French Mediterraneans: Transnational and Imperial Histories

French Mediterraneans: Transnational and Imperial Histories


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While the Mediterranean is often considered a distinct, unified space, recent scholarship on the early modern history of the sea has suggested that this perspective is essentially a Western one, devised from the vantage point of imperial power that historically patrolled the region’s seas and controlled its ports. By contrast, for the peoples of its southern shores, the Mediterranean was polymorphous, shifting with the economic and seafaring exigencies of the moment. Nonetheless, by the nineteenth century the idea of a monolithic Mediterranean had either been absorbed by or imposed on the populations of the region.

In French Mediterraneans editors Patricia M. E. Lorcin and Todd Shepard offer a collection of scholarship that reveals the important French element in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century creation of the singular Mediterranean. These essays provide a critical study of space and movement through new approaches to think about the maps, migrations, and margins of the sea in the French imperial and transnational context. By reconceptualizing the Mediterranean, this volume illuminates the diversity of connections between places and polities that rarely fit models of nation-state allegiances or preordained geographies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803249936
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 05/01/2016
Series: France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization
Pages: 444
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Patricia M. E. Lorcin is a professor of history at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Historicizing Colonial Nostalgia: European Women’s Narratives of Algeria and Kenya 1900–Present and Imperial Identities: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Race in Colonial Algeria, New Edition (Nebraska, 2014). Todd Shepard is an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Voices of Decolonization: A Brief History with Documents and The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France


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French Mediterraneans

Transnational and Imperial Histories

By Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Todd Shepard


Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-8875-1


Révolutions de Constantinople

France and the Ottoman World in the Age of Revolutions

Ali YaycIoglu

To the Gezi Parki protestors

[Istanbul, May 31, 2013]

There are no states that have not been subject to great revolutions.

— Antoine Futerière, 1690

In his book Révolutions de Constantinople (1819), Antoine Juchereau de Saint-Denis (1778–1842), a French émigré and military engineer employed by the Ottoman state as an expert in fortification and artillery, narrated the stormy events that he observed in the Ottoman capital in 1807 and 1808. During three révolutions, as Juchereau defined them, two sultans were deposed and executed, several statesmen were beheaded, poisoned, or lynched, and thousands of ordinary Ottoman men and women became victims of violence and terror. Perhaps more important, Juchereau maintained, these revolutions resulted from a battle between the reform program of the New Order — a military and administrative reorganization agenda under the Ottoman sultan Selim III (r. 1789–1807) — and the general public, led by the guards of the old order, the Janissaries, and ulama (learned hierarchy). When Juchereau composed his book in 1819 he wrote in the genre of early revolutionary history-writing in France, with similar themes and topoi, such as the struggle between corporate bodies of the old order and reform of enlightened rulers, and the role of the crowd and public opinion. Juchereau's book thus provides insightful perspective on the experiences of a contemporary observer — and victim — of the Age of Revolutions beyond the conventional boundaries of Europe. Moreover, Révolutions de Constantinople is an illuminating text for historians of Orientalism, or Western knowledge about the East, since it reflects how a French intellectual depicted the Ottoman world in the Age of Revolutions, when not only political systems but also knowledge about these political systems was radically transformed.

For a long time, historians have agreed that the Age of Revolutions, the stormy period between the 1770s and the 1810s, was a trans-European phenomenon. In 1959, R. R. Palmer argued that the American and French Revolutions were not insular events. The transatlantic Enlightenment and its radical manifestations in political culture triggered the connected revolutions in America and Europe. This perspective later gave birth to Atlantic World studies, which became one of the major fields in early modern and modern history. Following Palmer, several historians, such as J. G. A. Pocock, Bernard Bailyn, and Patrice Higonnet, defined different aspects of the Atlantic context in the Age of Revolutions. In another vein, Franco Venturi, in his massive survey The End of the Old Regime in Europe, 1768–1776, argued that the seeds of revolution were first planted not in western Europe but farther east, on the kaleidoscopic Ottoman-Russian-Polish frontiers, in the entangled Hellenic, Slavic, and Islamic cultural zones. Venturi masterfully illustrated that connections between Europe, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Poland were so profound and lively in the late eighteenth century that it is impossible to write their histories on separate pages. Recently, some historians, for example, C. Bayly, David Armitage, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, have proposed a wider scope of analysis and have exploited the possibilities of a global or plural Age of Revolutions.

