Essays On Ottoman Historians And Historiography Of American

This article is about theories purporting to explain the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. For the events, see Defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908–1922). For the partitioning, see Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.

Many twentieth-century scholars argued that power of the Ottoman Empire began waning after the death of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1566, and without the acquisition of significant new wealth the empire went into decline, a concept known as the Ottoman Decline Thesis. Since the late 1970s, however, historians increasingly came to question the idea of Ottoman decline, and now there is a consensus among academic historians that the Ottoman Empire did not decline.[1]

The Decline Thesis[edit]

Main article: Ottoman Decline Thesis

Itzkowitz and İnalcik state Ottoman writers attributed the Empire’s troubles to the dissolution of the circle of equity, erosion of the sultan’s authority, disruption of the timar system and the demise of the devşirme, "describing symptoms rather than causes".[2][3] They argue causes consisted of geographical and logistical limitations, population growth after the 16th century, inflation due to influx of Peruvian silver and the end of profitable conquests.[4] Itzkowitz states, "the state could find no remedy" to these problems, and İnalcik, "As a result of these upheavals, the Ottoman Empire of the seventeenth century was no longer the vital empire it had been in the sixteenth"[5] – however neither show the issues remained a long-term problem.

Berkes was one of the first writers in the 1960s to summarise the works on Ottoman socio-economic history.[6] He suggested one of the reasons for Ottoman economic decline was the inability of the ruling class to make a clear choice between war and the more conventional types of capital formation.[7][8] Berkes' work however focused on the confrontation of the Ottomans and the Europeans, and though important, had little detail on the commercial activities of the state.

The Ottomans saw military expansion and fiscalism as the primary source of wealth, with agriculture seen as more important than manufacture and commerce. Berkes described the Ottoman economy as a "war economy" where its primary profits consisted of booty from expansion. This idea has been supported by Ottomanists Halil İnalcik and Suraiya Faroqhi. Westernmercantilists gave more emphasis to manufacture and industry in the wealth-power-wealth equation, moving towards capitalist economics comprising expanding industries and markets whereas the Ottomans continued along the trajectory of territorial expansion and agriculture. In contrast, neither the Marxian Asiatic mode of taxation, nor the feudal mode found in mediaeval Europe reflects the Ottoman mode accurately, as it falls somewhere in between the two — excess peasant production was taxed by the state as opposed to it being paid in rent to feudal lords;[9]

Over the 19th century, a shift occurred to rural female labor with guild organized urban-based male labor less important. The global markets for Ottoman goods fell somewhat with certain sectors expanding. However, any changes were compensated by an increase in domestic consumption and demand.[10] Mechanized production even at its peak remained an insignificant portion of total output. The lack of capital, as in other areas of the economy, deterred the mechanization of production. Nonetheless, a number of factories did emerge in Istanbul, Ottoman Europe and Anatolia. In the 1830s steam powered silk reeling factories emerged in Salonica, Edirne, West Anatolia and Lebanon.[11]

Under the late 18th century fine textiles, hand-made yarns and leathers were in high demand outside the empire. However, these declined by the early 19th century and half a century later production for export re-emerged in the form of raw silk and oriental carpets. The two industries alone employed 100,000 persons in 1914 two-thirds in carpet-making for European and American buyers. Most workers were women and girls, receiving wages that were amongst the lowest in the manufacturing sector. Much of the manufacturing shifted to the urban areas during the 18th century, in order to benefit from the lower rural costs and wages.[12]

Guilds operating prior to the 18th century did see a decline through the 18th and 19th centuries. Guilds provided some form of security in prices, restricting production and controlling quality and provided support to members who hit hard times. However, with market forces driving down prices their importance declined, and with the Janissaries as their backers, being disbanded by Mahmut II in 1826, their fate was sealed.[13]

Manufacturing through the period 1600-1914 witnessed remarkable continuities in the loci of manufacturing; industrial centers flourishing in the 17th century were often still active in 1914.[14] Manufacturing initially struggled against Asian and then European competition in the 18th and 19th centuries whereby handicraft industries were displaced by cheaper industrially produced imports. Quataert’s study of the Istanbul port workers and their struggle over two decades against the European companies with indirect support from the state highlights the difference between colonial administrators elsewhere and the Ottoman government. However, manufacturing achieved surprising output levels, with the decline of some industries being more than compensated by the rise of new industries.[15] Decline of handicrafts production saw a shift of output move to agricultural commodity production and other manufacturing output.[16]


Cultivator families drew their livelihoods from a complex set of different economic activities and not merely from growing crops. This included growing a variety of crops for their own consumption as well as rearing animals for their milk and wool. Some rural families manufactured goods for sale to others, for instance Balkan villagers traveled to Anatolia and Syria for months to sell their wool cloth. İslamoğlu-İnan's study of Anatolia from the seventeenth century onwards finds state policy by way of taxation and inheritance laws encouraged peasants to commercially develop fruits, vegetables and sheep;[17] This pattern established for the 18th century had not significantly changed at the beginning of the 20th century.[18] That is not to say that there were no changes in the agrarian sector. Nomads played an important role in the economy, providing animal products, textiles and transportation. They were troublesome for the state and hard to control – sedentarization programs took place in the 19th century, coinciding with huge influxes of refugees. This dynamic had the effect of a decline in animal rearing by tribes and an increase in cultivation. The rising commercialization of agriculture commencing in the 18th century meant more people began to grow more. With increased urbanisation, new markets created greater demand, easily met with the advent of railroads. State policy requiring a greater portion of taxes to be paid in cash influenced the increased production. Finally, increased demand for consumer goods themselves drove an increase in production to pay for the same.[19]

