The Question of Writing Premodern Biographies of the Middle East
When I was first asked to reflect upon the relationship of the writing of history VV and biography in the context of the pre-nineteenth century Middle East, I hesitated, unprepared to plunge back into the contemplation of ambiguous and un-documentable existences that pursuit of the individual in the distant past entails. I recalled my perplexity at feeling akin to Ottoman bureaucrat Ahmed Resmi (d. 1783), the subject of An Ottoman Statesman in War and Peace: “struggling with the profession, exploring the other, and warring at all times with the mis- or under-representations of Ottoman history in western annals.”1 Trying to convey a distant chronology, alien religion, gender, and culture in the story of an influential reformer of the eighteenth century proved daunting and left me with a permanent sense of the unfinished. I have since come to realize that my journey into the ill-charted lands of Ottoman biographies was as much an emblematic journey into the complexities of writing history in the late twentieth century as well as an exploration of my own itinerary I therefore decided to embrace the opportunity offered by the editor of this volume to try my hand at describing the process of reconstructing the lives of the long-dead from an Ottoman historian’s point of view.
KeywordsBurning Turkey Defend Sonal Plague
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- 1.Aksan, “Acknowledgments,” An Ottoman Statesman in War and Peace: Ahmed Resmi Efendi 1700–1783 (Leiden: Brill, 1995), n. p. “Ottoman” of course refers to the Ottoman Empire, which covered essentially the same territory we presently call the Middle East and the Balkans.Google Scholar
- 2.See Barnes, “Always True to France,” a review of the work of Richard Cobb, New York Review of Book, August 12, 1999, p. 30.Google Scholar
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- Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land (London: Gran ta, 1992)Google Scholar
- Amin Maalouf, Leo the African (London: Abacus, 1994)Google Scholar
- Orhan Pamuk, The White Castle (London: Vintage, 1998).Google Scholar