A central question in this discussion is whether we can give similar meanings to what happened, say, in Warsaw in 1772, Kazan in 1773, Philadelphia in 1777, Paris in 1789, Sichuan in 1796, Cape Town in 1806, and Istanbul in 1807–8. While we should resist the temptation to globalize historical events and cultures to the extent that their specificities lose meaning, we can appreciate connections, interactions, and similarities between different corners of the world in an age when the movement of individuals and information dramatically intensified. In this regard, one important aspect of the Age of Revolutions was the growing number of people living in foreign lands and writing about these places. Emigrants, migrant workers, adventurers, refugees, merchants, missionaries, and diplomats wrote about the countries in which they lived while struggling with epistemological dilemmas that resulted from what they had learned about these foreign lands in their homelands and what they personally experienced. Recent studies on the literature of Orientalism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in western Europe by Srinivas Aravamudan, Humberto Garcia, and others show that Western writing on the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic world is far more complicated and diverse than what was previously thought. While many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors cultivated stark ontological and epistemological boundaries, others bridged the differences between the West and the Islamic world. Juchereau was one of these men. A Frenchman educated in France and England, he ended up in Istanbul during a crisis, observed an extraordinary episode, and wrote about it. Did the horrors he witnessed in Istanbul when many of his Ottoman friends, architects of the New Order who were executed by the crowd, remind him of the horror he experienced when his father was guillotined in the Jacobin Terror? Although we cannot know the answer, it is hardly absurd to think that the revolutions in Paris and Istanbul were related for Juchereau, beyond the stark epistemological boundaries that divided Europe and the Ottoman world.

This essay is an attempt to make sense of Juchereau's Révolutions de Constantinople. In the first section I will discuss some of the phases of interaction between the French and Ottomans worlds. This section also provides context for Juchereau's life and the events he witnessed and described. In the second section I focus on Juchereau and his book and examine how a Frenchman analyzed the Ottoman order and narrated the episode of 1807 and 1808 in Istanbul.

The French and Ottoman Worlds in the Age of Revolutions

More perhaps than any other place in Europe, it was in France that discussions of the nature of the Ottoman order created intrigue among reading circles. By no means did this fascination produce a standard conception of the Ottoman Empire (or the Islamic Near East), but rather a range of narratives and theories persisted. Overall, however, we can point to two competing views. Conventionally, the Ottoman regime appeared as Oriental despotism, characterized by the arbitrary and abusive rule of the sultan and blindly obedient subjects who did not enjoy the rule of law, the possibility of public opposition, or security of property and life. As Montesquieu systematized this theory, the Ottoman order (like its Asian counterparts, which were depicted as illegitimate and outdated) was incommensurable with Enlightenment Europe. This totalistic argument, however, met challenges from counter-interpretations, which were consolidated in the second half of the eighteenth century, as a result of booming French-Ottoman diplomatic and commercial relations. Thinkers like Constantin François de Chassebœuf (comte de Volney) and Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron suggested that in fact the Ottoman regime was not naturally different from regimes in the West. It was not more despotic than other monarchies, perhaps even less so, because several groups, public rebellions, and Islamic Law had profoundly curtailed sultanic authority since the seventeenth century. According to Thomas E. Kaiser, in pre-revolutionary France, discussions of the Ottoman Empire belonged to domestic debates about the ancien régime. Those who promoted Ottoman-French diplomatic and commercial relations sought to illustrate that the Ottoman regime was not a source of evil despotism and that the Ottoman Empire and France could thrive as economic and diplomatic partners. This agenda coincided with a fascination with turquerie in French polite society and translations of major Islamic texts, such as One Thousand and One Nights by Auguste Galland. However, republicans who wished to show that the French monarchy was as despotic as Ottoman rule, or even worse, argued that European royal regimes did not entirely differ from the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottomans were familiar with France and the French, more acquainted even than the French in France with the Ottoman world. French subjects living in Istanbul and the port cities, known as the échelles du Levant, constituted a distinctive commercial community, the result of multiple trade agreements that dated back to the sixteenth century. In the eyes of Ottoman administrators, they proved the most favored commercial community, since France was considered a natural ally against the Hapsburgs. Gradually, the Ottoman French began intermingling with Christian and some Muslim segments of the Ottoman elite in the transcultural milieux of Istanbul and other port cities. This coincided with an increase in the number of French military experts joining the échelles. Alexandre de Bonneval, who became Muslim and took the name Humbaraci Ahmed Pasha, and Baron de Tott, the Franco-Hungarian military expert and diplomat, were the best-known in this group. Many wrote memoirs, some of which became best-sellers in Paris. In fact, the vibrant exchange of information between France and the Ottoman Empire, mediated by the échelles, gave birth to what Ian Coller calls the "East of Enlightenment," namely, the lively intellectual interaction within French commercial and diplomatic circles and other groups clustered around them in the Ottoman world. The East of Enlightenment shaped ideas about the Ottoman world in Europe, but it also became instrumental in disseminating European ways into the Ottoman Empire.