Quataert argues production rose due to a number of factors. An increase in productivity resulted from irrigation projects, intensive agriculture and utilisation of modern agricultural tools increasing in use throughout the 19th century. By 1900, tens of thousands of plows, reapers and other agricultural technologies such as combines were found across the Balkan, Anatolian and Arab lands. However, most of the increases in production came from vast areas of land coming under further cultivation. Families began increasing the amount of time at work, bringing fallow land into use. Sharecropping increased utilising land that had been for animal pasturage. Along with state policy, millions of refugees brought vast tracts of untilled land into production. The empty central Anatolian basin and steppe zone in the Syrian provinces were instances where government agencies parcelled out smallholdings of land to refugees. This was a recurring pattern across the empire, small landholdings the norm. Foreign holdings remained unusual despite Ottoman political weakness – probably due to strong local and notable resistance and labour shortages. Issawi et al. have argued that division of labour was not possible, being based on religious grounds.[20] İnalcik however demonstrates that division of labour was historically determined and open to change. Agricultural reform programs in the late 19th century saw the state founding agricultural schools, model farms, and education of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy of agrarian specialists focused on increasing agricultural exports. Between 1876 and 1908, the value of agricultural exports just from Anatolia rose by 45% whilst tithe proceeds rose by 79%.[21]

Domestic Trade[edit]

Domestic trade vastly exceeded international trade in both value and volume though researchers have little in direct measurements.[22] Much of Ottoman history has been based on European archives that did not document the empire’s internal trade, resulting in it being underestimated.[23]

Quataert illustrates the size of internal trade by considering some examples. The French Ambassador in 1759 commented that total textile imports into the empire would clothe a maximum of 800,000 of a population of at least 20 million. In 1914 less than a quarter of agricultural produce was being exported the rest being consumed internally.[24] The early 17th century saw trade in Ottoman-made goods in the Damascus province exceeded five times the value of all foreign-made goods sold there. Finally, amongst the sparse internal trade data are some 1890s statistics for three non-leading cities. Their sum value of their interregional trade in the 1890s equaled around 5% of total Ottoman international export trade at the time. Given their minor status, cities like Istanbul, Edirne, Salonica, Damascus, Beirut or Aleppo being far greater than all three, this is impressively high. These major trade centres, dozens of medium-sized towns, hundreds of small towns and thousands of villages remains uncounted – it puts into perspective the size of domestic trade.[22]

Two factors that had major impact on both internal and international trade were wars and government policies. Wars had major impact on commerce especially where there were territorial losses that would rip apart Ottoman economic unity, often destroying relationships and patterns that had endured centuries. The role of government policy is more hotly debated – however most policy-promoted barriers to Ottoman international and internal commerce disappeared or were reduced sharply.[25] However, there appears little to indicate a significant decline in internal trade other than disruption caused by war and ad-hoc territorial losses.


Ottoman bureaucratic and military expenditure was raised by taxation, generally from the agrarian population.[26] Pamuk notes considerable variation in monetary policy and practice in different parts of the empire. Although there was monetary regulation, enforcement was often lax and little effort was made to control the activities of merchants, moneychangers, and financiers. Under Islamic law usury was prohibited, Pamuk quotes a number of stratagems that were used, notably double-sale agreements:[27] During the "price revolution" of the 16th century, when inflation took off, there were price increases of around 500% from the end of the 15th century to the close of the 17th.[28] However, the problem of inflation did not remain and the 18th century did not witness the problem again.

Though this analysis may apply to some provinces, like Hungary, recent scholarship has found that most of the financing was through provinces closer to the centre.[29] As the empire modernized itself in line with European powers, the role of the central state grew and diversified. In the past, it had contented itself with raising tax revenues and war making. It increasingly began to address education, health and public works, activities that used to be organised by religious leaders in the communities – this can be argued as being necessary in a rapidly changing world and was a necessary Ottoman response. At the end of the 18th century, there were around 2,000 civil officials ballooning to 35,000 in 1908.[30] The Ottoman military increasingly adopted western military technologies and methods, increasing army personnel from 120,000 in 1837 to over 120,000 in the 1880s.[31] Other innovations were increasingly being adopted, including the telegraph, railroads and photography, and utilised against old mediators who were increasingly marginalised. These were diverse groups such as the Janissaries, guilds, tribes, religious authorities and provincial notables.[31]

