Critical pedagogies in higher education

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I have just returned from the 3rd Annual Critical Pedagogies Conference held at Liverpool Hope University. I was there for the first one, two years ago, and it has become a highlight of my academic calendar. The conference is supported by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.

What is critical pedagogy?

How to explain this? Critical pedagogy is a term created by Paulo Freire, whose seminal Pedagogy of the Oppressed remains a cornerstone of the discipline. Although Freire’s work was written within the context of post-colonial Brazil and the domination of indigenous populations (and their education) by a white post-colonial elite, it has had great resonance for many different contexts. The work of bell hooks has introduced the perspectives of race and gender, while Henry Giroux‘s work has brought critical pedagogies up to speed with a North American context.

Key to the idea of a critical pedagogy is the concept of critical consciousness (conscientização) one the one hand, and solidarity with the oppressed on the other. In this context, our aim as teachers is not to transmit a truth which arrives from above, unquestioningly, but to instil criticality into our work and our students’. This criticality should go beyond that which is required for interpretation and analysis of data/sources/evidence, but should be a key characteristic of their lives as critically thinking citizens in a democratic society.

Another interesting aspect is the need to move beyond the limitations of power and authority to enact an open and democratic classroom.

What does all this have to do with higher education I hear you say? Well, where once Citizenship Education was a key element to education from early years onwards, we now focus on employability and ‘soft skills’ which make our students more ‘useful’ to the economy. Don’t get me wrong: I fully acknowledge the need for students to be able to find employment, but that is not the sole purpose of education. It’s not even the main purpose. In its latest White Paper, the government puts this right by having very little reference to criticality, citizenship or democracy, but a whopping 53 instances of the word ‘market’. That, and the increasing push for quality assurance, monitoring and measurement systems serve to shrink the space for democracy and freedom in our classrooms and institutions. Freedom of speech is already under threat in this brand-aware environment. This is just another encroachment of the neoliberal into the public space, one more step towards the eradication of the latter.

So this is where critical pedagogies come in. How can we ensure the democratic public space is not sacrificed at the altar of marketisation? How can we help instil in our students a sense of ownership, direction beyond marks/CV-building and ‘social mobility’? How can we protect ourselves and each other from victimisation and the dehumanising effect of neoliberalism?  Well, the answer lies in small steps. Just try to enact a democratic classroom, try to limit the impact of a neoliberal agenda where possible. Educate yourself and your students, your colleagues. Working from within is harder, but is the only way.

Highlights of the conference

The conference itself was an interesting mix. Most papers were able to offer a philosophically-grounded approach to how we ‘do’ education in a critical and democratic way. I particularly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Peter Roberts (Christchurch NZ) and Judith Suissa (IoE). Peter’s talk focused on the theme of despair and hope which comes with critical consciousness, especially in the work of three thinkers: Leo Tolstoy, Miguel de Unamuno, and Paulo Freire. The despair felt by the first two bordered on the existentialist, and indeed Tolstoy seriously considered suicide after finding it difficult to come to terms with the finality of death and the lack of meaning in his life. Unamuno’s work dealt with the idea of suffering as a necessary component of life, without which happiness is rendered meaningless. Peter finished on a hopeful note, focusing on Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope and how no matter how desperate critical consciousness makes us, we can and should still be hopeful for a different future. A key element here was that critical consciousness is a threshold: one cannot go back from it. These are very relevant emotional processes for teachers, especially for the ones who come to harsh realisations about the state of higher education and its privileging of research over teaching (in elite institutions).

Judith Suissa‘s excellent talk discussed the process of critical consciousness and solidarity with the oppressed outside the classroom, as found in Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of OthersJudith’s talk helped us see critical pedagogy “in the streets”, and was grounded on the work of Rebecca Tarlau on critical pedagogy and social movements and Jose Medina’s work (The Epistemology of Resistance). She also drew the connection between anger and hope, emotions which Judith (and Freire) suggest should be combined.

Other highlights included Cristina Cammarano‘s talk on the critical, yet powerless, students, and the moral dilemma for the critical teacher who supports her students towards critical consciousness, only for them to discover the despair and powerlessness which may follow (as Peter told us earlier). Caroline Obiageli‘s talk from Nigeria via Skype discussed the theme of educative entertainment and especially how entertainment can be the vehicle for concealed learning purposes. What little I caught from Andrew Brogan‘s talk on the ‘exilic’ classroom, I found very thought-provoking, as Andrew explored the theme of classrooms as safe spaces where democratic practice can be enacted, based on the works of De Certeau, and in particular the concept of ‘wiggery’, after De Certeau’s la perruque, a form of subversion using the resources available. Ruth Heilbronn’s work also got a mention here.

