Islamic Studies Ottoman Women
by
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0260

Introduction

The emergence of women’s studies in the 1970s and 1980s significantly broadened the scope of sources and methods in the study of the socio-economic, cultural, and legal history of Ottoman women. Basing their research on multigenre documents from Ottoman courts of law, historians began to shed light on the active role of Ottoman women in the economic, religious, and social lives of their communities. From the mid-1980s, much of the scholarship on Ottoman women has espoused methods and theories that emerged in feminist, gender, cultural and postcolonial studies. Critical analyses of 18th- and 19th-century Orientalist texts and images provided ample evidence that the representations of Ottoman women as powerless, idle, and perpetually subjected to sexual exploitation played a key role in the European colonialist and imperialist discourses of alterity. In dismantling such misconceptions, scholars focused on a wide range of documents from Imperial and local archives to demonstrate the agency and power of Ottoman women, and their ability to undermine gendered laws of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Studies that focused on Ottoman women’s management of property convincingly argued that women made strategic investments to participate in the economic and political sectors of Ottoman societies. In the 1990s and early 2000s, scholars increasingly relied on feminist methodologies in their investigations of the female perspectives on patriarchy, seclusion, and female sexuality. In particular, analyses of women’s magazines, novels, autobiographies and polemics produced by late 19th- and early 20th-century Ottoman women have offered important insights into the female perspective on the “women question” that was on top of the agenda of all male reformers of the late Ottoman Empire. Contemporary scholarship on Ottoman women goes beyond adding women to Ottoman history and refuting the Orientalist clichés. Modern works that destabilize the dichotomies of public/private, male/female, and visible/invisible to address the complexities of Ottoman women’s experiences display a great deal of theoretical and methodological sophistication. In addition, modern-day scholarship on Ottoman women take important steps toward a comparative investigation of the condition of women across the boundaries of ethnic and/or religious affiliation. However, like earlier scholarly works on Ottoman women, modern-day studies are limited by availability of source material. Consequently, much of the history of Ottoman women of modest means, and women who inhabited rural areas of the Empire, remains undocumented and therefore unexamined. This article presents an overview of scholarly works that focus on various aspects of the history of Ottoman women. With the exception of three works, all works are written and/or available in English. Those who are interested in more general topics on Muslim women in the Ottoman Middle East should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Women in Islam.” Important works on gender and sexuality in the Ottoman Middle East can be found in the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Gender and Sexuality.”

General Overviews

Modern scholarship on Ottoman women spans history, law, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, visual arts, postcolonial studies, and gender and feminist studies. Given the broad range of methods, theories, and specialization in particular historiographies and geographic areas, there are no extensive works by single authors that survey Ottoman women over time and across the Ottoman Empire. Exceptionally, a few studies focus on histories of particular classes of Ottoman women and over a limited time period. Davis 1986 discusses a broad range of issues pertaining to the education, marriage and divorce of upper-classes Ottoman women from 1718 to 1918, while Lamdan 2000 provides a close examination of the legal and social status of Jewish women in the 16th-century Ottoman Levant. Since the mid-1990s, edited anthologies of essays that address Ottoman women’s experiences through interdisciplinary perspectives and methods have gained importance. Zilfi 1997 is a wide-ranging and highly influential anthology that focuses on the social, legal, and cultural aspects of the lives of early modern Ottoman women. Buturović and Schick 2007 is an important collection that focuses on different aspects of history of women and gender relations in the Ottoman Balkans. Essays in Boyar and Fleet 2016 examine issues related to the public lives of Ottoman women. Köksal and Falierou 2013 gather essays that take a diverse disciplinary approach to a broad range of topics related to late Ottoman women. General references on Ottoman women can be found in in the multivolume Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, edited by Suad Joseph (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003). Of particularly importance is the encyclopedia’s article in Faroqhi 2003, which highlights the main themes and sources in the field. Zilfi 2006 and İpşirli Argut 2014 offer accessible bibliographical essays that focus on the main trends and scholarly works in the field. While the bibliographical essay on women in the Ottoman world in Kreiser 2002 is somewhat limited in scope, it includes important sources in four languages.

  • Boyar, Ebru, and Kate Fleet, eds. Ottoman Women in Public Space. Leiden, The Netherlands; Boston: Brill, 2016.

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    An anthology of eight essays that use various sources and methods to discuss the presence and visibility of Ottoman women in public spaces. Essays in this anthology make a valuable contribution to the critique of the public/private dichotomy in discussions of the exclusive male/female spheres of influence.

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  • Buturović, Amila, and İrvin Cemil Schick, eds. Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History. London: Taurus, 2007.

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    An important anthology of interdisciplinary essays that highlights various aspects of women’s experiences in the Ottoman Balkans. An indispensable source for scholars and students of women’s history and gender relations in the Ottoman Balkans.

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  • Davis, Fanny. The Ottoman Lady: A Social History from 1718 to 1918. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

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    An early and somewhat outdated study of elite Ottoman women, from 1718 to 1918. It discusses a broad range of topics including education, marriage, polygamy, divorce, and social life inside and outside home.

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  • Faroqhi, Suraiya. “Women in the Ottoman World: Mid 18th to Early 20th Centuries.” In Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Vol. 2, Economy and Society. Edited by Suad Joseph, 161–163. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003.

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    A useful overview of themes and sources for the study of Ottoman women. Excellent references to sources in Ottoman Turkish and European languages.

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  • İpşirli Argut, Betül. “Women in the Early Modern Ottoman: A Bibliographical Essay.” Akademik Araştrmalar Dergisi 15.60 (2014): 1–28.

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    The most recent review of thematically arranged works that explore different aspects of the history of Ottoman women. Useful for undergraduate students.

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  • Köksal, Duygu, and Anastasia Falierou. A Social History of Late Ottoman Women: New Perspectives. Leiden, The Netherlands: Boston, 2013.

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    This anthology includes fourteen essays by scholars of diverse fields. Drawing from a broad range of primary and secondary source materials, the essays explore the issues of class, work, education, representation, identity, and agency of late Ottoman women in the broader context of social, cultural and political changes in the Ottoman Empire.

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  • Kreiser, Klaus. “Women in the Ottoman World: A Bibliographical Essay.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 13.2 (2002): 187–206.

    DOI: 10.1080/09596410220128506Save Citation »Export Citation »

    A useful summary review of important monographs, anthologies and articles in Turkish, English, German, and French.

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  • Lamdan, Ruth. A Separate People: Jewish Women in Palestine, Syria and Egypt in the Sixteen Century. London: Brill, 2000.

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    Examines the status of Jewish women in the 16th-century Levant, based 16th- and early 17th-century Responsa literature, the homiletic literature of the time, local regulations by religious leaders, and travel literature.

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  • Zilfi, Madeline. “Muslim Women in the Early Modern Era.” In The Cambridge History of Turkey. Edited by Suraiya Faroqhi, 226–255. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521620956.012Save Citation »Export Citation »

    An excellent introductory essay focusing on the key themes and issues in the scholarship up to 2006 on Muslim women of the early modern Ottoman Empire.

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  • Zilfi, Madelein C., ed. Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Comprising fourteen articles, this is the first edited anthology that focuses on multiple aspects of the social, legal, economic, and cultural lives of early modern Ottoman women. Interdisciplinary in scope, this anthology is still one of the most important works in the field.