Up to 1850, the Ottoman Empire was the only empire to have never contracted foreign debt and its financial situation was generally sound.[32] As the 19th century increased the state’s financial needs, it knew it could not raise the revenues from taxation or domestic borrowings, so resorted to massive debasement and then issued paper money.[33] It had considered European debt, which had surplus funds available for overseas investment, but avoided it aware of the associated dangers of European control.[34][35] However, the Crimean war of 1853-1856 resulted in the necessity of such debt. Between 1854 and 1881, the Ottoman Empire went through a critical phase of the history. Beginning with the first foreign loan in 1854, this process involved sporadic attempts by western powers to impose some control. From 1863 a second and more intense phase began leading to a snowballing effect of accumulated debts. In 1875, with external debt at 242 million Turkish pounds, over half the budgetary expenditures going toward its service, the Ottoman government facing a number of economic crises declared its inability to make repayments. The fall in tax revenues due to bad harvests and increased expenditure made worse by the costs of suppressing the uprisings in the Balkans hastened the slide into bankruptcy. After negotiations with the European powers, the Public Debt Administration was set up, to which certain revenues were assigned. This arrangement subjected the Ottomans to foreign financial control from which they failed to free themselves, in part because of continued borrowing. In 1914, the Ottoman debt stood at 139.1 million Turkish pounds, and the government was still dependent on European financiers [36][37]

Why had the Ottomans not developed their own financial system in line with London and Paris? It was not for the want of trying. Since the beginning of the 18th century, the government was aware of the need for a reliable bank. The Galata bankers, mostly Greeks or Armenians, as well as the Bank of Constantinople did not have the capital or competence for such large undertakings.[35][38]

Borrowing spanned two distinct periods, 1854-1876. The first is the most important resulted in defaults in 1875. Borrowings were normally at 4% to 5% of the nominal value of the bond, new issues however being sold at prices well below these values netted of commissions involved in the issue, resulting in a much higher effective borrowing rate – coupled with a deteriorating financial situation, the borrowing rate rarely went below 10% after 1860.[39]

European involvement began with the creation of the Public Debt Administration, after which a relatively peaceful period meant no wartime expenditures and the budget could be balanced with lower levels of external borrowing. The semi-autonomous Egyptian province also ran up huge debts in the late 19th century resulting in foreign military intervention. With security from the Debt Administration further European capital entered the empire in railroad, port and public utility projects, increasing foreign capital control of the Ottoman economy.[40]

Criticism of the decline theories[edit]

The decline thesis has come under considerable criticism by Ottomanists in recent decades. Attempts at identifying abstract theories rely on essentialising Muslim history in ahistorical ways, going against the considerable range of variation, contours and trends, in favour of implicit ideal types. The Ottomanist scholar Toledano states:

The main flaw of explanations based on the Ottoman decline is their all encompassing nature. With the growth in scope and sophistication of studies treating the history of the empire in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the uniform view of processes over such a large geographical expanse, during such a long period of time, and covering all aspects of human history – the political, the economic, the social, the cultural and others.[41]

With explanations of a general decline thesis heavily contested amongst scholars this renders them doubtful. With such vastly varied accounts of the same phenomena, it questions the credibility of a decline thesis.

As part of anti-Ottoman nationalist movements, many writers and politicians wrote about the Ottoman presence in very hostile and negative terms, with many works being vacuous, based on suspect sources and heavily biased. Quataert states:

Given the nationalist logic of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century history writing, the Ottoman legacy has been difficult to assess and appreciate. The biases come from many sides. West and central European... old fears have persisted to the present day and arguably have been transformed into cultural prejudices... now being directed against the full membership of an Ottoman successor state, Turkey, into the European Union. Moreover, nationalist histories have dismissed the place of the multi-ethnic, multi-religious formation in historical evolution... In the more than thirty countries that now exist in territories once occupied by the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman past until recently has been largely ignored and/or considered in extremely negative terms.[42]

Arabs and Turks in seeking a new identity and foundation for their states exhibited similar hostility, preferring to go back to the Pharaohs, Kings of Babylon and the Hittites of pre-Ottoman Anatolia. This hostility and often vilification,[43] appears less to actual Ottoman policies and more to their state building processes.[44] Doumani’s study of the Arab region of Ottoman Palestine notes,

...most Arab nationalists view the entire Ottoman era as a period of oppressive Turkish rule which stifled Arab culture and socioeconomic development and paved the way for European colonial control and the Zionist takeover of Palestine... The intellectual foundation for this shared image can be traced to the extensive literature published during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Westerners bent on "discovering," hence reclaiming, the Holy Land from what they believed was a stagnant and declining Ottoman Empire.

European economic history concentrated on trade around the Mediterranean, the Americas, India and South East Asia, ignoring the empire in between that was the centre of the known world throughout this period.[45]

Ottoman history has been rewritten for political and cultural advantage and speculative theories rife with inconsistent research, ahistorical assumptions and embedded biases. Regarding the Ottoman Industrial Revolution, Edward Clark said,

Ottoman responses to this European economic challenge are relatively unknown, and even the extensive and costly Ottoman industrial efforts of the 1840s seemingly have been dismissed as the casual, if not comical games of disinterested bureaucrats... What were the nature and magnitude of these Ottoman responses? What were Ottoman objectives? What main factors contributed to their failures? What if any achievements resulted?[46]

The complexity and multi-faceted nature of the Ottoman economy does not lend itself to the analyses that have been provided to date. Faroqhi cites earlier scholars (Gibbs and Bowen) who realised with the commencement of archival studies, details as well as major generalisations would need to be modified or even totally discarded.[47] She cites errors present in secondary literature passed over by generations,

