long-term decline of the so-called Islamic economies since the Middle Ages. And these beliefs fitted well with prevailing modernization paradigms that posited a factory-based industrial economy staffed by an industrial proletariat as an essential prerequisite for modernity. In both European and Ottoman economic history, powerful works emerged to shape the thinking of subsequent generations. Prometheus Unbound by David Landes presented a progressivist industrial development, replete with a continuous series of technological breakthroughs, that led triumphantly to British industrial democracy. At nearly the same moment in Middle Eastern studies, important economic histories by Issawi and Hershlag emerged, and joined Landes chorus in praise of machine-driven, factory-located production as the standard against which economic development needed to be measured. (13) The works of Issawi, the leading economic historian of the 1970s and 1980s, were particularly influential. Following the stages of economic growth model, (14) Issawi promulgated notions of sustained Ottoman economic failure and decline in the post1750 era. (15) But challenges were already emerging. In 1979, an article appeared that offered a different interpretation for the decline of certain Ottoman handicrafts, a fall that had been blamed on their inefficiencies and inability to compete head to head with European manufacturers. The author discovered that Europeans were underselling in Middle Eastern markets not because of their manufacturing efficiency but because they were dumping goods. Supported by the profits of the Atlantic economy, they sent cloth as ballast to Ottoman ports and sold it below their own costs, using New World gold to buy desired commodities for profitable resale back in Europe. (16) Subsequently, researchers questioned the decline of Ottoman manufacturing. They agreed with Issawi that big factories were largely absent and they conceded that certain handicraft

industries exporting goods to Europe had faded away. They further concurred that Ottoman imports of European manufactures had increased impressively in the post-1750 era. But they disagreed about the conclusions to be drawn from such observations and set about investigating the actual fate of the Ottoman manufacturing sector. Ottoman manufacturing, it turns out, had not declined. Rather, it was and remained largely the domain of small-scale hand producers (there was some mechanization in the late period). During the 17th and 18th centuries, foreign markets for Ottoman manufactures fell away, but producers continued to enjoy a vast domestic market for their wares. And, in the 19th century, as the Ottoman population grew thanks to improvements in transportation, communication, sanitation, and medical care, so did the number of Ottoman consumers. Indeed, multiple marketing networks sent Ottoman-made goods in every direction within the imperial frontiers, to Ottoman customers. (17) Moreover, recent scholarship suggests rising levels of per capita consumption that fueled demand for both domestic wares and imported goods. (18) During the 19th century, moreover, several new export industries emerged, employing tens of thousands of workers, mainly women and girls working outside the home. (19) These findings, that Ottoman manufacturing not only survived but perhaps even expanded during the post-1750 era, fit very well with those of scholars in other areas of study. A survey analysis by Pomeranz, that itself summarizes scholarship from different regions of the globe, powerfully delineates the vitality of manufacturing in the non-European world during the age of European hegemony. (20) More particularly, to give another example, a new book on manufacturing in colonial India draws conclusions that very closely parallel those of the Ottoman case. European contact in India had a destructive impact, but colonial rule there also resulted in the growth of a large number of varied artisanal industries. (21) This convergence of findings among scholars working independently in different regions is quite striking and underscores the globality of the processes at work. As the decline paradigm continues to crumble away, additional direct and explicit comparisons between the Ottoman political and economic trajectory and those of other regions seem to be a productive path for scholars. Comparative and global studies do seem to offer promising avenues for contextualizing the Ottoman past. By placing Ottoman history alongside, for example, that of East, Southeast and South Asia, we should gain a fuller understanding of the unique and similar factors that shaped the evolution of these empires, states, and regions. This seems far more preferable than the judgmental perspectives of the decline paradigm.

Notes 1 For example, B. Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London, Oxford University Press, 1961); N. Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal, McGill University Press, 1964). 2 Note the title of the Lewis book and contrast with the self-consciously titled The Making of Modern Turkey, by F. Ahmad (London, Routledge, 1993). The triumphalist narrative of a linear progression from empire to republic is highlighted in the title of the Lewis book just cited, and yet more explicitly in S. J. Shaw and E. K. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol. II: Reform, Revolution and Republic. The Rise of Modern Turkey, 18081975 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977). The decline paradigm is still powerfully present and informs a number of books that remain widely distributed. Take, for example, the Shaws study and S. N. Fisher and W. Ochsenwald, The Middle East, A History, 4th and subsequent editions (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1990 ). 3 W. W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth. A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1971). 4 For an (incomplete) overview, see S. Faroqhi, Approaching Ottoman History: An Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999). 5 In successive issues, compare the ever-growing number of citations and sub-categories. 6 K. H. Karpat (ed.), The Ottoman State and its Place in World History (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1974). Other contributors included Halil Inalcik and Albert Hourani. 7 I. Wallerstein, The Modern World System, 3 vols. (New York, Academic Press, 197489). 8 R. Abou-El-Haj, Formation of the Modern State, The Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Albany, State University of New York, 1991); D. Howard, Ottoman historiography and the literature of decline in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,Journal of Asian History, 22 (1), 1988, pp. 5276. 9 For example, see A. Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 14501680, I (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1988). 10 See, in particular, Abou-El-Haj, Formation of the Modern State. 11 A. Salzmann, Measures of empire: tax farmers and the Ottoman ancien rgime, 1695 1807 (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1995).