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Ottoman Women and Family

Interdisciplinary scholarship on the history of the Ottoman family emerged in the early 1990s, when historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and demographers began to challenge the essentialist assumptions regarding the universally extended, timeless, and static Middle Eastern family (Doumani 2003; Gerber 1989). Gerber 1989 is an early study that shows patterns of both nuclear and extended family structure in 17th-century Bursa. Duben and Behar 2000 demonstrates changing patterns of family and household structures in the late Ottoman and early Republican period. Important scholarly works have used family as a framework for the examination of the socio-economic and legal status of Ottoman women and gender relations. A collection of essays in Doumani 2003 deals with a wide range of themes related to family history and gender dynamics in premodern and modern Middle East. Doumani 2017 focuses on complex family relations along gender, class, and generational lines in Ottoman Palestine and Lebanon, between 1660 and 1860. Ben-Naeh 2017 is a valuable study of the general features of the Ottoman-Jewish family, including a detailed analysis of gender relations. Agmon 2006 is an influential monograph that illustrates the changes in family structure and gender dynamics in late Ottoman Palestine. Meriwether 1999 examines family structure, gender system and family laws in Ottoman Aleppo, between 1770 and 1840. Hanna 1996 makes use of marriage contracts of merchant families from 17th-century Ottoman Cairo to examine the social and economic status of women.

  • Agmon, Iris. Family & Court: Legal Culture and Modernity in Late Ottoman Palestine. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006.

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    Based on court records of late Ottoman Jaffa and Haifa, this monograph demonstrates changes in the structure of the family household, family and gender dynamics, and urban space.

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  • Ben-Naeh, Yaron. “The Ottoman-Jewish Family: General Characteristics.” Open Journal of Social Sciences 5 (2017): 25–45.

    DOI: 10.4236/jss.2017.51003Save Citation »Export Citation »

    A useful overview of Ottoman Jewish family organization based on sources from the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire, western Anatolia, and parts of the Levant, from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It explores marriage patterns, the composition and size of the Jewish family, widowhood, divorce and remarriage, family life, the status of women in family and economy, and gender segregation.

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  • Doumani, Beshara B. Family Life in the Ottoman Mediterranean: A Social History. New York: Cambridge University Press, June 2017.

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    A comparative study of property devolution practices enacted in family charitable endowments and lawsuits between kin in Ottoman Nablus (Palestine) and Tripoli (Lebanon), between 1660 and 1860. Analysis of documents from Ottoman sharia courts shows how property devolution in Nablus and Tripoli reveals different internal family dynamics especially along gender, class, and generational lines.

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  • Doumani, Beshara, ed. Family History in the Middle East: Household, Property, and Gender. New York: State University of New York Press, 2003.

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    An important collection of interdisciplinary essays focusing on family history in premodern and modern Middle East. The essays are organized around four themes: family and household; family, gender and property; family and the praxis of Islamic law; and family as discourse.

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  • Duben, Alan, and Cem Behar. Istanbul Households; Marriage. Family and Fertility, 1880–1940. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    The first monograph to focus on the changing patterns of family and household structures in an Ottoman context. Explores the effects of changes in marriage patterns, family and household structures, and household formations in Istanbul, between 1880 and 1940. First published in 1991.

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  • Gerber, Haim. “Anthropology and Family History: The Ottoman and Turkish Families.” Journal of Family History 14.4 (1989): 409–421.

    DOI: 10.1177/036319908901400407Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Examines family formation in 16th- and 17th-century Anatolia, based on estate records and other documents from Ottoman court in the 17th-century Bursa. It challenges the common assumption that Middle Eastern family was universally extended by showing that nuclear pattern was common as well.

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  • Hanna, Nelly. “Marriage among Merchant Families in Seventeenth-Century Cairo.” In Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History. Edited by Amira El Azhary Sonbol, 143–154. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

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    Focuses on marriage contracts from 17th-century Ottoman court records to evaluate the position of women in the family, household, and society at large. Foreword by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. Available online by subscription.

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  • Meriwether, Margaret. The Kin Who Count: Family and Society in Ottoman Aleppo 1770–1840. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.

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    Based on different genres of documents from the Ottoman court of Aleppo, this monograph explores between 1770 and 1840. The analysis of the source material is organized around the themes of family and law, family and gender system, and the nature of family structure in Ottoman Aleppo, between 1770 and 1840.

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Ottoman Women and the Laws of Marriage and Divorce

Derived from Islamic, Jewish, and Christian religious and cultural texts, laws of marriage and divorce allocated asymmetrical rights to Ottoman women and men thereby making patriarchy the ubiquitous mode of male dominance across the Ottoman lands, as expounded in Başak 2011 (Islamic law); Rosen 2002 (Jewish law), and Levin 1989 (Orthodox Christian law). Tucker 2000 provides important evidence that even though Ottoman expert jurists (muftis) supported gendered laws of marriage and divorce, they nonetheless showed a great deal of fairness and commitment to prevent the law from becoming a tool for female oppression. While the laws of divorce privileged men, Ottoman women were nonetheless successful in initiating divorces, as presented in Düzbakar 2016. As demonstrated in Zilfi 1997, Ottoman Muslim women often negotiated divorce by forfeiting their legal right to financial compensation by their husbands. (Zilfi 1997; Düzbakar 2016). In many cases, the outcome of the negotiation of marriage and divorce depended on the ability of a woman to assert her legal rights. Yazbak 2002 argues that in many cases, the outcome of the negotiation of marriage and divorce depended on the ability of a woman to assert her legal rights. Knowledge of Islamic laws of marriage and divorce proved to be beneficial for non-Muslim women as well. As Ivanova 2007 and Kermeli 2013 present, Ottoman Christian women often registered their marriages and/or settled marital disputes and divorces in the sharia courts because Islamic laws provided them with more beneficial solutions than the laws in their own ecclesiastical courts.

  • Başak, Tuğ. “Ottoman Women as Legal and Marital Subjects.” In The Ottoman World. Edited by Christine Woodhead, 362–377. London: Routledge, 2011

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    A helpful summary of the scholarship on the gendered laws of marriage and divorce in the Ottoman domains. It provides a succinct overview of the matrimonial rights and obligations of Ottoman Muslim women, including the right to divorce. Available online by subscription.

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  • Düzbakar, Omer. “Divorce and Types of Divorce at the End of Seventeenth-Century Bursa.” Journal of Family History 41.2 (2016): 118–130.

    DOI: 10.1177/0363199016635218Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Investigates different types of divorce in Bursa, from 1670 to 1698, based on the sharia court records from that period. The statistical analysis of the records under investigation shows that women-initiated divorces were the most common, comprising 91 percent of the recorded divorces.

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  • Ivanova, Svetlana. “Judicial Treatment of the Matrimonial Problems of Christian Women in Rumeli During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” In Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History. Edited by Amila Buturović and İrvin Cemil Schick, 243–273. London: Taurus, 2007.

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    Based on Ottoman court records from 17th- and 18th-century Ottoman Bulgaria, this important study presents a meticulous analysis of the cases involving Orthodox Christian women who opted to get married and/or to initiate divorce at sharia courts.

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  • Kermeli, Eugenia. “Marriage and Divorce of Christians and New Muslims in Early Modern Ottoman Empire: Crete 1645–1670.” Oriente Moderno, Nuova Serie 93.2. (2013): 495–514.

    DOI: 10.1163/22138617-12340029Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on marriage contracts and divorce records of Christians and new Muslim converts in Crete, between 1645–1670. This analysis shows that Christians and Muslim converts of Crete were well integrated into Ottoman legal system and that Christian women used their knowledge of Ottoman law to advance their cases in front of the Ottoman judge or by petitioning to the Sultan.

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  • Levin, Eve. Sex and society in the world of the Orthodox Slavs, 900–1700. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.

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    Chapter 3 (pp. 79–136) presents an important overview of ecclesiastical marriage among the Orthodox Slavs, including the Slavic communities living in Ottoman lands.

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  • Rosen, Minna. A History of the Jewish Community in Istanbul: The Formative Years, 1453–1566. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

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    Based on various legal sources, Chapter 8 (pp. 108–179) contains a detailed analysis of Jewish religious discussions of the laws of marriage and divorce during the period of the formation of the Ottoman, multi-ethic Jewish community of Istanbul between 1453 and 1566.

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  • Tucker, Judith. In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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    Influential study that relies on three collections of Islamic expert legal opinions (fatwas), and six 18th-century court records from Damascus, Nablus, and Jerusalem to examine the jurists’ rulings on the issues of marriage, divorce, parenting, and sexuality and sexual reproduction. Originally published in 1998.