Some errors may be just amusing, such as the story that the heads of the Ottoman religious-cum-legal hierarchy, the seyhulislams, if executed, were ground to death in a gigantic mortar and pestle... Others are more serious and have much hampered research, such as the inclination to explain anything and everything by Ottoman decline.[48]

Jonathan Grant questioned an inexorable decline thesis by considering military technology, showing the Ottomans could reproduce the latest military technology (however it is disputed whether the help of foreign expertise was necessary or not from the 15th century onwards Kenneth Chase (2003)) maintaining this relative position through two technology diffusions until the 19th century. They failed to keep pace with technology from the industrial revolution becoming dependant on imported weapons.[49]

İslamoğlu-İnan in her work on the peasants of Corum and Sivas takes an alternative view arguing an increase in population increased economic growth, cultivating more market-oriented crops as their numbers increased, rather than stunting it.[50]

McCloskey argued that an increase in population should increase the volume of transactions and economic activity and lead to a decline in prices.[51] (Comparatively, historians argue one of the factors of Britain’s industrial revolution was a population increase growing from 7.5 million to 18 million in the late 18th century.)[52] Pamuk however highlights Morineau’s recent research with specie flows into Europe continuing to increase during the 17th century even after prices declined, casting doubts on the causality of inflation by bullion inflows.[53]

See also[edit]



  • Faroqhi, Suraiya (1999). Approaching Ottoman History: an Introduction to the Sources. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-66648-0. 
  • Quataert, Donald (2000). The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-63328-4. 
  • Quataert, Donald (2004). "A provisional report concerning the impact of European capital on Ottoman port workers, 1880–1909". In Huri İslamoğlu-İnan. The Ottoman Empire and the World-Economy. Studies in Modern Capitalism. 12. Cambridge University Press. pp. 300–310. ISBN 978-0-521-52607-4. 
  • Pamuk, Şevket (1987). The Ottoman Empire and European Capitalism, 1820-1913. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Issawi, C. (1966). The Economic History of the Middle East, 1800–1914: a Book of Readings. London: University of Chicago Press. 
  • İnalcik, Halil (1994). 1300–1600. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire. 1. 
  • Toledano, E. R. (1997). "The emergence of Ottoman–local elites in the Middle East and North Africa, 17th–19th centuries". In I. Poppe & M. Ma'oz. Essays in Honour of Albert Hourani. Oxford & London: St Antony's College and Tauris Press. 
  • McNeil, W (1964). Europe's Steppe Frontier 1500-1800. London: University of Chicago Press. 
  • Itzkowitz, N. (1980). Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition. London: University of Chicago Press. 
  • İslamoğlu-İnan, Huri (2004). "State and peasants in the Ottoman Empire: a study of peasant economy in north-central Anatolia during the sixteenth century". In Huri İslamoğlu-İnan. The Ottoman Empire and the World-Economy. Studies in Modern Capitalism. 12. Cambridge University Press. pp. 101–159. ISBN 978-0-521-52607-4. 
  • Brown, Richard (2000). Revolution, Radicalism and Reform, England 1780–1846. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-56788-6. 


  • Clay, Christopher (2001). "A monetary history of the Ottoman Empire". The Economic History Review. 54 (1). 
  • Quataert, Donald (1975). "Dilemma of development: the Agricultural Bank and agricultural reform in Ottoman Turkey, 1888–1908". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 6 (2): 210–227. doi:10.1017/s002074380002451x. JSTOR 162420. 
  • Frangakis-Syrett, E. (1994). "Manufacturing and technology transfer in the Ottoman Empire, 1800–1914". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 
  • Clay, Christopher (1994). "The origins of modern banking in the Levant: the branch network of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, 1890–1914". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 26 (4): 589–614. doi:10.1017/s0020743800061122. JSTOR 163804. 
  • Critz, José Morilla; Olmstead, Alan L.; Rhode, Paul W. (1999). ""Horn of Plenty": the globalization of Mediterranean horticulture and the economic development of southern Europe, 1880–1930". The Journal of Economic History. 59 (2): 316–352. doi:10.1017/s0022050700022853. JSTOR 2566554. PMID 21987866. 
  • Raccagni, Michelle (1980). "The French economic interests in the Ottoman Empire". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 11 (3): 339–376. doi:10.1017/s0020743800054672. JSTOR 162665. 


