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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Imperial Legacy
Carl Brown ed

(New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)
337pp. Index. Bibl..
Pb.: ISBN 0-231-10305-0. $22.00

This edited volume brings a detailed account of the Ottoman Empire and its legacy. "Aiming more broad themes than discrete detail" the chapters here "seek to present interpretations that, while passing muster with the specialist, are readily accessible to the nonspecialist."(p.6)

Part One starts with a chapter by Halil Inalcik, "The Meaning of Legacy: the Ottoman Case". Inalcik claims that some major aspects of the Ottoman system inspired later developments. Norman Itzkowitz, in the following chapter, "Problem of Perceptions", focuses on the psychological aspect of the Ottoman legacy dealing the question of how peoples of the Ottoman successor states' perceptions about themselves and others have been constructed.

There are four chapters in Part Two. Maria Todorova, in "The Ottoman Legacy in the Balkans", describes two diametrically opposed interpretations of the Ottoman legacy. One considers the Ottoman period as an alien invasion. The other sees this long era more nearly as "a symbiosis of Turkish, Islamic, and Byzantine/Balkan traditions." Karl Barbir, in his "Memory, Heritage, and History", examines why the Arabs have approached their Ottoman past negatively and why that earlier adapting of memories may now be changing.

In Part Three, Ergun Ozbudun sees as one of the most important Ottoman legacies the tradition of a strong and centralized state. Carter Findley focuses on that period of Westernization and reform stretching from the late eighteenth century to the end of the empire. Roderic Davison asks four questions: What was the situation of the Ottoman Empire during roughly the last century or so of its existence? What strategy did the Ottomans develop during this period? What did the Near East as a whole inherit from this? And finally, What did the Republic of Turkey inherit?

In Part Four, Bernard Lewis supports the case that much modern Arab political vocabulary came via an Ottoman transmission belt. In the following chapter Geoffrey Lewis suggests that the Ottoman language had a richness of vocabulary matched only by English. Vast borrowings from Arabic and Persian produced this extensive, nuanced vocabulary.

Part Five starts with Charles Issawi's comparative review of the economic legacy of the Ottoman Empire and neighbouring European countries. In the chapter on the military legacy, Dankwart Rustow highlights the central role of warfare in both the Ottoman Empire's rise and its slow but gradual decline.

In Part Six, William Ochsenwald addresses the issue of Islam, maintaining that "in many aspects of political life the role of Islam under the Ottomans was a continuation of examples and modes established under earlier Muslim states."(pp. 266-7) In the last chapter Joseph Szyliowicz concentrates on the Ottoman educational legacy, claiming that "whatever the roots, the legacy has not, in general, contributed in a positive way to the functioning of educational systems."(p.298)

The undertaking is important and praiseworthy. Although the contributors have used primary source materials, the bibliography lists only the secondary publications in the field. The essays supplement and enrich, rather than replace, current narratives. The book is not animated by a central argument, rather, collectively, the essays raise some interesting questions about the impact of the past upon the present--the questions of the Ottoman legacy in today's world. There is much to recommend in this book, which should be read by everyone who teaches, writes, or cares about the history of the Ottoman Empire and its successor states.

Bulent Gokay, Keele University

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