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  • Yazbak, Mahmoud. “Minor Marriages and Khiyār al-Bulūgh in Ottoman Palestine: A Note on Women’s Strategies in a Patriarchal Society.” Islamic Law and Society 9.3 (2002): 386–409.

    DOI: 10.1163/156851902320901206Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Draws upon 19th-century sharia court records from Ottoman Palestine and the collection of expert legal opinions (fatwas) by Khayr al-Din al-Ramli to examine the phenomenon of child marriage and the strategies that Muslim women used when they opted to dissolve their marriage upon reaching puberty.

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  • Zilfi, Medeline. “‘We Do Not Get Along’: Women and Hul Divorce in the Eighteenth Century.” In Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Edited by Madelein C. Zilfi, 264–296. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Based on the sharia court records from 18th-century Istanbul, this study focuses on women-initiated divorces (sing. Tur. hul). It shows that women often forfeited their right to delayed dowry and waiting-period allowance in exchange for divorce.

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Ottoman Women and Management of Property

Like Ottoman men, Ottoman women of legal age had the right to earn, own, and dispose freely of their property. In acquiring income through work and/or by investing their capital in various transactions, Ottoman women made their mark in the economic sphere of Ottoman cities. Zarinebaf-Shahr 2001 proves this point by investigating the role of women textile workers and investors in the market economy of early modern Ottoman cities. Gerber 1980, Marcus 1983, and Zarinebaf-Shahr 2010 provide further evidence that Ottoman women used their private property to buy and sell goods, lend money on credit, and acquire and manage real estate in Bursa, Aleppo, and Istanbul, respectively. The changing economic conditions of the late Ottoman Empire affected how Ottoman women gained, increased and managed their property, and especially women who belonged to lower social classes, as illustrated in Reilly 1995. Ottoman Muslim women often transformed their private property into charitable endowments (Ar. sign. waqf, pl. ‘awqāf). In some cases, as presented in Baer 1987, women established waqfs to protect their property from male members of their families. Mariwether 1997 shows that women frequently appointed themselves and members of their families as administrators and beneficiaries of their endowments. Given that the majority of Ottoman religious institutions were built and maintained from waqf property, women founders and/or benefactors of such waqfs actively shaped the religious lives of their communities, as demonstrated by Rafeq 2012 in the case of Damascus and by Filan 2007 in the cities in Ottoman Bosnia.

  • Baer, Gabriel. “Women and Waqf: An Analysis of the Istanbul Tahrir of 1546.” In Studies in Islamic Society: Contributions in Memory of Gabriel Baer. Edited by Gabriel R. Warburg and Gad G. Gilbar, 9–29. Haifa, Israel: Haifa University Press, 1987.

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    Argues that the women of 16th-century Istanbul established religious endowments as a way of protecting their property against interference of their husbands and male members of their extended families.

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  • Filan, Kerima. “Women Founders of Pious Endowments in Ottoman Bosnia.” In Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History. Edited by Amila Buturović and İrvin Cemil Schick, 99–126. London: Taurus, 2007.

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    This book chapter has a useful overview of Islamic legal conditions for the establishment of religious endowments. It shows how women who founded large and small religious endowments were active participants in the economic and religious lives of Ottoman Bosnia.

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  • Gerber, Haim. “Social and Economic Position of Women in an Ottoman City, Bursa, 1600–1700.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 12.3 (1980): 231–244.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743800026295Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on the social and economic status of women in 17th-century Bursa and demonstrates that women were engaged in selling, buying, and leasing their property; giving their money on credit; investing in partnerships; trading agricultural land; administering the property of minors; and endowments.

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  • Marcus, Abraham. “Men, Women and Property: Dealers in Real Estate in 18th Century Aleppo.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 26.2 (1983): 137–163.

    DOI: 10.2307/3631799Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Draws upon the records of property transactions from the mid-18th century Ottoman Aleppo provides ample evidence that women, like men, actively engaged in the purchase and sale of real estate to acquire and preserve their private capital.

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  • Mariwether, Margaret. “Women and Waqf Revisited: The Case of Aleppo, 1770–1840.” In Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Edited by Madelein C. Zilfi, Madelein, 128–153. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Investigates social and economic importance of religious endowments established by women in Ottoman Aleppo, 1770–1840.

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  • Rafeq, Abdul-Karim. “Women in the Shari῾a court records of Ottoman Damascus.” Turkish Historical Review 3 (2012): 119–142.

    DOI: 10.1163/18775462X00302001Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Makes use of estate registers and endowments deeds of the deceased Muslim and non-Muslim women Inheritance court and a General Ottoman court in Damascus, from 1750 to 1861, to discuss, inter alia, the composition of their property, and the various kinds of endowments that they made in their lifetime.

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  • Reilly, James. “Women in the Economic Life of Late-Ottoman Damascus.” Arabica 42.1 (1995): 79–106.

    DOI: 10.1163/1570058952583408Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Foregrounds the relationships between property, production, and services in the overall economy of the last hundred years of Ottoman rule over Damascus and argues that major economic changes in this time period had uneven effects on women, depending on their skills, social status, and class position.

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  • Zarinebaf-Shahr, Fariba. “The Role of Women in the Urban Economy of Istanbul, 1700–1850.” International Labor and Working-Class History 60.2 (2001): 141–152.

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    Drawing upon wide-ranging sources from early modern Ottoman court records, this article shows that middle- and lower-class women worked as embroiders, weavers, and dyers while upper-middle-class women used their private property to in various economic transactions.

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  • Zarinebaf-Shahr, Fariba. “From Mahalle (Neighborhood) to the Market and the Courts Women, Credit, and Property in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul.” In Across the Religious Divide: Women, Property, and Law in the Wider Mediterranean (ca. 1300–1800). Edited by Jutta Gisela Sperling and Shona Kelly, 224–232. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    This book chapter provides evidence that women were active participants in the urban economy of Ottoman Istanbul. According to 18th-century court records, women were buyers, sellers, founders of pious foundations and their managers, money lenders, and owners of real estates. Available online by subscription.

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Ottoman Women at the Courts of Law (16th to Mid-19th Centuries)

Jennings 1975 is the first study to use documents from Ottoman sharia courts as a source for the study of legal and social status of Ottoman women. This work provided an impetus for subsequent generations of scholars, who relied on Ottoman court records and petitions from the Imperial Council to investigate a broad range of questions related to Ottoman women’s agency within both Ottoman legal institutions and society at large. Müge Göçek and Baer 1997 explores the agency of Muslim, Armenian, and Greek women in the court of Galata. Meriwether 1996 relies on court documents from Ottoman Aleppo to examine the role of women as executors of children’s property, while Zarinebaf-Shahr 1997 demonstrates how Ottoman women petitioned the Imperial Council to protect their rights over inheritance, guardianship, and in marital disputes. In addition, historians such as Salakides 2002 and Laiou 2007 provide important evidence that Ottoman non-Muslim women also used Ottoman sharia courts when these courts provided favorable solutions to their legal problems or when they did not have access to their own ecclesiastical and communal courts. The exclusive reliance on Ottoman court records in the study of complex lives of Ottoman women raised methodological questions. Agmon 1996 makes an important argument that court records should be read along with other historical and legal texts to provide a better contextual understanding of the conditions of women who used Ottoman sharia courts to assert and/or negotiate their rights; one such study is Pierce 2003.

  • Agmon, Iris. “Muslim Women According to the Sijill of Late Ottoman Jaffa and Haifa.” In Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History. Edited by Amira El Azhary Sonbol, 126–141. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

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    Demonstrates that the court records lack the social context necessary for an in-depth understanding of the circumstances of the litigants and their actions in the court. It the light of these shortcomings, Agmon suggests, information about women needs to be carefully extracted and interpreted against other cultural, legal, and historical texts.

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  • Jennings, Ronald C. “Women in Early 17th Century Ottoman Judicial Records: The Sharia Court of Anatolian Kayseri.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 18.1 (1975): 53–114.