12 . L. Barkan, The price revolution of the sixteenth century: a turning point in the economic history of the Near East,International Journal of Middle East Studies, 6 (1), 1975, pp. 328. 13 D. Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969). Z. Y. Hershlag, Introduction to the Modern Economic History of the Middle East (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1964). C. Issawi; for example, The Economic History of the Middle East, 18001914 (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1966). 14 Rostow, Stages of Economic Growth. 15 In one of his final works, Issawi began qualifying his support for the decline paradigm: see his An Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa (New York, Columbia University Press, 1983). 16 B. Braude, International competition and domestic cloth in the Ottoman Empire, 1500 1650: a study in underdevelopment,Review, 2 (3), 1979, pp. 43751. 17 D. Quataert, Ottoman Manufacturing in the Age of the Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993); J. Chalcraft, Crafts and guilds in Egypt, 18631914 (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 2001); Y. Duman, Notables, textiles and copper in Ottoman Tokat (Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, State University of New York, 1998); H. Fattah, The Politics of Regional Trade in Iraq, Arabia and the Gulf, 17451900 (Albany, State University of New York, 1997); B. Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 17001900 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995). 18 See the contributions in D. Quataert (ed.), Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 15501922: An Introduction (Albany, State University of New York Press, 2000). 19 Quataert, Ottoman Manufacturing. 20 K. Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000). 21 T. Roy, Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999). Compare these findings with my own Ottoman Manufacturing.

Bibliography Abou-El-Haj, R., Formation of the Modern State, The Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Albany, State University of New York, 1991). Ahmad, F., The Making of Modern Turkey (London, Routledge, 1993). Barkan, . L., The price revolution of the sixteenth century: a turning point in the economic history of the Near East, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 6 (1), 1975, pp.328. Berkes, N., The Development of Secularism in Turkey (Montreal, McGill University Press, 1964). Braude, B., International competition and domestic cloth in the Ottoman Empire, 1500 1650: a study in underdevelopment,Review, 2 (3), 1979, pp.43751. Chalcraft, J., Crafts and guilds in Egypt, 18631914 (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 2001). Doumani, B., Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 17001900 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995). Duman, Y., Notables, textiles and copper in Ottoman Tokat (Ph.D. dissertation, Binghamton University, State University of New York, 1998). Faroqhi, S., Approaching Ottoman History: An Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999). Fattah, H., The Politics of Regional Trade in Iraq, Arabia and the Gulf, 17451900 (Albany, State University of New York, 1997). Fisher, S. N. & Ochsenwald, W., The Middle East, A History, 4th and subsequent editions (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1990). Hershlag, Z. Y., Introduction to the Modern Economic History of the Middle East (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1964). Howard, D., Ottoman historiography and the literature of decline in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Journal of Asian History, 22 (1), 1988, pp.5276. Issawi, C., An Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa (New York, Columbia University Press, 1983).

Issawi, C., The Economic History of the Middle East, 18001914 (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1966). Karpat, K. H., The Ottoman State and its Place in World History (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1974). Landes, D., The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1969). Lewis, B., The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London, Oxford University Press, 1961). Pomeranz, K., The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000). Quataert, D., Consumption Studies and the History of the Ottoman Empire, 15501922: An Introduction (Albany, State University of New York Press, 2000). Quataert, D., Ottoman Manufacturing in the Age of the Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993). Reid, A., Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 14501680, I (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1988). Rostow, W. W., The Stages of Economic Growth. A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1971). Roy, T., Traditional Industry in the Economy of Colonial India (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999). Salzmann, A., Measures of empire: tax farmers and the Ottoman ancien rgime, 16951807 (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1995). Shaw, S. J. & Shaw, E. K., History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol.II: Reform, Revolution and Republic. The Rise of Modern Turkey, 18081975 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977). Wallerstein, I., The Modern World System, 3vols. (New York, Academic Press, 197489).

10