This is a project to prepare a cultural history reader geared towards undergraduate and lower-level graduate students. The core of the reader will be formed by the life experiences of human beings—their disputes, fears, hopes, anxieties, ambitions, perceptions, and trajectories. We want the students to absorb past events on an intellectual as well as an emotional level. The editors will cast a wide net to represent individuals from different backgrounds [see below for a tentative list of topics]. The editors decided to move the focus away from normative texts, e.g., theoretical texts about government or ideals of kingship in the reader. In the same vein, we are not planning to include descriptions of imperial campaigns, sultanic rescripts specifying imperial ambitions, or articles of treaties. Written in many languages—not only Ottoman Turkish, but Armenian, Greek, Serbian, Arabic, Hebrew, Ladino, Persian, German, French, and Italian—these texts will span the extent of the early modern Ottoman empire.

The texts will be published under the contributor’s name.

See sample chapters 1, 2, 3



All too often, Ottoman history has been told as the history of the Ottoman dynasty and state. The existence of official annals and rich state archives made it too comfortable to narrate this history as one of battles, imperial campaigns, conquests, state institutions, ideologies, insignia, grandees and their luxurious palaces, and the like.

On the other hand, new research trends are also forming in the field of Ottoman Studies. The last decade and a half saw the exploration of new directions in historiography, and new topics and perspectives relating to social and cultural history and material culture. Increasingly, studies are unearthing viewpoints that did not necessarily reflect the imperial ideology of the state. The Ottoman World aims to push the field even further by presenting texts on topics that have long been obscured by the field’s emphasis on political history. We hope to accelerate a trend away from the ‘state-centric’ approach by deemphasizing dynastic, political, institutional, and economic history and giving a central place instead to narratives reflecting less common perspectives. These will include captivating snapshots from the lives of a wide variety of people, including commoners—the things they valued, the places in which they spent time, their perceptions of others, and their interactions with the state apparatus.

The Ottoman lands, which comprised a geography extending from modern Hungary to the Arabian peninsula, were home to a vast population with a rich variety of cultures. While it is a very difficult task to represent all of these groups, with their differing customs, traditions and languages, we intend to include as many diverse perspectives as possible. Wide representation is the only way to do justice to the vast geography we call the Ottoman Empire, and will oblige us to think about this early-modern entity in new ways.

For instance, we think it necessary to challenge a few persistent distorted approaches to the history of the Ottoman state. The Ottoman enterprise has often been unfairly depicted as a war machine, with excessive stress placed on an essentialized Islamic zeal. The Ottomans may have been militarily successful for a good part of the early modern era, but differed in no way from their ambitious early-modern peers in terms of land-hunger. The overemphasis on Ottoman militarism and zealotry in scholarship is the result of hundreds of years of confrontation with its European counterparts.

Whatever the focus of Ottoman history courses, instructors have thus far lacked a collection of primary sources from the late medieval and early modern period to assign to students. Most of our colleagues either use primary sources they have translated themselves or choose from scattered translations carried out in earlier publications.

This approach, which aims to create a sense of relevance to the students’ modern selves and reflect an imitation of our own life experiences, will spark student interest, and provide fertile ground for class discussion. We hope to shift the students’ attention from the overly emphasized military character attributed to the Ottoman polity, to more approachable topics.

Period covered

The reader will be thematically organized with texts ranging roughly from 1400 to 1700 CE.


Our choices will be determined not by the types of sources, but by their contents. Our inclination at the moment is to abstain from normative texts, e.g., theoretical texts about government or ideals of kingship. In the same vein, we are not planning to include descriptions of imperial campaigns, sultanic rescripts specifying imperial ambitions, or articles of treaties.

The registers of important affairs (mühimme) and court records (sicill), however, will abundantly feature in the volume [please let us know of interesting cases by submitting a form here]. The cases we select from these registers, while certainly colored by the viewpoint of the authorities, present extraordinary life stories and anecdotes. We further hope to include autobiographical accounts, folklore, fiction, popular hagiography, romances, and story collections that yield insights into popular opinion and taste.

Text submission form

Themes [Tentative !]

    • Individuals and Groups of People
      • Devshirme
      • Mystic (hurufi, kalenderi, others)
      • Heretic
      • Madman
      • Prostitute
      • Midwife
      • Kira
      • Women from other walks of life
      • Children
      • Captive
      • Slave
      • Peasant
      • Rogue, bandit
      • Poet
      • Calligrapher
      • Artisan
      • Physician, surgeon, other healers
      • Sorcerer
      • Astrologer, astronomer
      • Soldier
      • Bureaucrat
      • Mudarris
      • Imam
      • Judge
    • Cosmography, Mythology, Legends
      • Messianism
      • Magic / Witchcraft / Talismans
      • Pre-Islamic/Greek traditions
      • Abrahamic/Monotheistic narratives
      • Spolia (ancient architectural elements)
      • The New World
      • Janissary (origins)
      • Ottoman Views of the Outside World
      • Strange Creatures, Ghosts, Vampires, Sorcerers
    • Emotions
      • Wonder
      • Fear
      • Anxiety
      • Hope
      • Passion
      • Greed
      • Ambition
      • Love
      • Envy
      • Anger
      • Pain
      • Sensory feelings
    • Encounters & Perceptions
      • Scourge of God
      • Sunnis, Shiites
      • Different ethnic, religious groups of each other
      • Travellers in Ottoman lands
      • Ottoman decriptions of foreign lands
    • Cities
      • Istanbul
      • Cairo
      • Damascus
      • Salonica
      • Baghdad
      • İzmir
      • Edirne
      • Bursa
      • Sofia
      • Buda
      • Jerusalem
      • Erzurum
      • Aleppo
      • Gelibolu
      • Malkara
      • Borderland cities
      • Islands
      • Smaller cities, township, village
    • Places
      • House
      • Marketplace
      • Coffeehouses
      • Tavern
      • Bath house
      • Hospital
      • Inn
      • Medrese
      • Tomb
      • Court house
      • Prison
      • Castle
      • Battlefield
      • Mosque, Church, Temple, Sufi lodge
      • Cemetery
      • Bridge
      • Road
      • Orchard, Garden
      • Wharf
    • Actions, Rites
      • Birth
      • Travel
      • Praying
      • Preaching
      • Writing
      • Dreaming
      • Cursing
      • Swearing
      • Robbery
      • Escape
      • Violence
      • Suicide
      • Hunting
      • Fight, quarrel
      • Combat
      • Execution
      • Murder
      • Drinking
      • Intercourse
      • Praying
      • Business transaction
      • Working (different professions)
      • Circumcision
      • Marriage
      • Burial
    • Nature, Animals
      • Horse
      • Snake
      • Donkey
      • Cat and dog
      • Water spring
      • Sea
      • Mountain
      • Forest
      • Desert
      • Tree
      • Winter
      • Summer
      • Natural disasters
    • Objects
      • Ship, Boat
      • Plow
      • Book
      • Turban
      • Garments
      • Shoes
      • Home utensils
      • Rifle
      • Sword
      • Wine

Text submission form

The editors, Hakan T. Karateke and Helga Anetshofer, both teach at the University of Chicago.

Write to us:

The Ottoman World is under contract with the University of California Press