Constantinople/Istanbul: Destination, Way-Station, City of Renegades (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2007 faculty weekend seminar.

In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and refashioned the depopulated city into an imperial capitol that would endure until the empire was dismembered after World War I. The passing of the city of Constantine into Muslim hands was constructed as a disaster for Christendom on one hand and as a divine endorsement of Ottoman sovereignty on the other. That division has retained much of its primacy in the historiography of the Afro-Eurasian world. Yet the designations “Christendom” and “Islam” are inadequate; they fail to convey the multilayered nature of early modern visions of Constantinople and the Eurasian space in which it was embedded. The Ottoman empire, after all, was European and Christian as well as Asian and Muslim. Constantinople was one pole in the circuits of travel and trade which linked Venice (by sea) and Vienna (by land) to points east and to the sites of “classical” history and pilgrimage. The sultan’s abode was also a city of renegades (entrepreneurs, warriors, captives, artisans), a place where hierarchies of identity (status, ethnicity, religion, and gender) were sorted and realigned. The citizens of (and visitors to) Constantinople participated in a Mediterranean culture of artistry, poetics, sexuality, and consumption that stretched from the Atlantic world to the spiritual, commercial, and intellectual emporia of India, Persia, Arabia, and Palestine. One of a series of offerings on “Early Modern Cities,” this seminar explored aspects of those connections, visions, identities, and rhetorics of representation. It gathered a dozen faculty participants for interdisciplinary conversations that were framed by a set of shared advance readings and the participants’ own research projects.


Director: Palmira Brummett is Professor of History and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee. Her work involves the intersections of rhetoric and “reality” in the early modern Afro-Eurasian world. She is currently editing The Book of Travels: Genre, Itinerary, Ethnology and Pilgrimage, 1250–1700 and completing a monograph on Mapping Ottoman Space.