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    Based on 1,800 cases found in the court records from the Ottoman court at Kayseri (1600–1625), this article presents ample evidence that women strategically used Ottoman courts to assert and/or defend their legal rights in the same way as men did.

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  • Laiou, Sophia. “Christian Women in an Ottoman World: Interpersonal and Family Cases before the Shari‘a Courts during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cases Involving the Greek Community).” Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History. By Sophia Laiou, 99–126. London: Taurus, 2007.

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    Makes use of Ottoman court registers and documents from monastery archives and dioceses from the Ottoman Aegean islands and mainland Greece to shed light on preference of Greek women for Ottoman courts over their own ecclesiastic and communal courts.

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  • Meriwether, Margaret L. “The Rights of Children and the Responsibilities of Women: Women as Wasis in Ottoman Aleppo, 1770–1840.” In Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History. Edited by Amira El Azhary Sonbol, 219–235. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

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    Presents documents from the late 18th-and early 19th-century court of Ottoman Aleppo that appoint women as the executors of children’s property to examine the court’s views of childhood, the rights of children, the roles of women as executors, and the social effects of their appointments.

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  • Müge Göçek, Fatma, and Marc David Baer. “Social Boundaries of Ottoman Women’s Experience in Eighteenth-Century Galata Court Records.” In Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Edited by Madelein C. Zilfi, 48–65. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Uses textual and contextual analysis of inheritance registers and records of disputes over inheritance involving Muslim, Greek, and Armenian women and analyzes the social boundaries of women’s experience in the court of Galata, and in society at large.

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  • Pierce, Leslie. Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    A meticulous socio-legal analysis of the inner workings of the Ottoman court in Aintab from 1540 to 1541, shortly after its incorporation into the Ottoman territorial realm. The book foregrounds the relationship between law and legal practice by examining the ways in which women and men used their voices in the courtroom to negotiate their legal rights.

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  • Salakides, Georgios. “Women in the Kadı Sicilleri of Yenişehir (Larissa) in the Middle of the Seventeenth Century.” In Frauen, bilder und gelehrte: studien zu gesellschaft und künsten im Osmanischen reich. Vol. 1. Edited by Sabine Prätor and Christoph K. Neumann, 209–229. Arts, Women and Scholars: Studies in Ottoman Society and Culture. Istanbul: Simurg, 2002.

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    Discusses the legal and social status of Muslim and Christian women who settled their affairs in the court of Yenişehir, between 1650 and 1652. It provides English translations of many of the court documents under study.

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  • Zarinebaf-Shahr, Fariba. “Ottoman Women and the Tradition of Seeking Justice.” In Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Edited by Madelein C. Zilfi, 253–264. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Provides a useful overview of the history of the practice of petitioning to the Ottoman imperial council. It demonstrates that female petitioners came from all corners of the Ottoman Empire and that their number significantly increased in the 18th century.

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Ottoman Women and Slavery

Since the mid-1990s, there has been an increase of scholarly studies on the legal, social, and economic status of Ottoman women slaves. Important general studies of slavery and the legal and social status of slaves in the Ottoman Empire include Toledano 1997 and Akgündüz 2015. Hanna 2005 makes a compelling argument for the usefulness of Ottoman court documents for the study of the history of women slaves in the Ottoman Empire. Based on 15th-century estate records from Bursa, Faroqhi 2000 is an excellent study of the social and economic status of women slaves in family households. Recently published Pierce 2017 is an engaging and accessible study of the life of one of the most influential women of the Ottoman Empire, Hüremm Sultan (Roxelana), from her abduction and enslavement to the rise to power as the wife of the Sultan Süleyman (d. 1566). Zilfi 2013 is an influential study that highlights the complicated conditions of Ottoman women slaves between the 18th and mid-19th century. Karamursel 2016 discusses gender discrimination in the politics of emancipation of slaves after 1908, while Toledano 1993 highlights the difficult position of female slaves of elite households in mid-19th century Ottoman Egypt. Fleet 2016 is a theoretically sophisticated study of varying degrees of (in)visibility of women slaves in the Ottoman public places.

  • Akgündüz, Ahmed. Ottoman Harem: The Male and Female Slavery in Islamic Law. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: IUR, 2015.

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    Parts 3 to 5 provide a useful summary of the status of female and male slaves in Islamic law, different aspects of slavery in the Ottoman Empire, and hierarchal organization of slaves in the imperial harem.

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  • Faroqhi, Suraiya. “From the Slave Market to Arafat: Biographies of Bursa Women in the Late Fifteenth Century.” Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 24.1 (2000): 3–20.

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    Drawing upon estate registers from the sharia court in 15th-century Bursa, this article examines the social and economic status of women slaves in family households, the patterns of their manumissions, and the property which they acquired through gifts from their owners.

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  • Fleet, Kate. “The Extremes of Visibility: Slave Women in Ottoman Public Sphere.” In Ottoman Women in Public Space. Edited by Ebru Boyar and Kate Fleet, 128–149. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004316621_006Save Citation »Export Citation »

    An important analysis of varying degrees of in/visibility of Ottoman female slaves, from seclusion within the private spaces of households, to exposure and visibility in markets and other public spaces.

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  • Hanna, Nelly. “Sources for the Study of Slave Women and Concubines in Ottoman Egypt.” In Beyond the Exotic. Edited by Amira El-Azhary Sonbol, 119–130. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

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    Focuses on multigenre court documents pertaining to slaves from Ottoman Cairo and demonstrates that these documents can provide valuable sources for the study of slavery in general, and for the history of women slaves in particular.

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  • Karamursel, Ceyda. “The Uncertainties of Freedom: The Second Constitutional Era and the End of Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire.” Journal of Women’s History 28.3 (2016): 138–161.

    DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0028Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Discusses, inter alia, the gendered politics of the emancipation of slaves in the aftermath of 1908 constitutional revolution.

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  • Pierce, Leslie. Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became a Queen of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

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    Drawing upon rich source material, Pierce skillfully presents a biography of one of the most influential Ottoman royal women, Roxelana (Hurrem Sultan) from her lowly childhood and abduction to her position of unprecedented power as the wife of Suleyman I (r. 1520–1566).

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  • Toledano, Ehud. “Shemsigul: A Circassian Slave in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Cairo.” In Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East. Edited by Edmund Burke, 59–74. Berkley: University of California Press, 1993.

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    Based on a police investigation report concerning the case of the Circassian slave woman Shemsigul, this article provides an excellent insight into the precarious position of female slaves in Ottoman-Egyptian elite harems of the mid-19th-century Cairo.

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  • Toledano, Ehud R. Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

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    While not exclusively dedicated to the history of Ottoman slave women, this monograph has an excellent introductory study on Ottoman slavery and the slave trade and an overview of kul/harem slavery in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire (Chapter 2).

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  • Zilfi, Madeline. Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    A major contribution to Ottoman slavery studies, and the only monograph that focuses on complex conditions of Ottoman female slaves in Ottoman Empire. It argues for the importance of gender analysis in the study of political and social attitudes via a vis slavery in the 18th- to mid-19th-century Ottoman Empire.

