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Social and Cultural History of the Middle East: the Ottoman Empire (1300-1922)


Admission Requirements

Admission to (one of) the programme(s) listed under Part of in the information bar on the right.
If you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of (one of) the listed programme(s), please contact the Education Coordinator.

While it is an asset to have proficient reading skills in Ottoman and modern Turkish, Arabic and Persian (level B2 European Common Framework), students with little or no knowledge of these languages, but with an interest in and some familiarity with the history and culture of the Middle East (approximately 30 EC worth of relevant courses at BA or MA level) are highly encouraged to take this course. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who do not fulfill the admission requirements are requested to contact Dr. H. Theunissen well in time before the start of the semester. They may be asked to read extra literature in preparation for the course.


This course is designed to familiarize students with select topics, debates, and sources in the study of history and culture of the Middle East in the Ottoman period. As one of the most important Eurasian states that survived from medieval to modern times, the Ottoman Empire constitutes an integral component of Europe and Middle East. There is a vast literature produced in a host of languages on various aspects of Ottoman history and culture. Given the wide scope of topics and chronology that may fall under the study of the Ottoman world, the thematic and temporal outlook of this seminar will be selective, and greater precedence will be given to the growing field of Ottoman social and cultural history. Please be advised that this seminar will not provide a mere chronological narrative of Ottoman political and institutional history. Yet the gradually changing nature of the Ottoman polity, society, and culture will be strongly emphasized to escape from essentialist and ahistorical assessment of the Ottoman experiences.
Each week we will discuss a particular theme and the current state of scholarship on the relevant topic. In addition we will reflect upon primary sources for the study of Ottoman history and culture. Themes are: Periodization & Historiography, Islamization & Sunnitization, Architecture & Patronage, Gender & Power, Morality & Sexuality, Natural Disasters & Plagues, Migration & Labour, Public Space & Public Order, Women in the Late Ottoman Period, and Modernization, Ideology & Architecture.

Course objectives

  • to become thoroughly acquainted with the current state of scholarship on various aspects of the history and culture of the Middle East in the Ottoman period,

  • to become familiar with the main reference works used in the study of the Ottoman world,

  • to gain familiarity with primary sources needed to do research in Ottoman studies,

  • to develop the ability to analyze and evaluate scholarship and/or sources for the purpose of formulating a scholarly argument,

  • to develop the ability to report on research findings both orally and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of historical scholarship.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of Instruction


After an introduction to the topic by the convener students will give presentations based on the assigned readings. The presentations are followed by discussion.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Active Participation in Group Discussion (based on the assigned reading materials) 25%
3 Response Essays on Assigned Readings 15%
Final Paper 60%

Response Essays on Assigned Readings
The purpose of the response essays is to enable students to critically engage with the arguments presented in the assigned readings. The length of each paper is c. 1000 words. Response essays should focus on:

  • State of the art of the study of subject and (revisionist?) arguments of the authors of the readings.

  • Theoretical-methodological framework and research questions of the readings

  • Primary sources analysed in the readings (leading to argument of the author).

Final Paper
Students are expected to produce a term paper of c. 4000 words, that deals with a central question on Ottoman history and culture, and addresses it in the light of modern studies and/or available primary source materials. Students are advised to start thinking about their individual project and contact the instructor as early as possible. By Week 7, students will hand in a one-page project proposal along with a preliminary bibliography.

On this page you will find more information on relevant sources.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower), the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper and the final version of the paper was submitted on time, a re-sit of the paper is possible. In that case the convenor of the course will assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

Reading List

A detailed list of weekly readings will be handed out in the first class. The following (general) textbooks are recommended to gain familiarity with Ottoman history and culture:

  • Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

  • Suraiya Faroqhi, Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000).

  • Donald Quataert, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory for:

  • MA Middle Eastern Studies students: the number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served. Priority is given to students who started with the MA programme in 2023-2024.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Students from the other MA programmes listed under Part of in the information bar on the right, need to contact their study adviser for information on the enrolment procedure. After admission they will be registered by the Education Administration Office Vrieshof.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar on the right.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: De Vrieshof


Please note that the additional course information is an integral part of this course description.