Ana Lucia Souza de Freitas discussed the relationship between Freire’s work with that of Gert Biesta, and especially the theme of ‘risk’ in education. Louise Jackson and Jonathan Owen Clark discussed critical pedagogy within the context of art education.

Penny Enslin‘s keynote speech focused on themes of colonialism and postcolonialism, drawing from both British and South African contexts. This is particularly relevant in an age of dramatic expansion for British and American institutions into ‘new markets’.

Conclusions and action

On the whole this was a full-on two days which as usual gave me some time and space to think, question my practice and learn new things. I came back armed with another handful of new references for things to read. It also made me realise that some colleagues in philosophy work on an abstract plane for so long that they forget its significance or connection to reality. There were a couple of moments when I wondered what such examples were doing at a critical pedagogies conference. The irony was lost on such colleagues. I will say no more, as this was a mere side-note to an otherwise excellent conference. Indeed, I return to this conference year after year because it’s a relatively small one, everybody is down to earth, friendly and welcoming, and I make many useful contacts.

I also came away feeling that we could do with something more focused on higher education. Ultimately critical pedagogy is about praxis, taking action (or committing ‘wiggery’!) within one’s context. It’s also about irreverence, especially towards anything which some people may consider ‘canonical’ in the field of philosophy, and that does include Freire. It’s about a ‘smash and grab’ philosophy, an ‘edu-punk’ approach as a good friend once said, where we utilise what’s useful, always with a critical eye and aware of the limitations.

At a time when the White Paper is diminishing the teacher’s and learner’s freedoms in a very overt manner, we can at least attempt to identify our predicament and mitigate its consequences. In a discussion over a pint with an esteemed colleague, we thought that the time is right for an HE-focused critical pedagogies conference to take this plan forward.

Things for me to read

Nicholas C. Burbules and Rupert Berk (1999).Critical Thinking and Critical Pedagogy: Relations, Differences, and Limits. Published in Critical Theories in Education, Thomas S. Popkewitz and Lynn Fendler, eds. (NY: Routledge)

Martin Carnoy (1974). Education as cultural imperialism (Longman)

Seewha Cho (2010). Politics of Critical Pedagogy and New Social Movements. Educational Philosophy and Theory,Vol. 42, No. 3, 2010
doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2008.00415.x

Michel de Certeau (2002), The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press)

Kevin Harris (1982). Teachers and Classes: A Marxist Analysis (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul)

Ruth Heilbronn (2012). Teacher Education and the Development of Practical Judgement (NY: Bloomsbury)

Linda Keesing-Styles (2003). The Relationship between Critical Pedagogy and Assessment in Teacher Education. Radical Pedagogy.

Gustav Landauer (2010). Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader. Edited by Gabriel Kuhn (Oakland: PM Press)

José Medina (2011). Toward a Foucaultian Epistemology of Resistance: Counter-Memory, Episte-mic Friction, and Guerrilla Pluralism. Foucault Studies, No. 12, pp. 9-35, October 2011

José Medina (2013). The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and the Social Imagination. (Oxford: OUP)

Bill Readings (1997). The University in Ruins (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press)

Dean Spade (2011). Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law (NY: South End Press)

Rebecca Tarlau (2014). From a Language to a Theory of Resistance: Critical Pedagogy, the Limits of “Framing,” and Social Change. Educational Theory, Volume 64 Number 4

Insularity, Empire and the ‘Spatial Turn’: Ottoman Cyprus and the Mediterranean World

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On Wednesday 24th of February, we are extremely pleased to welcome friend, colleague and Birmingham alumnus Antonis Hadjikyriacou, who will give a lecture titled:

Insularity, Empire and the ‘Spatial Turn’: Ottoman Cyprus and the Mediterranean World

The presentation examines the correlations between insular space and the development of economic, social and political structures in Ottoman Cyprus. Insularity here is not taken literally, but rather as the condition of being, and being perceived as, an island. In other words, insularity is not just about islands: it is about connections, links, networks, and contexts. The presentation further enquires into the production of space á la Henri Lefebvre, and explores the triad of conceived, perceived and lived space with reference to insularity.