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Women of the Ottoman Harem

According to Yeazell 2000, from the late 17th century to the late 19th century, the Ottoman harem was one of the most popular topics in European literary works, erotic writings, travel narratives, visual arts, and music. These texts and images played a key role in the perpetuation of the stereotypes of “Oriental” women as voiceless and of harems as the topoi of boundless sexuality. In taking the Imperial harem as the site of his analysis, Akgündüz 2015 demonstrates that the harem was the space in which women, concubines, children, and authorized staff resided, shielded from the prying eyes of men who were not family members. After the publication of Said’s Orientalism in 1978, the critical examination of European texts and images about the harem attracted scholars of diverse disciplines, including history, postcolonial and cultural studies as well as feminist and gender studies. Studies including Behdad 1989 and Schick 1999 focus on the function of the European fantasies about the exotic and erotic harem in a broader context of the dominant, male-produced, European discourses on alterity. Lew 1991 and Melman 1995, on the other hand, examined alternative, desexualized descriptions of the harem that were provided by European women who, due to their gender, had access to the Imperial harem as well as the harems of elite Ottoman households. Lewis 2004 further challenges the stereotypes of voiceless and sexualized women of the harem by examining 19th-century literary works by women who lived in the late elite harems and who engaged in the critique of the harem on their own terms. Ottoman historians also played an important role in discrediting the myths of powerless and oppressed women of the harem. Pierce 1993 provides abundant evidence that the post-16th-century Imperial harem was a complex, hierarchical organization in which sexual activities were secondary to family politics Ergin 2015 points out that the post-16th-century Imperial harem was the site of female power, where royal women—especially the queen mothers—wielded exceptional influence in politics. Recently published, İpşirli Argut 2017 shows that the queen mothers’ involvement in politics extended well into the 18th century.

  • Akgündüz, Ahmed. “Ottoman Harem.” In Ottoman Harem: The Male and Female Slavery in Islamic Law. By Ahmed Akgündüz, 185–266. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: IUR, 2015.

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    A useful overview of the history of the Ottoman institution of harem. It contains photos of the interior of the harem in Topkapı Palace as well as the transcription and translation of the writings on the interior walls.

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  • Behdad, Ali. “The Eroticized Orient: Images of the Harem in Montesquieu and His Precursors.” Stanford French Review 13.2–3 (1989): 109–126.

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    Focuses on fictional descriptions of the harem in French literature in general and in Montesquieu’s Letters persanes (Persian Letters) in particular, and demonstrates that the success of Montesquieu’s Letters persanes was due to his appropriation of pre-existing stereotypes regarding the harem as the topos of uninhibited “Oriental” sexuality.

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  • Ergin, Nina. “Ottoman Royal Women’s Spaces: the Acoustic Dimension.” Journal of Women’s History 26.1 (2015): 89–111.

    DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2014.0003Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Introduces the concept of auditory spaces in the study of Ottoman royal women’s experience, and dismantles the dichotomies of public/private and visible/invisible as exclusive male/female spheres of empowerment and influence.

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  • İpşirli Argut, Betül. “A Queen Mother and the Imperial Harem: Rabia Gülnuş Emetullah Valide (1640–1715).” In Concubines and Courtesans. Edited by Matthew S. Gordon and Kathryn A. Hain, 207–224. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

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    This book chapter sheds light on the life and political power of the queen mother Rabia Gülnuş Sultan, and demonstrates that Ottoman queen mothers continued to wield power in the politics after the end of the “sultanate of women” in the mid-17th century.

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  • Lew, Joseph W. “Lady Mary’s Portable Seraglio.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 24.4 (1991): 432–450.

    DOI: 10.2307/2738966Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Juxtaposes Lady Mary Montague’s eye-witness accounts of the harem with Montesquieu’s fictional account of the harem life and argues that Lady Montague’s female-addressed letters subvert the dominant male Orientalist discourse on the harem and provide critiques of both Ottoman and British culture.

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  • Lewis, Reina. Rethinking Orientalism: Women, Travel and the Ottoman Harem. London, New York: I. B. Taurus, 2004.

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    Uses feminist, postcolonial and literary theories in the analysis of the early 20th-century writings by Zeyneb Hanoum, Melek Hanoum, Halide Edib, Demetra Vaka, and Grace Ellison and questions the value of Orientalism as a theoretical framework for understanding the female voices of the harem.

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  • Melman, Billie. Women’s Orients: English Women and the Middle East, 1718–1918: Sexuality, Religion and Work. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

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    Argues that British women who travelled to Middle East between 1718 and 1918 developed alternative discourses on the harem, sexuality and status of Muslim and Ottoman women. Part 2 (pp. 59–159) deals with British women’s writings about the harem and demonstrates the heterogeneity of their voices and opinions.

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  • Pierce, Leslie. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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    This groundbreaking monograph dispels the myth of the harem as a space of unbridled sexuality as well as the conventional dichotomy of public/private sphere of male/female influences. It argues that the inner sanctum of the imperial harem was the locus of political power in which royal women in general and the mothers of sultans in particular exercised a great deal of political influence over the public sphere.

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  • Schick, İrvin C. The Erotic Margin: Sexuality and Spatiality in Alterist Discourse. London: Verso, 1999.

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    In using an interdisciplinary approach to multiple and multilingual primary and secondary sources, Schick explores the link between sexuality, spatiality, and alterity in early modern narratives about Muslim sexuality.

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  • Yeazell, Ruth Bernard. Harems of the Mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

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    Explores the rich body of Western cultural production about the harem, including samples from literature, erotic writings, travels literature, paintings, and opera, from the late 17th to the early 20th century.

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Ottoman Women’s Memoires of the Harem

Autobiographical accounts by Ottoman women who lived in the elite and/or the Imperial harem provide important primary sources that shed light on the complex conditions of harem women. Saz 1996 and Brookes 2005 offer first-hand accounts about life in the late Ottoman harems, while Melek Hanım 2005 provides insights into traditional marriage and gender inequality in the harem and in society at large.

  • Brookes, Douglas Scott, ed. and trans. The Concubine, the Princess and the Teacher: Voices from the Ottoman Harem. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

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    Includes excerpts from autobiographical accounts about the harem life by the Concubine Filizten, Princess Ayşe Osmanoğlu, and school teacher Safiye Ünüvar, who lived in the Imperial harem between 1876 and 1924. These memoires show complex and differentiated views of the harem experiences, depending on the status and position in the harem hierarchy.

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  • Melek Hanım. Thirty Years in the Harem. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2005.

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    This autobiography offers insights into gender relations in the late Ottoman society. An excellent introduction by İrwin C. Schick. First published in 1872.

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  • Saz, Leila Hanımefendi. The Imperial Harem of the Sultans: Daily Life at the Çırağan Palace during the 19th Century. Translated from the French by Landon Thomas. Istanbul: Peva Publications, 1996.

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    A selection of the memoirs of an elite Ottoman woman, Leyla Hanım (d. 1936), who spent her childhood and much of her adult life in the Imperial harem of the Çırağan Palace and at the houses of female members of the Ottoman family. First published in 1925.

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Ottoman Women in Visual Arts

The study of the representation of Ottoman women in the visual arts is a burgeoning field that employs scholars of Ottoman history, cultural studies, sociology, art history, feminist and gender studies, and postcolonial studies. Meriwether 1997 examines different trends in the representation and visibility of images of women in 16th- to 18th-century Ottoman miniature paintings, while Müge Goçek 1998 discusses the ideology behind the misrepresentation of Ottoman women in late Ottoman cartoons. Micklewright 2000 offers a detailed analysis of the differences in the representation of women in traditional (pre-1800) and modern (post-1800) Ottoman portraiture. Modern studies focusing on the representation of Ottoman women in European works of art point out to the polyvalence of European attitudes vis-à-vis the female Other. Madar 2011, Germaner and Inankur 2004, and DelPlato 2010 focus on later 17th- to 19th-century images of Ottoman female bodies by European male painters and argue that these images played a key role in the dissemination of clichés about the sexualized and eroticized “Oriental” female. Lewis 1996, on the other hand, demonstrates that European women painters of the harem contradicted these clichés by producing feminine, desexualized versions of women of the harem. Roberts 2007 shows how European representations of the elite harems in 19th-century Istanbul and Cairo both perpetuated and undermined Orientalist myths. Madar 2011 reveals discrepancies in the representation of female members of the Ottoman royal family by Renaissance painters and authors of travel literature. Betül İpşirli 2011 problematizes the acceptance of images as the only sources for the study of social history of Ottoman women and advocates for the inclusion of a broader range of sources and methods.

  • Betül İpşirli, Argıt. “Visual Material as a Source for the Study of Ottoman Women in the Early Modern Era.” In Women’s Memory: The Problem of Sources. Edited by D. Fatma Türe and Birsen Talay Keşoğlu, 29–40. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2011.

