Appel à communications : conférence de Richard Wittmann pour le workshop "Intertwined memories : Towards an international conference on life writing in the Ottoman Empire and the Eastern Mediterranean" le 27 février 2020

Cet appel concerne le CERMOM et le CREE en priorité parce qu'ils en sont les organisateurs, mais doit s'étendre bien au-delà à toutes les institutions ou collègues susceptibles d'être intéressés par ce sujet qui fera l'objet d'un grand colloque en 2021 (Inalco - Orient Institut d'Istanbul).

Les titres des propositions et abstracts (de préférence en anglais) devront parvenir avant le 20 janvier 2020 à et à
visuel par défaut
Date limite :
Lundi, 20 janvier, 2020
Equipe de recherche :
Call for papers for a one-day workshop at INALCO on 27 February 2020 on the topic of :
 Intertwined memories: Towards an international conference on life writing in the Ottoman Empire and the Eastern Mediterranean

The political developments after the First World War have led to the prevailing understanding among many historians of the Ottoman realms that the Empire were to be dealt with primarily as part of Turkey’s national history, rather than as the shared home of numerous ethnicities and the predecessor of a great number of national entities that were established on its territory after the Empire’s demise. Even though the international academic historiography has for several decades now adopted the view that the Ottoman state was, in fact, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural empire, the research practice often lags behind this recognition. This is mainly owed to the disciplinary fragmentation of the scholarly community interested in Ottoman affairs and the sparseness, or even lack of interdisciplinary exchange and communication.
A one-day workshop jointly convened by Marie-Christine Bornes-Varol (INALCO) and Richard Wittmann (Orient-Institut Istanbul) in Paris on February 27, 2020, seeks to bring together scholars who have studied autobiographical texts in the multitude of late Ottoman literary languages such as Arabic, Armenian, Greek, various languages of the Balkans, Ladino, Turkish, as well as in the vernaculars of travelers to the Eastern Mediterranean. Drawing on the assembled expertise in the region’s literatures, languages and history present at INALCO, as well as benefitting from the Orient-Institut Istanbul’s research focus on life narratives as historic sources, the workshop aims to provide a platform for exploring the joint organization of an international conference in Istanbul in 2021, which will facilitate the crossing of disciplinary boundaries and the inclusion of the multiple languages in use in the Ottoman Empire.
Keynote lecture by Richard Wittmann (Orient-Institut Istanbul):
A tale of voids and invisibles:
Life writing in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ottoman Empire

Western scholarship has long held the notion that autobiographical writing was preconditioned by the introspection of the individual, which, singular famous precursors in antiquity such as the 4th century “Confessions of St. Augustine” not withstanding, came about only as a result of the Enlightenment era in Europe during the 18th century. Not surprisingly, for the Islamic world, Franz Rosenthal’s 1937 account of classical Islamic autobiography (Die arabische Autobiographie) was rather unfavorable and set the tone for Georg Misch, Gustav von Grunebaum, and other prominent scholars of the Middle East for decades. Generations of literature scholars and historians have downplayed the importance or even denied the very existence of autobiographical writings in the countries of the Arab or Islamic world. A reevalution of this position has only begun in earnest over the past two decades (Reynolds 2001).
This talk will discuss how a paradigmatic shift in approaching personal writings opened up doors for a new research agenda among students of the history and literatures of the region that will allow for the discovery and study of a sheer infinite number of hitherto unnoticed life narratives. A burgeoning new field of life writing studies in predominantly Western countries has already arrived at new ways of understanding personal narratives beyond the boundaries of the classic genre types –memoir, autobiography, diary and letter–, which paved the way for a reevaluation of narrative sources also among scholars of the Islamic world.
As a rule, studies of literature and history rely exclusively on written sources, with a built-in bias against the illiterate whose voices remain undocumented. With regard to the Ottoman Empire, however, the testimonies of even less individuals than the literate few were recognized: Almost exclusive preference was given to the languages of the chancery and bureaucracy of the state, i.e. Ottoman Turkish and Arabic. It will be argued that the history of the region has been written based on the accounts of a very small sample of the literate population. It does not include those who wrote their testimonies in other languages such as Armenian, Judeo-Espagnol, Greek, etc. or in the vernaculars of foreign travelers.
A plea will be made in this talk for a more inclusive approach to the study of autobiographical sources that will aim for the consideration of all personal accounts of both permanent and short-term residents of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ottoman Empire to arrive at a more adequate picture of the literature(s) and history of this multilingual and multiethnic region. The speaker will draw on his own research on the testimonies of 19th century central European artisans as well as on other examples of recent empirical studies in Ottoman history to illustrate what insights can be gained from the application of a wider, more inclusive understanding of life narratives in terms of genre as well as source language for the study of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ottoman Empire.
Richard Wittmann (Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University 2008) is the Associate Director of the Orient-Institut Istanbul, a German humanities research institute abroad. The Istanbul based member institute of the Max Weber Foundation is dedicated to the promotion of academic research on Turkey and its neighboring countries of the Balkans and the Near East. After studying Law, Islamic Studies, and Turcology at the University of Munich and at Freie Universität Berlin he was awarded a scholarship from Harvard University where he continued his studies at the Department of History and at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
His research interests focus on Islamic legal history and the social history of the Ottoman Empire. Special attention is given in his work to the consideration of self-narratives as historic sources for the study of the Near East. Richard Wittmann coordinates an international collaborative research project aiming at the study and publication of Ottoman self-narratives ( He is the editor of the publication series Memoria. Fontes Minores ad Historiam Imperii Ottomanici Pertinentes ( and (co)editor of the monograph series Life Narratives of the Ottoman Realm: Individual and Empire in the Near East  (
His latest coedited volume Istanbul – Kushta – Constantinople. Narratives of Identity in the Ottoman Capital, 1830-1930 was published with Routledge in 2019.