  1. ^Hathaway, Jane (2008). The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule, 1516-1800. Pearson Education Ltd. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-582-41899-8.  ;
    Tezcan, Baki (2010). The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern Period. Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-107-41144-9.  ;
    Woodhead, Christine (2011). "Introduction". In Christine Woodhead. The Ottoman World. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-415-44492-7.  
  2. ^Itzkowitz (1980),p. 94
  3. ^İnalcik (1994), pp. 22–24.
  4. ^Itzkowitz (1980), pp. 93–99.
  5. ^İnalcik (1994), p. 25.
  6. ^Berkes, N, 100 Soruda Turkiye Iktisat Tarihi, vol. 1: Osmanli Ekonomik Tarihinin Temelleri, vol. 2 Istanbul: Gercek Yayinevi, cited by Faroqhi (1999), p. 189.
  7. ^Berkes (1964) pp. 23–29
  8. ^Faroqhi (1999), p. 188–189.
  9. ^Faroqhi (1999), pp. 189–191.
  10. ^Quataert (2000), p. 132.
  11. ^Quataert (2000), pp. 132–137; Frangakis-Syrett (1994), p. 116.
  12. ^Quataert (2000), p. 133.
  13. ^Reeves-Ellington; Quataert (2000), pp. 132–137.
  14. ^İnalcik (1994), p. 5.
  15. ^Quataert (2000), p. 110.
  16. ^For instance, silk reel production from the Levant emerged in the nineteenth century, as did the production of raw silks and carpets; Pamuk (1987), p. 8.
  17. ^İslamoğlu-İnan (2004), p. 123
  18. ^Quataert (2000), pp. 128–129.
  19. ^Quataert (2000), pp. 129–130.
  20. ^Issawi (1966), p. 114.
  21. ^Quataert (1975), pp. 210–211.
  22. ^ abQuataert (2000), pp. 126–127.
  23. ^Faroqhi (1999), p. 142.
  24. ^Quataert (2000), p. 126; Pamuk (1984), p. 109.
  25. ^Quataert (2000), pp. 124–125.
  26. ^Quataert (2000), p. 71.
  27. ^Wilson (2003), p. 384;
  28. ^Pamuk argues the Turkish economic historian Omer Barkan is incorrect in attributing price rises to imported inflation rather the cause being the velocity of circulation of money drove prices up, as well as increasing commercialization with the growing use of money as a medium of exchange; Pamuk (2001), pp. 73–85; Wilson (2003), p. 384.
  29. ^Finkel, C, The Administration of Warfare: The Ottoman Military Campaigns in Hungary 1593-1606, Vol I, Vienna, VWGO, 1988, p. 308, cited by Faroqhi (1999), p. 180.
  30. ^Quataert (2000), p. 62.
  31. ^ abQuataert (2000), p. 63.
  32. ^Quataert (2000), p. 341; Pamuk (1984), p. 110.
  33. ^Clay (2001), p. 204; Pamuk (2001)
  34. ^Clay (2001), p. 71;
  35. ^ abRaccagni (1980), p. 343;
  36. ^Clay (1994), p. 589;
  37. ^Pamuk (1987), p. 57.
  38. ^Clay (1994), pp. 589–590.
  39. ^Pamuk (1987), p. 59.
  40. ^Pamuk (1987), p. 130–131.
  41. ^Toledano (1997), p. 157.
  42. ^Quataert (2000), p. 192.
  43. ^Toledano (1997), p. 145.
  44. ^In countries such as Serbia to Rumania, Turkey to Syria and Iraq; Quataert (2000), pp. 193–195.
  45. ^Lewis, B, "Some Reflections on the Decline of the Ottoman Empire", Studia Islamica, No. 9, 1958, pp. 111-27; "The Ottoman Empire stood at the crossroads of intercontinental trade... from the early sixteenth century up to World War I. At its peak in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its population exceeded 30 million. One might have expected that the economic institutions that sustained this large, multiethnic entity for so long would be of interest to economic historians. Unfortunately, mainstream economic historians have long neglected the land regime, manufactures, economic policies, and the daily existence of ordinary men and women. As a result, the longevity of the Ottoman Empire remains an anomaly and even a mystery for many." – Özmucur & Pamuk (2005), p. 295.
  46. ^Clark (1974), pp. 65–66.
  47. ^Faroqhi (1999), p. 177.
  48. ^Faroqhi (1999), p. 29.
  49. ^Grant, J, 1990, pp.179-202; cited also by Alam, 2002, op cit, p. 11; Alam, M S, op cit, pp. 64-8
  50. ^Faroqhi (1999), pp. 104–106.
  51. ^Pamuk (2001), pp. 71–72.
  52. ^Brown (2000), pp. 116–117.
  53. ^Pamuk (1987), p. 1; Pamuk (2001)

Figure 1:

Compliance with permission from the rights holder to display this image online prohibits further enlargement or copying.

Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore and arch-enemy of the British, began in the 1790s to fashion himself as an enlightened monarch: he was one of the founding members of the (French) Jacobin club in Seringapatam, had planted a liberty tree, and asked to be addressed as Tipu Citoyen—and he reformed the military and economy according to European models. But his eclectic form of rule also drew on the cultural repertoire of South Asian Hinduism and at the same time, the large Hindu majority of his population notwithstanding, on Islamic traditions. Tipu Sultan corresponded with the caliph of the Ottoman Empire and stylized his resistance against British expansion as a battle between Islam and Christendom. One should not conclude, however, that his interest in things European—he was a collector of clocks and eyeglasses, but also of scientific instruments, and had installed a printing press—was nothing but a fascination for exotic curios. Rather, it needs to be understood as a practice meant to demonstrate the universal character of his rule. Watercolor, ca. 1790, by an anonymous Indian artist.

Figure 1:

Compliance with permission from the rights holder to display this image online prohibits further enlargement or copying.

Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore and arch-enemy of the British, began in the 1790s to fashion himself as an enlightened monarch: he was one of the founding members of the (French) Jacobin club in Seringapatam, had planted a liberty tree, and asked to be addressed as Tipu Citoyen—and he reformed the military and economy according to European models. But his eclectic form of rule also drew on the cultural repertoire of South Asian Hinduism and at the same time, the large Hindu majority of his population notwithstanding, on Islamic traditions. Tipu Sultan corresponded with the caliph of the Ottoman Empire and stylized his resistance against British expansion as a battle between Islam and Christendom. One should not conclude, however, that his interest in things European—he was a collector of clocks and eyeglasses, but also of scientific instruments, and had installed a printing press—was nothing but a fascination for exotic curios. Rather, it needs to be understood as a practice meant to demonstrate the universal character of his rule. Watercolor, ca. 1790, by an anonymous Indian artist.

The Enlightenment has long held a pivotal place in narratives of world history. It has served as a sign of the modern, and continues to play that role yet today. The standard interpretations, however, have tended to assume, and to perpetuate, a Eurocentric mythology. They have helped entrench a view of global interactions as having essentially been energized by Europe alone. Historians have now begun to challenge this view. A global history perspective is emerging in the literature that moves beyond the obsession with the Enlightenment's European origins.

The dominant readings are based on narratives of uniqueness and diffusion. The assumption that the Enlightenment was a specifically European phenomenon remains one of the foundational premises of Western modernity, and of the modern West. The Enlightenment appears as an original and autonomous product of Europe, deeply embedded in the cultural traditions of the Occident. According to this master narrative, the Renaissance, humanism, and the Reformation “gave a new impetus to intellectual and scientific development that, a little more than three and a half centuries later, flowered in the scientific revolution and then in the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century.”1 The results included the world of the individual, human rights, rationalization, and what Max Weber famously called the “disenchantment of the world.”2 Over the course of the nineteenth century, or so the received wisdom has it, these ingredients of the modern were then exported to the rest of the world. As William McNeill exulted in his Rise of the West, “We, and all the world of the twentieth century, are peculiarly the creatures and heirs of a handful of geniuses of early modern Europe.”3

This interpretation is no longer tenable. Scholars are now challenging the Eurocentric account of the “birth of the modern world.” Such a rereading implies three analytical moves: First, the eighteenth-century cultural dynamics conventionally rendered as “Enlightenment” cannot be understood as the sovereign and autonomous accomplishment of European intellectuals alone; it had many authors in many places. Second, Enlightenment ideas need to be understood as a response to cross-border interaction and global integration. Beyond the conventional Europe-bound notions of the progress of “reason,” engaging with Enlightenment has always been a way to think comparatively and globally. And third, the Enlightenment did not end with romanticism: it continued throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. Crucially, this was not merely a history of diffusion; the Enlightenment's global impact was not energized solely by the ideas of the Parisian philosophes. Rather, it was the work of historical actors around the world—in places such as Cairo, Calcutta, and Shanghai—who invoked the term, and what they saw as its most important claims, for their own specific purposes.

Figure 2:

Compliance with permission from the rights holder to display this image online prohibits further enlargement or copying.

The opening page of Immanuel Kant's famous essay “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” Berlinische Monatsschrift, December 1784, 481.

Figure 2:

Compliance with permission from the rights holder to display this image online prohibits further enlargement or copying.

The opening page of Immanuel Kant's famous essay “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” Berlinische Monatsschrift, December 1784, 481.

Enlightenment, in other words, has a history—and this history matters; it is not an entity, a “thing” that was invented and then disseminated. We must move beyond a preoccupation with definitions that make the meaning of Enlightenment immutable. Ever since Immanuel Kant's famous 1784 essay in the Berlinische Monats-schrift, historians have pondered his question “Was ist Aufklärung?” (What is Enlightenment?). The scholarly battle between attempts to define its substance and efforts to legislate its limits has generated a massive bibliography.4 The responses have been manifold, depending on time and place, but they have not yielded an authoritative definition. Rather, they demonstrate just how malleable the concept really was.

Take, for example, an allegory by the Japanese artist Shōsai Ikkei in 1872 that we can read as one possible answer to Kant, albeit with the benefit of almost a century of hindsight. In his woodblock print titled Mirror of the Rise and Fall of Enlightenment and Tradition, he depicts the conflicts and battles between the new and the old in early Meiji Japan (1868–1912), with the new clearly gaining the upper hand. (See Figure 3.) Not all of the items would have made it onto Kant's list: the print shows a Western umbrella defeating a Japanese paper parasol, a chair prevailing over a traditional stool, a pen over a brush, brick over tile, short hair vanquishing the traditional chonmage hairstyle with the top of the head shaved, and so forth. The whole process is driven by a steam locomotive, a towering symbol of the spirit of progress that enthralled contemporary Japanese. And in the center of the print, a gas lamp subdues a candle, thus more than symbolically enlightening all that seemed dark in premodern Japan.