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    Argues that images can obfuscate the reality of Ottoman women’s conditions and advocates critical, intertextual, and interdisciplinary approaches in the study of this kind of source materials.

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  • DelPlato, Joan. “Dress and Undress: Clothing and Eroticism in Nineteenth-Century Visual Representations of the Harem.” In Harem Histories: Envisioning Places and Living Spaces. Edited by Marylin Booth, 261–290. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822393467-014Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This book-chapter examines four paintings depicting dressed and undressed harem women by 19th-century French and English artists to address the ways in which these images contributed to the Orientalist construction of the eroticized female Other.

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  • Germaner, Semra, and Zeynep Inankur. Constantinople and the Orientalists. Istanbul: İşbank, 2004.

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    Chapters 14–16 (“The Harem,” pp. 148–187; “The Bath,” pp. 188–193; and “The Slave Market,” pp. 194–197) focus on the representation of Ottoman elite women, concubines, and slaves in 17th- to late-19th-century Orientalist paintings that supposedly depict scenes from the Imperial harem, baths, and slave markets of Istanbul.

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  • Lewis, Raina. Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity and Representation. London: Routledge, 1996.

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    In chapters 3 and 4 (pp. 85–190), Lewis examines the role of Western women artists in the production of Orientalist representations, by focusing on paintings of the harem by the French artist Henriette Browne. Lewis argues that Brown’s paintings reflected a feminized version of the Orient that contradicted popular clichés found in Orientalist paintings by male artists.

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  • Madar, Heather. “Before the Odalisque: Renaissance Representations of Elite Ottoman Women” Early Modern Women 6 (2011): 1–41.

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    Discusses various images of Ottoman royal women by Italian and northern European Renaissance artists and argues that they contradict the narratives about the harem found in Renaissance travel literature.

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  • Meriwether, Margaret. “‘Musicians and Dancing Girls’: Images of Women in Ottoman Miniature Painting.” In Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Edited by Madelein C. Zilfi, 153–172. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Examines images of women in Ottoman court tradition from illustrated histories and albums from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and shows that the 18th century marked a shift toward greater visibility and inclusion of images of women in miniature paintings.

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  • Micklewright, Nancy. “Negotiating between the Real and the Imagined: Portraiture in the Late Ottoman Empire.” In M. Uğur Derman Armağam: Alimışbeşinci Yaşı Münasebetiyle Sunulmu. Edited by İrvin Cemil Schick, 417–438. Istanbul: Sabancı Üniversitesi, 2000.

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    Argues that the emergence and proliferation of women’s painted and photographic portraits in the late 19th and early 20th centuries corresponds to a greater visibility of Ottoman women in education, workforce, printed press, and so on.

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  • Müge Goçek, Fatma. “From Empire to Nation: Images of Women and War in Ottoman Political Cartoons, 1908–1923.” In Borderlines: Genders and Identities in War and Peace, 1870–1930. Edited by Billie Melman, 47–73. New York: Routledge, 1998.

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    Discusses the representation of women in Ottoman political cartoons between 1908 and 1923, and points out the disjuncture between the images of women—portrayed as asexual heroines, immoral vixens, and mothers—and actual women who actively participated in the transformative processes of late Ottoman society.

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  • Peltre, Christine. Femmes Ottomanes at Dames Turques: Une Collection de Cartes Postalles 1880–1930. Ottoman Women and Turkish Ladies: A Collection of Postcards, 1880–1930. Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, France: Blue Autour, 2014.

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    A rich collection of postcards and accompanying commentaries, featuring photographs of Ottoman women across the Ottoman lands, from 1880 to 1930. It displays a great variety of late Ottoman women’s social, cultural, and economic status and conditions.

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  • Roberts, Mary. Intimate Outsiders: the Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822390459Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on the Western visual representation of the elite harems in Ottoman Istanbul and Cairo from 1839 to the end of the 19th century, and demonstrates that these representations both perpetuated Orientalist myths and refashioned the image of modernizing Ottoman elites. Available online by subscription.

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Architectural Patronage of Ottoman Royal Women

Since the publication of pioneering study in Bates 1978, the study of early modern architectural patronage of Ottoman royal women has become an important field of inquiry. Using a wealth of textual and material sources, scholars have focused on the building projects of Ottoman queen mothers, wives of Ottoman sultans, and Ottoman princesses to examine the intersection between architectural patronage, power, and self-representation. Important scholarly works that rely on a broad range of historical, legal, and material sources in the analyses of the architectural patronage of queen mothers include Özgüleş 2017 and Thys-Şenocak 2007. Pierce 2000 provides a valuable discussion of the links between gender, sexuality, status, and patronage by focusing on the endowments by Hürem Sultan, the favorite concubine and later wife of Süleyman I. In addition to a detailed analysis of the endowments by Hürem Sultan in Jerusalem, Singer 2002 offers an accessible and useful overview of the rules governing the establishment of charitable endowments by Ottoman royal women. Hartmuth 2013 discusses the complicated history of the mosque in Serres that was built using the funds generated from the charitable endowment of the princess Selçuk Sultan. Isom-Verhaaren 2011 also examines the effects of architectural patronage by an Ottoman princess, focusing on the architectural objects that were sponsored by the daughter of Süleyman I, the princess Mihrimah. Sümertaş 2008 demonstrates how Ottoman royal women used architectural patronage to achieve visibility and public recognition in 16th- and 17th-century Istanbul.

  • Bates, Ülku Ü. “Women as Patrons of Architecture.” In Women in the Muslim World. Edited by Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie, 245–260. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

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    A pioneering study that demonstrates that elite women—mothers and daughters of sultans and other women of high status—used architectural patronage of mosques, schools, Sufi lodges, and mausoleums to achieve and exercise publicly recognized power.

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  • Hartmuth, Maximilian. “The Princess and the Mosque: Ottoman Royal Women’s Architectural Patronage in the Province and the Case of the So-Called Zincirli Câmi’ at Serres.” In Bâtir au féminin? Traditions et stratégies en Europe et dans l’Empire ottoman. Edited by Juliette Dumas and Sabine Frommel, 79–88. Paris: Picard, 2013.

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    An important study of Ottoman royal women’s architectural patronage in Ottoman provinces in Europe. Provides compelling evidence that the Zincirli Câmi’ at Serres—associated with the daughter of Sultan Bayazid II, Selçuk Sultan—was not built during her lifetime; rather, it was built around 1590, from the funds generated from her pious endowment.

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  • Isom-Verhaaren, Christine. “Süleyman and Mihrimah: The Favorite’s Daughter.” Journal of Persianate Studies 4 (2011): 64–85.

    DOI: 10.1163/187471611X568294Save Citation »Export Citation »

    The second part of this article contains an analysis of the architectural patronage of the princess Mihrimah, the daughter of Süleyman I, in the broader context of her political influence and power.

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  • Özgüleş, Muzaffer. The Women Who Built the Ottoman World: Female Patronage and the Architectural Legacy of Gülnuş Sultan. London: I. B. Tauris, 2017.

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    Foregrounds the historical, social, and political factors behind the architectural patronage of Ottoman royal women, with a focus on the building activities of Gülnuş Sultan, the favorite concubine of Mehmed IV (r. 1648–87), and the queen mother of two Ottoman sultans, Mustafa II (r. 1695–1703), and Ahmed III (r. 1703–1730).

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  • Pierce, Leslie. “Gender and Sexual Propriety in Ottoman Royal Women’s Patronage.” In Women, Patronage and Self-Representation in Islamic Societies. Edited by D. Fairchild Ruggles, 53–69. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

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    Focuses on the endowments of Hürem Sultan, the favorite concubine and then wife of Suleyman I, and Kosem, royal concubine and later queen mother, to examine the intersection between gender, status, and sexuality in the acts of patronage of Ottoman royal women.