Envisioning the Cypriot insularity entails an understanding of the climatic, geographical, and environmental conditions conducive to a polycultural, water-demanding, labour-intensive, cash crop-oriented economy. Cyprus was large and productive enough to have a sizeable surplus; contained enough as an economic space to be controlled by particular networks; and distant enough from Istanbul to escape serious imperial attention.

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Antonis Hadjikyriacou is a Marie Curie Intra-European fellow at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies/ Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas

Island Insularity and Connectivity: an interdisciplinary symposium on Cypriot island identity in the Mediterranean from antiquity to the present day

[reposted from here]

Friday 1st May 2015, 12-5 pm
The Wolfson Research Exchange, Main Library, University of Warwick
(Please note the change of venue)

All are welcome to attend. Registration is free. Lunch and refreshments will be provided throughout the day. Please email ersin.hussein@warwick.ac.uk by Thursday 23rd April 2015 to register your attendance.

Keynote speaker Professor Nicholas Purcell (Classics, University of Oxford)

Confirmed Speakers

Fatos Eren Bilgen (Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick): Negotiating identities in prolonged liminality: The case of Turkish Cypriot lecturers’ identity negotiations during uncertainty and redundancy.

İlke Dağlı (Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick): Essentialist Identity Limbo: Broadening the scope of the “ethnic-conflict” in Cyprus

Josette Duncan (History, University of Warwick): Isolation, Segregation and Connectivity: Medical Institutionalisation and Public Health Restrictions on Prostitutes, Lepers and Quarantined peoples in British Cyprus (1878-1914)

Stuart Dunn (Digital Humanities, King’s College London): “Inscriptions Engraved on the Soil”: The Heritage Gazetteer of Cyprus

Antonis Hadjikyriacou (Marie Curie Intra-European fellow Institute for Mediterranean Studies/Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas): Insularity and Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean: The production of space in Ottoman Cyprus

Marios Hadjianastasis (Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies
University of Birmingham): Post-conquest identities in early Ottoman Cyprus

Georgios Markou (History of Art, University of Cambridge):Title TBC

George Petrou (Royal College of Art)

Anna Reeve (Classics, University of Leeds): John Holmes and the construction of ancient Cyprus in late nineteenth century Yorkshire

Dimitrios Stamatis (Faculty of Philosophy, National & Kapodistrian
University of Athens): Aphrodite and Adonis A sacred marriage of civilizations on Cypris’ island.
Conference Abstract

As the world’s largest inland sea joining the continents of southern Europe, northern Africa, Anatolia and the Levant, the Mediterranean Sea has long been identified as a unique maritime arena, the connectivity of which influenced the emergence of cultures and societies in its earliest history. The ecology, geography and climate, along with the movement and settlement of people across the region driven by trade, war, conquest, colonisation and tourism, has shaped the character of the Mediterranean as a region, particularly its islands.

Since antiquity, the island of Cyprus has acted as an important hub in the Mediterranean: situated at the crossroads of the eastern and western worlds, the combination of Cyprus’ geographical location, natural resources, political and commercial connections has rendered the island as an attractive proposition for many. The island continues to be identified as a cultural melting pot where cross cultural exchanges, from the distant past to the present day, continue to be seen and experienced in the fabric of its culture and society.

Building upon an initial workshop that took place in October 2013 at the Institute of Advanced Study (University of Warwick), this interdisciplinary symposium will explore the complex topic of ‘Cypriot island identity’. Papers presenting case studies that consider this theme from Cyprus’ ancient history to the present day, as well as comparative case studies taken from other Mediterranean islands, are welcome.

Topics of discussion can include (but are not limited to):

• The ecology and geography of the Mediterranean as a region and the impact of this on the connectivity and insularity of Cyprus.
• The internal insularity and connectivity of local Cypriot communities and the impact of this on issues of identity.
• The legacy of empires: annexation, colonisation, administration.
• The movement and settlement of communities.
• The emergence of, and tensions between, multiple and competing local identities.
• Cyprus and the EU.
• The articulation of Cypriot identity in literature and in visual material culture.
• How archaeology and ancient history has been used to define Cypriot identity.

Programme

To be confirmed.

For directions on how to reach Warwick Campus please follow this link and for how to get to the Wolfson Research Exchange, click here

Organised by Dr Ersin Hussein (IAS| Department of Classics and Ancient History). Sponsored by the Institute of Advanced Study and Warwick Global Research Priorities, Connecting Cultures.