The crucial term in the title of the print is kaika, conventionally rendered as “Enlightenment”; it is also translated as “civilization” and bears connotations of social evolutionism.5 In this image, it is depicted less as a quasi-natural development, as suggested by Kant—Enlightenment, he wrote, “is nearly inevitable, if only it is granted freedom”—and more as a violent battle. Civilization/Enlightenment came not only with the power of conviction, but also with the use of force; not only with the promise of emancipation—“mankind's exit from its self-incurred immaturity”—but also with “the mobilization, on its behalf, of effective means of physical coercion,” as postcolonial scholars would put it yet a century later.6

Equally significant is the inclusion of an object in the parade of enlightened modernity that would hardly seem to belong there: a rickshaw. On the right-hand side of the print, a man labeled “rickshaw” is trampling on another representing an oxcart, the preferred conveyance of Tokugawa elites. Unlike the other objects alluded to, the rickshaw was not imported from Europe, but was in fact an invention of the early Meiji period. It nonetheless went on to become a symbol of the new times, together with the brick buildings of the Ginza, the trains, clocks, and artificial light. The depiction of the rickshaw is thus a reminder that what was perceived as new, civilized, or enlightened was in fact highly ambivalent and hybrid, the product of local conditions and power structures more than the actualization of a blueprint conceived in eighteenth-century Paris, Edinburgh, or Königsberg.

Figure 3:

Compliance with permission from the rights holder to display this image online prohibits further enlargement or copying.

Shōsai Ikkei, Kaika injun kōhatsu kagami, 1872. Waseda University Library.

Figure 3:

Compliance with permission from the rights holder to display this image online prohibits further enlargement or copying.

Shōsai Ikkei, Kaika injun kōhatsu kagami, 1872. Waseda University Library.

Emphasizing the variations in usage of “Enlightenment” around the world implies a rejection of earlier narrow definitions of the term.7 Recent work on European history has been increasingly skeptical of the idea that the Enlightenment represents a coherent body of thought. Historians focus instead on the ambivalences and the multiplicity of Enlightenment views. One strand of scholarship concerned with the intellectual debates has made it clear that the various European Enlightenments have to be situated in the specific contexts—Halle, Naples, Helsinki, and Utrecht, among others—to which they were responding and within which they generated their sometimes very different and centrifugal dynamics.8 John Pocock, in a monumental work, has reconstructed the way in which Edward Gibbon engaged with many different “Enlightenments.”9 Jonathan Israel and others have significantly extended the perspective backward in time and thereby complicated our understanding of the Enlightenment.10 A second strand of scholarship has looked at the social history of ideas and communication, thus further contributing to the idea of Enlightenment heterogeneity. As soon as the focus is moved from lofty philosophical debates to the material production of the public sphere and to the forms of popular mentalities, the picture becomes much less uniform. The Enlightenment, broadly conceived, was thus fragmented, socially and across gender lines.11 The entrenched dichotomy of Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment has also been called into question.12 And finally, the convenient fiction of the eighteenth century as the Age of Reason has begun to recede. It has become increasingly clear that the Enlightenment cannot simply be equated with secularization, but on the contrary was deeply embedded in religious world views.13 Therefore, the stylization of the period as an age of disenchantment is itself a modern myth. Instead, popular social practices such as occultism, mesmerism, and magic not only survived, but were enmeshed with elite culture, empirical science, and the celebration of reason.14

At present, only a small—if vociferous—minority of historians maintain the unity of the Enlightenment project.15 Most authors stress its plural and contested character: Enlightenments, or—as the French term, in wise anticipation, has framed it since the eighteenth century—les lumières.16 It is no accident that the very term “Enlightenment” was originally a rallying cry issued by the Catholic and royalist adversaries of the French philosophes.17 The unity of the phenomenon was thus constituted by its enemies. It became further entrenched when it was appropriated in Latin America and Asia as a seemingly integrated and unified body of thought. “Enlightenment” as a reified concept has, in other words, primarily been the slogan used by historical actors to label a movement that should be either fought or imitated. The Enlightenment was “a state of intellectual tension,” as Judith Shklar has phrased it, “rather than a sequence of similar propositions.”18

Such a broad understanding is a helpful point of departure for moving us beyond the different ways in which the current historiography has understood the Enlightenment's role in global history. It may help us focus on the transnational conditions that went into the making of eighteenth-century Enlightenment, mainly in the Atlantic world, but elsewhere as well. Finally, it enables us to move the discussion to the nineteenth century and trace the way in which these debates were extended throughout Asia, as “Enlightenment” became a concern for social reformers across the globe.19

In privileging connections and synchronic contexts in space over long intellectual continuities in time, a global history perspective has fundamental consequences for our understanding of “Enlightenment.” Few other terms are as normatively charged or as heavily invested with notions of European uniqueness and superiority, and few have gained as much potency in contemporary political debates. Situating the history of the Enlightenment in a global context will thus have unsettling and potentially salutary implications. In the last instance, such a perspective de-centers the debate on universalism that is so crucially linked to general notions of Enlightenment thought. It was not so much the inbuilt universality of enlightened claims that enabled it to spread around the world. Rather, it was the global history of references to the Enlightenment, of re-articulation and reinvention, under conditions of inequalities of power, that transformed multiple claims on Enlightenment into a ubiquitous presence.