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  • Singer, Amy. Constructing Ottoman Beneficence: An Imperial Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    A detailed examination of social, political, and religious components of Ottoman pious endowments, centering on the circumstances of the founding of the imperial soup kitchen by the wife of the Sultan Suleyman I, Hurrem Sultan, in 16th-century Jerusalem.

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  • Sümertaş, Firuzan Melike. “Women and Power: Female Patrons of Architecture in 16th and 17th Century Istanbul.” Edinburgh Architecture Research 31 (2008): 83–89.

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    Focuses on the architectural patronage of Ottoman royal women who influenced the cityscape of 16th- and 17th-century Istanbul. Argues that Ottoman royal women used architectural patronage to achieve visibility and public recognition.

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  • Thys-Şenocak, Lucienne. Ottoman Women Builders: The Architectural Patronage of Hadice Turhan Sultan. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.

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    This important monograph analyzes the life and architectural patronage of Hadice Sultan, the mother of Sultan Mehmed IV, to discuss the interconnection between patronage, architecture, and self-representation.

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In Their Own Words: Ottoman Women Writers

Scholars of Ottoman women’s pre-19th century literary works have been disadvantaged by the paucity of works penned by female authors who, due to their gender identity, had limited access to education and male-dominated literary circles. Exceptionally, Kafadar 1994 presents letters by a 17th-century Sufi woman, Asiye Hatun, in which she recorded her conversations with her teacher. Havlioğlu 2010 indicates that the most important sources of women writers are male-authored Ottoman bibliographical dictionaries that marginally mention works of poetry by Ottoman women (Havlioğlu 2010). Scholars who analyze works by premodern women poets indicated that they used different strategies negotiate their place in Ottoman literary discourse. Some, as Silay 1997 points out, appropriated male voices, expressions, and fantasies. Others, as demonstrated in Havlioğlu 2017, relied on conventional poetic canons to subverted the dominant norms of expressing homosocial desires. The rise of the print press and the access to education in the 19th century opened a door to new generations of Ottoman women who used a variety of literary genres to express their voices, as discussed in Hoşoğlu Doğan 2017. In these works, late Ottoman women writers used critiqued patriarchy, gender inequality, and their limited access to public and political spheres of influence. Toumarkine 2013 explores a wide range of topics in the works of a prolific author, Hayriye Melek. Iner 2015 analyzes the challenges that women faced when publishing their work in the late Ottoman press. Late Ottoman women also produced autobiographies and memoirs, as discussed in Köksal 2015. Edib 2009 is an important memoir authored by the influential late-Ottoman women writer, Halidé Edip. Micallef 2013 examines the autobiographical subjectivity of two late-Ottoman women writers, Demetra Vaka and Zeyneb Hanoum, by focusing on the memoirs of their travels abroad.

  • Edib, Halidé. House with Wisteria: Memoirs of Halidé Edib. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2009.

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    Halidé Edib, one of the most prolific female writers of her time, documents the political, social, and cultural changes in Ottoman society at the turn of the 20th century. Excellent introduction by Sibel Erol. First published in 2003.

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  • Havlioğlu, Didem. “On the Margins and Between the Lines: Ottoman Women Poets from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Centuries.” Turkish Historical Review 1 (2010): 25–54.

    DOI: 10.1163/187754610X494969Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This article challenges the marginal and stereotypical treatment of women poets in Ottoman bibliographical dictionaries and raises important methodological questions regarding the study of women’s presence and/or absence in Ottoman literary tradition.

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  • Havlioğlu, Didem. Mihrī Hatun: Performance, Gender-Binding, and Subversion in Ottoman Intellectual History. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1pk863xSave Citation »Export Citation »

    Important study of the biography and poetic authorship of the 16th-century women poet Mihrī Hatun examines the ways in which Mihrī Hatun used Ottoman poetic conventions to express both her female identity and the male identity of her beloved. The appendix (pp. 173–195) contains selection of Mihrī Hatun’s poetry.

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  • Hoşoğlu Doğan, Emine. “A Brief History of the Scholarship of the Late Ottoman Muslim Women of Letters and Gender as a Category of Analysis in the Field.” International Journal of Turcologia 12.23 (2017): 5–26.

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    The first section of this article provides a helpful summary of major trends in the scholarship focusing on late 19th-century and early 20th-century Ottoman women writers.

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  • Iner, Derya. “Gaining a Public Voice: Ottoman Women’s Struggle to Survive in the Print Life of Early Twentieth-Century Ottoman Society, and the Example of Halide Edib (1884–1964).” Women’s History Review 24.6 (2015): 965–984.

    DOI: 10.1080/09612025.2015.1034603Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Uses the example of the authorship of Halide Edip to argue that women could play important roles in the print press of the late Ottoman Empire in spite of discrimination and other challenges.

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  • Kafadar, Cemal. Rüya Mektupları: Asiye Hatun. Oğlak, Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınlar, 1994.

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    English translation: Asiye Hatun: Dream Diary. A collection of letters in which Asiye Hatun, a member of the Helveti-Sufi order from the Ottoman Balkans, recorded conversations about her dreams with her teacher (shaykh).

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  • Köksal, Duygu. “Escaping to Girlhood in Late Ottoman Istanbul: Demetra Vaka’s and Selma Ekrem’s Childhood Memories.” In Childhood in the Late Ottoman Empire and After. Edited by Benjamin C. Fortna, 250–275. London: Brill, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004305809_012Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Drawing upon Demetra Vaka’s A Child of the Orient (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914) and Selma Ekrem’s Unveiled (New York: Ives Washburn, 1930), this book-chapter examines various perspectives on Ottoman girlhood in 19th-century and early 20th-century Istanbul. Available online by subscription.

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  • Micallef, Roberta. “Identities in Motion: Reading Two Ottoman Travel Narratives as Life Writing.” Journal of Women’s History 25.2 (2013): 85–110.

    DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2013.0023Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Analyzes travel narratives by Demetra Vaka and Zeyneb Hanoum to examine their autobiographical subjectivity and self-representation in the broader genre of harem literature.

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  • Silay, Kemal. “Singing His Words: Ottoman Women Poets and the Power of Patriarchy.” In Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage 10. Edited by Madelein C. Zilfi, 197–214. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997.

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    Argues that Ottoman women poets followed literary canons created by men to secure their place in the Ottoman literary discourse. Contains excellent examples of poetry by Ottoman women poets.

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  • Toumarkine, Alexandre. “Hayriye Melek (Hunç), A Circassian Ottoman Writer between Feminism and Nationalism.” In A Social History of Late Ottoman Women: New Perspectives. Edited by Duygu Köksal and Anastasia Falierou, 317–335. Leiden, The Netherlands: Boston, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004255258_016Save Citation »Export Citation »

    This book-chapter sheds light on the life and writings of the prolific writer and Circassian activist, Hayriye Melek. It discusses how Hayriye Melek explored the themes of love, marriage, access to education and workforce, gender inequality, and the dangers of Westernization.

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Late Ottoman Women and Legal Reforms (1839–1923)

The successive reforms of family law and women’s rights in the 19th and early 20th centuries reflected the broader societal debates on the “women question” in the Ottoman Empire. Altınbaş 2014 provides an overview of the social, political, and ideological factors that triggered the reforms of family law in the late Ottoman Empire. Kandiyoti 1991 is a critical study of the “women question” and the late Ottoman legislative reforms. Tucker 1996 and Ortaylı 1990 demonstrate that the late Ottoman reforms of the laws of marriage, divorce, and inheritance did not eradicate gender asymmetry. Behar 2004 shows procedural inconsistencies in the application of the law of marriage in a neighborhood of Istanbul between 1864 and 1906. Zachs and Ben-Bassat 2015 discusses the petitions to the central government by women from the early 20th-century Greater Syria and establishes the link between the change in the language of the petitions with the broader political and gender discourses. Aykut 2016 examines the status of women who stood trial for murder and discusses the role of gender in the late 19th-century ordinary (nizamiya) courts.

