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From Istanbul to Edirne: 3 Weeks Immersed in the Art, Architecture, & History of the Ottoman Empire

17 September 2013

Istanbul
Selimiye Mosque, photo by Patrick Culhane

Primary Source traveled to Turkey this past July to run a three-week summer institute. Thirty teachers from seventeen states participated in the institute studying and learning about the history and legacies of the Ottoman Empire. Scholars Dana Sajdi, Assistant Professor of history at Boston College, and Barbara Petzen, founder of Middle East Connections and former Education Director for the Middle East Policy Council, joined the group and led discussions and lectures on Ottoman history and culture.

Institute participants spent thirteen days in Istanbul learning about the art and architecture of the Ottoman Empire, Ottoman social institutions and urban culture, and relationships with the West and the fall of the Empire. They also traveled to Safranbolu, Iznik, Bursa, Canakkale, and Edirne where they studied the history of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires in Anatolia, early Ottomans and commerce, and Islamic society in the early Ottoman Empire.

Program directors, Susan Zeiger and Deb Cunningham, who developed and co-led the institute noted their favorite highlights of the trip.

"Visiting the Balkan town of Edirne, the second Ottoman capital, caused me to stop and marvel at least twice at what the Ottomans achieved. The first breathtaking sight was the Selimiye Mosque designed by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan (it was his own favorite work). The mosque perches on a hilltop overlooking the city and showcases its perfect proportions and delicate beauty to anyone who looks up. It brought tears to my eyes to see it! I was just as impressed the following day - though in a different way - by the re-opened Beyazit II Mosque Complex. This features an Ottoman medical museum where practices like music-, art- and aromatherapy were used in the 15th century. It was such a contrast to the shackling and abuse of mental patients that is historically more typical; the theories and science behind this gentle approach were heartening to read. These sorts of achievements remind me that history and progress aren't particularly linear!"
--Deborah Cunningham

"A special day for me was our second-to-last course day in Istanbul. Our task that day was a scavenger hunt, ingeniously designed by scholar co-leader Barbara Petzen. Our learning laboratory was Istiklal Caddesi. Now a famous shopping street branching off from Gezi Park, Istiklal formerly stood at the heart of Istanbul's most westernized neighborhood, representing the touchpoint of East and West, a recurring theme of Ottoman history. The curious and intrepid teachers on our trip were well-prepared to put their three-weeks of new-found knowledge to use this day. Fueled by the competitive spirit that burned in the hearts of some, the hunt turned lively as our teams traipsed from church to mosque, bookstore to café in search of evidence that could be recorded on smartphone cameras. ("Find an Armenian name on a building or business…political graffiti…a copy of Harry Potter in Turkish…a contemporary reference to the Ottoman past.") After the winning team had been awarded a celebratory Turkish pastry, several of us proceeded to the nearby Jewish Museum of Turkey. Housed in a former Sephardic synagogue, this site was another fascinating reminder of Turkey's diverse past and present. This day, like the course as a whole, put us in touch, I think, with the joy of in-depth learning alongside people who share a passion to know other times and places!"
--Susan Zeiger

 

National Endowment for the Humanities

 

Funding for the Ottoman Cultures: Society, Politics and Trade in the Turkish Empire 1299-1922 summer institute provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

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