The in-class midterm exam (February 13, during Week 6) will be comprised of three short essay questions and ten identification terms. I will say more about this in class on Monday. Given how the syllabus, readings, and lectures are organized, you can already anticipate some of the midterm short essay questions. They are designed to ensure that you understand the big picture transformations regarding Middle East history in general and gender practices in particular. The identification terms will be drawn from the list of key terms you have already been given as part of each lecture outline. Again, I will have more to say about this on Monday, but you should not wait until then to do any catching up you might need to do.
Readings for Week 5
For this week, we are going to be focusing on the early modern period in the Ottoman Empire. The empire originated in the 1200s, in the context of the fragmentation of the Abbasid Empire into multiple smaller states all competing with one another across the region (more on this in lecture). Yet the Ottoman Empire that would emerged out of that fragmentation would last until the end of World War I (1918) and effectively span much of the Middle East and North Africa. However, this week, we are particularly focusing on the period between the 1300s and the 1700s, and the gender practices of the ruling (Ottoman) family in particular. We will be reading a lot of marriages, concubines, and the harem of the Ottoman sultan, and how those dynamics relate to broader political and social dynamics, including the experiences and agency of the women who were the wives or concubines of the sultan.
The key to this week is that we have just completed the historical period in which the 4 schools of Sunni interpretation emerge, and we even compared what these different schools have to say about the issue of "apportionment" among the wives and concubines of Muslim men. What we now want to do is move away from what these Islamic texts say, and investigate the realities of women's lives in the immediate period afterward that featured a new large empire (i.e., the Ottoman Empire). We are thus less interested in doctrine and more interested in practice. I promise you will find the readings extremely illuminating.
The total number of pages for this week are a little more than usual, but they promise some really interesting and insightful facts and analysis. To give you a sense of the readings, here is what they cover. If you can't get through all of them before class on Monday, here is one way to divide them.
- The chapter on "Gunpowder Empires" from the Gelvin textbook is a short read on the broad history and nature of the Ottoman Empire and its Persian counterpart, the Safavid Empire. This reading will give us a sense of the broader political, institutional, and social dynamics of what the Ottoman Empire is. [Make sure you read this before lecture on Monday]
- The "Introduction" chapter from Leslie Peirce's book provides a short intro to what the Ottoman sultan's harem was by busting some of the main myths associated with the harem as an institution. [Make sure you read this before lecture on Monday]
- The two other chapters from Leslie Peirce's book gives an inside view into the gender political of the Ottoman sultan. The first of these two chapters explains the marriage patterns of Ottoman sultans, and the differences in the sultan's relationship to his wives and concubines. An interesting fact to pay attention to is the Ottoman sultanic practice of having children from concubines rather than wives, and what that tells us about the different role that marriage plays for the sultan versus that of having children. The second of the two chapters focuses on the harem as an institution. Rather than thinking of it simply as where the Ottoman sultan's wives and concubines live, what happens when we think of it as an institution of rule and power like any other institution that makes up the elite spaces of the empire? Who lived in the harem? What hierarchies existed within the harem, and how did different types of individuals living in the harem relate, have influence, and were influenced by dynamics outside of the harem. [Make sure you read these chapters before lecture on Wednesday]
Please don't hesitate to be in touch with any questions or concerns. Please visit the announcement section of the course website for my expanded office hours during Week 5, which I announced last week.