The Topography of Ottoman Athens. Archaeology and Travel (April 23-24, 2015)

[reposted from the original website here]

A two-day symposium (April 23-24) will feature twelve lectures that explore the topography of Ottoman Athens in Cotsen Hall in conjunction with the exhibition “Ottoman Athens, 1458-1833”. The laguages of the symposium are Greek and English; there will be simultaneous translation.

For more information go here: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/news/eventDetails/symposium-the-topography-of-ottoman-athens.-archaeology-and-travel

SYMPOSIUM PROGRAM

April 23

10:30 – 11:00  INTRODUCTION: Maria Georgopoulou

11:00 – 14:00  SESSION I: ANTIQUITIES

JOANITA A.C. VROOM, Associate Professor, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University Broken Pots of Ottoman Athens: A New View from the Agora Excavations

ΤΑΣΟΣ ΤΑΝΟΥΛΑΣ, Αρχιτέκτων, πρώην Προϊστάμενος του Έργου Αποκατάστασης των Προπυλαίων (1984-2010)
Documents on Ottoman Athens and, especially, on the Ottoman Acropolis / Μαρτυρίες για την Αθήνα και, ειδικότερα, για την Ακρόπολη στα χρόνια της Τουρκοκρατίας

12:00 – 12:30  Coffee Break

ΕΛΕΝΗ ΚΟΡΚΑ, Γενική Διευθύντρια Αρχαιοτήτων και Πολιτιστικής Κληρονομιάς &
S. M. SHARIAT-PANAHI, Ιστορικός
Strong Foreign Powers in the early19th century in Small, Degraded Athens / Ισχυρές ξένες δυνάμεις στις αρχές του 19ου αιώνα στην μικρή παρηκμασμένη Αθήνα

ELIZABETH KEY FOWDEN, University of Cambridge
The Parthenon Mosque, King Solomon and the Philosophers / Το τζαμί του Παρθενώνα, ο Σολομών και οι φιλόσοφοι

16:00 – 18:00  SESSION II: ARCHITECTURE

ΜΑΝΟΛΗΣ ΚΟΡΡΕΣ, Καθηγητής, Σχολή Αρχιτεκτόνων Μηχανικών, ΕΜΠ
Οικίες στην Αθήνα του 18ου αι. / Houses at Athens in the 18th cent.

ΓΙΑΝΝΗΣ ΚΙΖΗΣ, Καθηγητής, Σχολή Αρχιτεκτόνων Μηχανικών, ΕΜΠ
Η αναστήλωση της οικίας Μπενιζέλου / The restoration of the Benizelos Residence

ΧΑΡΑΛΑΜΠΟΣ ΜΠΟΥΡΑΣ, Ομότιμος Καθηγητής, Σχολή Αρχιτεκτόνων Μηχανικών, ΕΜΠ
Η εκκλησιαστική αρχιτεκτονική στην Αθήνα κατά την οθωμανική περίοδο / Ecclesiastical Architecture in Athens during the Ottoman Period

18:00 – 19:00  Free time to view exhibition in the Gennadius Library

19:00   Keynote Address

EDHEM ELDEM, Boğaziçi University
The Ottoman discovery of Athens: 1780-1830

 

April 24

10:00 – 12:00  SESSION ΙΙΙ: TEXTS AND OBJECTS

ΔΗΜΗΤΡΗΣ Ν. ΚΑΡΥΔΗΣ, Καθηγητής Σχολής Αρχιτεκτόνων ΕΜΠ
Του Καρύκη ο μαχαλάς και του Εξέχωρου η βρύση / The neighborhood of Karykes and the fountain of Eksechoron

ΔΗΜΗΤΡΗΣ ΛΟΥΠΗΣ, Υποψήφιος Δρ. Πανεπιστημίου Χάρβαρντ & Επιστημονικός Συνεργάτης, Ινστιτούτο Ιστορικών Ερευνών, Εθνικό Ίδρυμα Ερευνών
The Ottoman Monuments of Athens and their Epigraphic Program / Τα οθωμανικά μνημεία της Αθήνας και το επιγραφικό τους πρόγραμμα

ΑΛΙΚΗ ΑΣΒΕΣΤΑ, Ιστορικός – Συνεργάτης Γενναδείου Βιβλιοθήκης &
ΙΟΛΗ ΒΙΓΓΟΠΟΥΛΟΥ, Ερευνήτρια στο Ινστιτούτο Ιστορικών Ερευνών του Εθνικού Ιδρύματος Ερευνών
Περιηγητικές αφηγήσεις για τα χαμάμ της Αθήνας / Travelers’ Narratives on the Hammams of Athens

