The editors, both on the faculty at the University of Chicago, have selected forty-six texts from a two-and-a-half-century period to provide a sourcebook on Ottoman culture, self-consciously getting away from what they call the usual "state-centric" approach to the empire. The abundance of information about political topics has, they note, made it
too easy to represent Ottoman history as one limited to battles, imperial campaigns, conquests, complex institutions, careers of notables, luxurious palaces, and the like.
They hope the present volume, with its translations primarily from Turkish but also from Armenian, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and Persian, offers an enticing sample of the "alternative riches" the Ottomans have to offer.
Unsurprisingly, a large percentage of the materials derive from law courts, for where else does one find more everyday stories written down for posterity? The sections on a heretic, on children and youth, on prostitutes and pimps, on nocturnal activities, on non-Muslims, and on public health mostly derive from Islamic court records while those on Jewish converts to Islam and marriage and divorce among Jews derive from Jewish court records.
The editors have succeeded in proffering a wide range of information though anyone expecting gems of literature or storytelling will likely come away disappointed. From the first excerpt (letters from a scholar seeking more funds from his patrons) to the last (a collection of Nasreddin Hoca jokes), the quality of writing is mediocre, despite the many competent translators. Those inclined to see Ottoman culture as dull will no doubt find confirmation in this anthology. So, while The Ottoman World represents a valiant effort to re-balance interest in the six-hundred-year-long empire, this reviewer senses that it will, rather, bolster the "state-centric" approach.