We should understand the East of Enlightenment in relation to other enlightenments in the Ottoman world. In the eighteenth century, Greek and Armenian communities in the Ottoman Empire, which tied together the European and Ottoman markets through diasporal connections, developed their own trans-imperial republic of letters. A vivid learning culture, known as the Greek Enlightenment, flourished under the patronage of the notable Greek families of Istanbul, known as Phanariotes, who were linked to Vienna, Paris, and Padua with centers in Istanbul, Iasi, Izmir, Athens, and Jerusalem. The massive translation campaign from European languages into Western Armenian by the Mekhitarists, the Catholic Armenian network, spread across the Armenian intellectual community in the Ottoman Empire. But it was not only diasporal networks that experienced the vibrant intellectual and political climate of the Age of Enlightenment. Recent discussions of eighteenth-century logics, cosmology, cartography, geography, mathematics, and engineering among Muslim intellectual circles, as well as the proliferation of libraries and publication activities, have pushed some historians to reconsider the rigid boundary between the Western Enlightenment and Islamic traditions. They reject understandings of the Enlightenment as a linear history of a particular secular tradition of radicalism and instead, according to David Sorkin, propose a broader depiction of variously connected and/or concomitantly secular, religious, or scientific propagations — in other words as plural enlightenments. From this perspective it makes sense to define the cultural, intellectual, and scientific vitality of the Ottoman eighteenth century, with all its variants, as the Ottoman Enlightenment.

The Ottoman central establishment also became a part of this atmosphere. Popular accounts by Ottoman diplomats in European centers were not simply observations of Western ways, but veritable reform pamphlets. Not surprisingly, Ottoman interest in the Western — and particularly the French — way, or Ottoman Occidentalism, soon transformed into a genuine political agenda. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, we observe the formation of a political movement, a party of Ottoman statesmen who were profoundly inspired by the French (as well as Prussian, Russian, and Austrian) military and administrative reforms that preceded the revolution. The leading figure of this group, known as the New Order, was the young prince Selim. The sultan-in-waiting exchanged letters with Louis XVI and asked the French monarch for advice as he sought to formulate his reform projects. Selim became sultan only three months before the storming of the Bastille in 1789, and he unleashed his reforms following a general assembly of bureaucrats and intellectuals who presented reform proposals.

After the storming of the Bastille, thousands of French citizens in the échelles experienced the tempestuous days of the revolution in the relatively calm cities of the Eastern Mediterranean. In Istanbul's French community, some joyously celebrated the news, while others anxiously protested the events shattering France. The tricolor cockade became a familiar sight on the streets of Istanbul and a few other Ottoman cities, and occasionally members of other communities, Muslim or non-Muslim, participated in these celebrations and protests. While the Ottoman public became familiar with the revolution, the Ottoman central administration could not predict the far-reaching implications of events in France. In fact, since the 1770s, radical changes, popular rebellions, toppling of regimes, and partitions of countries frequently occurred in the Ottoman Empire and thus no longer surprised the Ottoman elite.