12:00 – 12:30  Coffee Break

12:30 – 14:00   SESSION ΙV: CARTOGRAPHY

ΓΙΩΡΓΟΣ ΤΟΛΙΑΣ, Διευθυντής Ερευνών στο Ινστιτούτο Ιστορικών Ερευνών, Εθνικό Ίδρυμα Ερευνών
Αρχαία κείμενα και νέα ερείπια: οι τοπογραφικοί χάρτες των Αθηνών κατά την οθωμανική περίοδο / Ancient Texts and New Ruins: the Topographic Maps of Athens during the Ottoman Period

ΚΑΤΕΡΙΝΑ ΣΤΑΘΗ, Επιστημονική Συνεργάτης στο έργο “ΚΡΗΠΙΣ” του Ινστιτούτου Νεοελληνικών Ερευνών, Εθνικό Ίδρυμα Ερευνών
The Ottoman Map of the Castle of Athens and its Suburb / Ο Οθωμανικός Χάρτης του Κάστρου της Αθήνας και του Προαστίου της

 

A Tuscan raid on Famagusta, 1607 [article]

The Porta di Limisso (Limassol gate) on the southwestern part of the Famagusta walls

The Porta di Limisso (Limassol gate) on the southwestern part of the Famagusta walls

I have just finished and submitted (finally) the article that sprung out from my paper at the Historic Famagusta Conference in Budapest in 2012 (has it really been that long?). My article looks at the raid, carried out by a force of the Knights of St. Stephen, Spanish forces, English and other corsairs. In fact, it included some celebrities who would go on to bigger and greater things, such as the Tuscan admiral Jacopo Inghirami, Don Antonio De’Medici (Grand Duke Francesco I’s son), Pietro Velasco (future Duke of Osuna and Viceroy of Sicily), Richard Gifford (an English merchant and corsair based in Livorno) and his partner Robert (who was either Sir Robert Dudley (Leicester’s son) or more likely Robert Thornton, who in 1608 would lead the first and only attempt to establish an Italian colony in the Americas (in Brazil in particular). There were others, scions of important Italian families of Pisa, Livorno and Siena, corsairs, soldiers, common ‘rubble’.

The attack was very likely the result of the pleas of Cypriot notables who were looking for a political future after the conquest of the island by the Ottomans in 1571. These notables, most of whom had retained their Catholic sympathies, sent pleas to royal courts around Catholic Europe, exaggerating the number of Cypriots who could take up arms and seriously under-representing the Ottoman forces on the island to make it sound feasible to capture the island. One such person, Pedro Avendaño (“Griego de nación de la ínsula de Chipre”, as he is referred to in the Spanish archives) claimed to have led a rebellion on the island in 1606 where he rallied a force 12,000 strong which killed 3,500 Turks, but due to the lack of arms the rebellion was suppressed and 4,000 men fled to the mountains in anticipation of a suitable opportunity, such as the intervention of a christian force, to rise again.

Avendaño’s hugely exaggerated claims failed to raise eyebrows at the Spanish court, but it seems that somebody somewhere swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, because in June of 1607 the raiders were eagerly anticipating the Greci to come to their support and take up arms, as part of a wildly ambitious plan to control the island.

The raid represents a hilarious example of communication breakdown, shambolic preparations and misinformation. Despite the fact that Francesco Bourbon Del Monte and Jacopo Inghirami, the leaders of the force, had at their disposal a model of the city of Famagusta, as well as the benefit of local informants (one of whom was Girolamo of Famagusta, an experienced navigator and pilot with the forces of Jacques Pierre, a French corsair), the attack ended in resounding failure.

The attack was meant to be carried out at night and in stealth, taking control of the city before the garrison had time to fortify itself. The idea was to breach the walls with explosives (petards) and scale them with ladders at different locations, including the 2 main gates-the sea gate (Porta del Mare) and the land gate (Porta di Limisso), as well as a postern (porta falsa) on the northern side. The petards failed to breach the postern (which was thought to be hollow but wasn’t), the ladders were too short (despite numerous affirmations to the contrary) and a large part of the force could not make its way round to the marina to attack the sea gate, due to the inaccessibility of the passage, which meant that they became trapped in the moat, between the walls and the companies behind them for three hours. The force that was supposed to attack the land gate was part was on teh ships which became separated from the main force and turned up at the scene a day too late, to put the icing on the cake. Indeed, the descriptions in the archives of Florence, Venice and Siena at times read like the script of Holy Grail 2: İneği getirin!.