  • Altınbaş, Nihan. “Marriage and Divorce in the Late Ottoman Empire: Social Upheaval, Women’s Rights, and the Need for New Family Law.” Journal of Family History 39.2 (2014): 114–125.

    DOI: 10.1177/0363199013519126Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Uses women’s journals and official state documents to discuss socio-economic, ideological, and cultural factors that necessitated reforms of the family law and the legal status of women in the late Ottoman Empire.

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  • Aykut, Ebru. “Toxic Murder, Female Poisoners, and the Question of Agency at the Late Ottoman Law Courts, 1840–1908.” Journal of Women’s History 28.3 (2016): 114–137.

    DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0027Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on interrogation reports from late 19th-century ordinary (nizamiya) courts that document cases of women who stood trial for poisoning their husbands and discusses gender dynamics in the late 19th-century Ottoman ordinary courts.

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  • Behar, Cem. “Neighborhood Nuptials: Islamic Personal Law and Local Customs: Marriage Records in a Mahalle of Traditional Istanbul (1864–1907).” International Journal of Middle East Studies 36.4 (2004): 537–559.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743804364020Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Analyzes the notebooks/registers of marriage contracts compiled by the imams of the local mosque and the secular headmen of Istanbul’s Kasap Ilyas neighborhood, from 1864 to 1906. While the majority of the marriage contracts indicate the imams and secular headmen applied the sharia laws of marriage, they also disregarded these laws to maintain the social order and harmony in their community.

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  • Kandiyoti, Deniz. “End of Empire: Islam, Nationalism and Women in Turkey.” In Women, Islam and the State. Edited by Deniz Kandiyoti, 22–47. London: Macmillan, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-21178-4_2Save Citation »Export Citation »

    An important analysis of different discourses on the “women question” and Ottoman legislative reforms in Turkey, from 1839 to 1926.

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  • Ortaylı, İlber. “Ottoman Family Law and the State in the Nineteenth Century.” OTAM: Osmanlı Tarihi Araştırma ve Uygulama Merkezi Dergisi 1 (1990): 321–332.

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    Discusses changes in Ottoman family law in the late to early 19th-century period and shows modest improvements of the rights of women under the new laws of marriage, divorce, guardianship, and inheritance.

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  • Tucker, Judith. “Revisiting Reform: Women and the Ottoman Law of Family Rights, 1917.” Arab Studies Journal 4.2 (1996): 4–17.

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    A useful overview of the differences and similarities between the premodern Ottoman law and the Ottoman law of family rights of 1917 with respect to the rights and responsibilities of husbands and wives.

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  • Zachs, Fruma, and Yuval Ben-Bassat. “Women’s Visibility in Petitions from Greater Syria during the Late Ottoman Period.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47.4 (2015): 765–781.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020743815000975Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on women’s petitions originating from the early 20th-century Greater Syria and points out that the transformation in women’s petition-writing reflected changes in political, social, and gender discourses.

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Late Ottoman Discourses on Women’s Rights

Profound changes in late Ottoman society provided an impetus for the debates on women’s rights and demands for an increased presence of women in the public sphere. Van Os 2000 offers an overview of sources for the study of late Ottoman women’s organizations that helped mobilize women and voice their demands. Maksudyan 2014 shows how activities of charitable women’s organizations were an integral part of the demand for the enlargement of women’s rights. The women’s press of the late 19th and early 20th centuries also played a major role in the proclamations of women’s demands for the improvement of economic, social, and legal rights. Studies that examined the importance of late Ottoman women’s press for the expression of women’s demands and the rise of the first feminist discourses include Çakır 1996, Demirdirek 1998, Karakaya-Stump 2003, Atamaz 2014, and Yıldız 2018. Individual studies of women’s periodicals between 1886 and 1921 demonstrated polyvalent discourses on the emancipation of Ottoman women, ranging from traditionalist to modernist and nationalist-feminist, as elaborated in Safarian 2007. Kanner 2016 focuses on the differences and similarities in feminist articulations and programs of late 19th and early 20th century women’s organizations in the Ottoman Empire, Greece and Turkey, while Rowe 2018 discusses the emergence of the debates on women’s rights among Armenian women in late 19th-century Istanbul.

  • Atamaz, Serpil. “The Formation of a Counter Public through Women’s Press in the Late Ottoman Empire.” Iletişim Araştrmalar 12.2 (2014): 41–72.

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    Analyzes the ways in which educated, upper-middle class Ottoman women used their own independent press to change patriarchal discourses on women’s rights after the revolution of 1908.

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  • Çakır, Serpil. Osmanlı Kadın Hareketi. Istanbul: Metis, 1996.

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    English translation: The Ottoman Women’s Movement. One of the most influential monographs on women’s organizations and the role of women’s press in the articulation of feminist ideas in late Ottoman Turkey. Contains an in-depth analysis of issues related to women’s rights in the periodical Kadınlar Dünyası (Women’s World), from 1913–1914 and 1918–1921. First published in 1994.

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  • Demirdirek, Aynur. “In Pursuit of the Ottoman Women’s Movement.” In Deconstructing Images of “The Turkish Woman”. Translated by Zehra F. Arat. Edited by Zehra F. Arat, 65–83. New York: St. Martin Press, 1998.

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    Focuses on women’s periodicals from 1886 to 1914 to discuss the Ottoman women’s movement and the demands for change in the domains of education, employment, family law, and political participation.

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  • Kanner, Efi. “Transcultural Encounters: Discourses on Women’s Rights and Feminist Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, Greece, and Turkey from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Interwar Period.” Journal of Women’s History 28.3 (2016): 66–92.

    DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0025Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Compares and contrasts discourses on women’s rights and feminist challenges to patriarchy by women of different ethno-religious backgrounds in the late Ottoman Empire and in the successor states, from the mid-19th century to the interwar period.

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  • Karakaya-Stump, Ayfer. “Debating Progress in a ‘Serious Newspaper for Muslim Women’: The Periodical Kadın of the Post-revolutionary Salonica, 1908–1909.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 30.2 (2003): 155–181.

    DOI: 10.1080/1353019032000126518Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Focuses on the women’s journal Kadın, published in Ottoman Salonica in 1908–1909 to analyze women’s voices in the ongoing public debates regarding women’s issues.

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  • Maksudyan, Nazan. “This Time Women as Well Got involved in Politics!”: Nineteenth Century Ottoman Women’s Organizations and Political Agency.” In Women and the City: A Gendered Perspective on Ottoman Urban History. Edited by Nazan Maksudyan, 107–135. New York: Berghan, 2014.

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    Argues that the activities of Ottoman charitable organizations that mobilized women of various ethnoreligious backgrounds were organically connected to debates on women’s rights and demands for the enlargement of their social and political spheres.

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  • Rowe, Victoria. “Armenian Writers and Women’s-Rights Discourse in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Constantinople.” Aspasia 12.1 (2018): 44–69.

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    Demonstrates that the Armenian intellectual and cultural movement, the Awakening, facilitated the emergence of Armenian women’s discourse on women’s rights in turn-of-the-20th-century Istanbul.

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  • Safarian, Alexander. “On the History of Turkish Feminism.” Iran and the Caucasus 11.1 (2007): 141–151.

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    A summary account of different stages in the formation of feminist discourses, from the end of the 19th century to the early 20th century, with an emphasis on the political activism of Halidé Edip and Arife Hanım.

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  • Van Os, Nicole A. N. M. “Ottoman Women’s Organizations: Sources of the Past, Sources for the Future.” Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations 11.3. (2000): 369–383.

    DOI: 10.1080/713670331Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Provides a useful overview of sources for the study of Ottoman women’s movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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  • Yıldız, Hülya. “Rethinking the Political: Ottoman Women as Feminist Subjects.” Journal of Gender Studies 27.2 (2018): 177–191.

    DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2016.1188689Save Citation »Export Citation »

    Disassociates the rise of feminism in Turkey with the Republican period and argues that early feminist demands and the emergence of women in the public sphere can be traced to the Ottoman women’s press of late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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