Since the 1770s, the Ottoman Empire had been a theater for various radicalisms. The Greek uprising in Morea in 1769, which Russia's involvement intensified, almost resulted in the disintegration of the Ottoman Balkans. The Ottomans kept the Balkans intact but lost Crimea to Russia. Crimea was one of the most strategic and symbolically significant provinces, and it had been transferred to the Ottoman Empire from the patrimony of the Mongolian Empire. The Russian annexation of Crimea in 1782 became an important phase for Catherine the Great's large-scale project to create an enlightened Byzantium in the Black Sea basin. Ottoman central elites developed a profound awareness of such radical projects inspired by certain dicta of the Enlightenment. In fact, this awareness encouraged Ottoman diplomats to vigorously struggle against the partition of Poland, which fell victim to radical projects to redesign Europe. In the early 1790s, it remained unclear how the French Revolution would affect the geopolitics of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the unpredictable implications of the revolution, between 1789 and 1798 the administrations of the Ottoman Empire and French Republic continued to foster diplomatic and military relations. During the Ottoman wars with Russia and Austria, the Ottomans and the French were natural allies. After the war, when Selim III unleashed his military and fiscal reforms in the name of the New Order, French experts participated in these projects. French became the language of instruction in new military schools. At the same time, studies in Ottoman languages and cultures were institutionalized in French academia. In 1795, the École nationale des langues orientales vivantes was founded in Paris. Now most French diplomats sent to Istanbul were more thoroughly acquainted than ever with Ottoman languages like Turkish, Greek, and Arabic as well as Ottoman political manners. In 1793, the Club de la société républicaine was founded with branches in Istanbul, Izmir, and Aleppo. The Gazette Française de Constantinople and a printing press, under the supervision of the French embassy, were established to "spread the affairs of the Republic to the Ottoman communities." Revolutionary ideas, sponsored by the French government, found their way to the Ottoman world.


Excerpted from French Mediterraneans by Patricia M. E. Lorcin, Todd Shepard. Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Patricia M. E. Lorcin and Todd Shepard
Part I. Rethinking Mediterranean Maps (Maps to Rethink the Mediterranean)
1. Révolutions de Constantinople: France and the Ottoman World in the Age of Revolutions
Ali Yaycioglu
2. Barbary and Revolution: France and North Africa, 1789–1798
Ian Coller
3. “There Is, in the Heart of Asia . . . an Entirely French Population”: France, Mount Lebanon, and the Workings of Affective Empire in the Mediterranean, 1830–1920
Andrew Arsan
4. Natural Disaster, Globalization, and Decolonization: The Case of the 1960 Agadir Earthquake
Spencer Segalla
Part II. Shifting Frameworks of Migration (Migrations across the Mediterranean)
5. The French Nation of Constantinople in the Eighteenth Century as Reflected in the Saints Peter and Paul Parish Records, 1740–1800
Edhem Eldem
6. An Ottoman in Paris: A Tale of Mediterranean Coinage
Marc Aymes
7. From Household to Schoolroom: Women, Transnational Networks, and Education in North Africa and Beyond
Julia Clancy-Smith
8. Europeans before Europe? The Mediterranean Prehistory of European Integration and Exclusion
Mary Dewhurst Lewis
Part III. Margins Remade (by the Mediterranean)
9. Dreyfus in the Sahara: Jews, Trans-Saharan Commerce, and Southern Algeria under French Colonial Rule
Sarah Abrevaya Stein
10. Moïse Nahon and the Invention of the Modern Maghrebi Jew
Susan Gilson Miller
11. The Syphilitic Arab? A Search for Civilization in Disease Etiology, Native Prostitution, and French Colonial Medicine
Ellen Amster
12. From Auschwitz to Algeria: The Mediterranean Limits of the French Anti–Concentration Camp Movement, 1952–1959
Emma Kuby
List of Contributors

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