The failed attack meant that Del Monte was relieved of his duties and was excluded from the subsequent attack on Bona (Annaba in modern-day Algeria) which brought the Grand Duke of Tuscany a little bit of the glory he so craved.

In the article I discuss the military aspects of the incident, with detailed maps of the walls and the plans of the attack.

In my next article I will be discussing the identity aspects of period of transition from the Venetian to the Ottoman Cyprus.

Medieval Famagusta

Click on the image for more photos of Historic Famagusta

Medieval Histories has recently published an article on Medieval Famagusta, highlighting the urgent need for its protection and pointing to the upcoming conference, Historic Famagusta: A Millennium in Words and Images, as an important landmark in its preservation (Thanks to Karen Schousboe).

You can view the article here.

In addition to this, Michael Walsh  has published a paper, titled ‘Famagusta’ which you can see here.

To say that the time is ripe to intervene and save this amazing historical space is to be stating the obvious. The importance of Famagusta as a crusader trading port in the Middle Ages is well documented. This importance is well reflected on the ground, where the concentration of medieval architecture is immediately obvious even to the untrained eye. This makes Famagusta one of the Eastern Med’s hidden (and forgotten) jewels-one which must receive its due attention from UNESCO and the political authorities on the ground.

___________________________

More images of Historic Famagusta here.

Conference: Convergence of the Mediterranean, Salerno 6-9 September 2011

I have just returned from Salerno, where I participated in the latest instalment of the Medworlds 3 Conference. The conference was organised by a collaboration of universities and focused on mediterranean networks.

Our panel focused on the trade of goods and commodities in Cyprus from the Middle Ages to the late 18th century. Aysu Dinçer presented her work on precious stones in medieval Famagusta, while Antonis Hadjikyriacou presented a paper on the trade of grains in 18th c. Cyprus. My own paper focused on the trade of cotton, silk and textiles in the 17th century, and especially the networks and relationships formed between communities of European merchants and the locals.

The conference was very successful, and credit must go to the organisers. All panels were very interesting, and it would be very useful for the academic community to see and edited volume with extensive commentary from the editors. This would help bring together the main themes of the conference, explore particular aspects and draw methodological conclusions.

The lovely setting of Fisciano was perfect for the conference, and I am sure that the region has made many new friends.

2nd Ottoman History Workshop, EUI, Florence, 6/6/2011

The European University Institute is organising its 2nd Ottoman History Workshop on the 6th of June 2011. The Workshop is organised by Prof. Luca Molà (EUI) and will host papers dealing with a wide range of topics, from Austrian diplomats in Ottoman Athens (Katerina Stathi) to Children’s Songs in the Late Ottoman Empire (Seren Akyoldaş)

You can view details here download the programme here.

Economic history vs the agent: the view from Cambridge

A few weeks back I attended a conference in Cambridge on Ottoman-European exchanges. Let me state clearly from the beginning: I am no economic historian. Economic history most certainly informs what I do, and I greatly admire people who sit there for hours  on end, analysing data using complicated statistical models. Their work most certainly underpins what I am trying to do, providing data and even meaning to social phenomena.

Şevket Pamuk‘s keynote speech was extremely interesting and focused on the study of the Early Modern states’ ability to centralise tax collection and thus maximise revenue. This had a great impact on the state’s ability to mobilize an army and succeed on the battlefield. Models dictate behaviour, behaviour is interpreted into varying degrees of financial ‘success’. Markets shift, rise and fall based on global factors, etc etc. Prof. Pamuk’s work is definitely of the highest calibre, there is little doubt. Unfortunately, not everybody can be a Pamuk. Some other speakers took economic determinism a step too far for my liking, as if conforming to a need to make everything fit into neat little categories, square pegs into round holes. Data is good but does not always add up.

I feel that I must resist the temptation to let economic history drive everything else. As with any other form of determinism, economic determinism leaves little space for other factors. How about the climate? How about agency? Does individual activity have no impact on the course of history? Michael Talbot‘s paper on diplomatic gift exchange between Levant Company agents and Ottoman officials served to demonstrate that there is space (and need) for the study of individual activity and personal relations, and, to bring the point home, their impact on social and economic developments. Studying economic data and taking into account the role of agency need not be mutually exclusive.