“Enlightenment scholars,” Dorinda Outram has acknowledged, “have yet to come to grips with the issues of the relationship between the Enlightenment and the creation of a global world.”20 To date, three metanarratives have dominated interpretations of the role of the Enlightenment in world history. In general textbooks and survey courses, the Enlightenment is usually portrayed as the apotheosis of universal reason at the expense of religion and traditional cosmologies, and as promoting an encompassing rationalization of social and cultural life. It stands, in short, for secular progress.21 The birth of the Enlightenment, according to the standard version, was entirely and exclusively a European affair: only when it was fully fledged was it then diffused around the globe. This diffusionist view has led to such questions as why the emancipation of religious authority did not develop outside the West.22 The standard paradigm is based on a logic of repetition, deferral, and derivation. “The Enlightenment was a European phenomenon,” Jürgen Osterhammel has said in summarizing the prevailing view, “that had multifaceted effects around the world but originated only in Europe.”23

Against this dominant view, a second interpretation has emerged, based on a radically critical view of the Enlightenment. Scholars in the field of postcolonial studies have focused on direct connections between Enlightenment thinking and imperialism. This view shares with the dominant paradigm of benevolent modernization the assumption that the Enlightenment was a uniquely European invention. It also equates the Enlightenment with the “march of universal reason.” In addition, it shares the diffusionist view of the first interpretation. But here the spread of the Enlightenment's message is seen not as emancipation but as deprivation.

Two different but related arguments are involved. The first is the hypothesis that the expansionist desire of the West was rooted in Enlightenment thinking proper. It was only a small step, according to this critique, between positing universal standards and deciding to intervene and to implement those standards, also by force, under the auspices of a paternalistic civilizing mission. In one of the more extreme statements, “the new forms of man-made violence unleashed by post-seventeenth-century Europe in the name of Enlightenment values” are then seen to lead not only to imperialism, but also to “the Third Reich, the Gulag, the two World Wars, and the threat of nuclear annihilation.”24 The second argument is that the spread of Enlightenment cosmology needs to be understood as a form of cultural imperialism with the potential to eradicate alternative world views.25 Critical scholars have interpreted the spread of Enlightenment tenets in the nineteenth century as a process of coerced and oftentimes brutal diffusion, made possible and driven by highly asymmetrical relations of power.26

The postcolonial critique has done much to help us understand the complexities of knowledge transfer under conditions of colonialism. In particular, it has sharpened our sensibility for the asymmetrical structures of exchange and urged us “to write into the history of modernity the ambivalences, contradictions, the use of force, and the tragedies and the ironies that attend it.”27 A critical global history perspective that is not intended to reproduce a liberal ideology of globalization needs to build on these approaches. But that does not imply that eighteenth-century Enlightenment debates already contained the seeds of imperialism; recent scholarship has shown to what extent Enlightenment thinkers were engaged in a fundamental critique of imperialism and its underlying assumptions.28 And in its more radical formulations, the postcolonial critique runs the danger of postulating incompatible regimes of knowledge, civilizational orders between which dialogue is virtually impossible. Such cultural essentialisms may prevent us from recognizing the extent to which both allegedly pure indigenous traditions and seemingly universal forms of Western knowledge are the result of complex processes of interaction.

Emancipatory modernization and cultural imperialism are both deeply diffusionist and take the Enlightenment's European origins for granted. What is more, they rely on the absence of Enlightenment elsewhere as one of their axiomatic tenets. In recent years, however, the European claim to originality, to exclusive authorship of the Enlightenment, has been called into question. Historians have begun to look for parallels and analogies, for autochthonous processes of rationalization that did not depend on developments in Europe but led to similar results. This quest forms part of a larger scholarly debate on the origins of modernity. It was born out of a desire to challenge diffusionist notions of modernization, and to acknowledge the social dynamics that existed in many societies before their encounter with the West. The aim was to replace older notions of traditional societies and “people without history” with a broader understanding of the multifaceted “early modernities.”29

While much of the scholarship that has attempted to de-Europeanize the Enlightenment has been concerned with Latin America and Haiti, an especially powerful claim to “early modernities” has been made in the context of Asian history. The genealogy of these debates leads us back to such classic works as Robert Bellah's Tokugawa Religion (1957). In this book, he attempted to locate the origins of modern Japan in certain strands of Confucian thinking, a “functional analogue to the Protestant Ethic” that Max Weber singled out as the driving force behind Western capi-talism.30 Bellah's analysis set a precedent for an outpouring of works aimed at pluralizing the notion of modernization. In the Islamic world, Peter Gran saw in eighteenth-century Egypt a form of “cultural revival” in the making—specifically Islamic origins of modernization long before Napoleon's Egyptian campaign.31 In his quest for an independent “Islamic Enlightenment,” Reinhard Schulze has argued that the “idea of autonomy of thought that through experience and reason arrives at truth was formulated by a large number of Islamic thinkers” in the eighteenth century.32 In East Asia, Mark Elvin sees in eighteenth-century China “a trend towards seeing fewer dragons and miracles, not unlike the disenchantment that began to spread across the Europe of the Enlightenment.”33 Likewise, Joel Mokyr is convinced that “some of the developments that we associate with Europe's Enlightenment resemble events in China remarkably.”34

These recent interventions provide welcome reminders that the image of non-Western societies as stagnating and immobile is wide of the mark. The West did not have a monopoly on cultural transformations and intellectual conflicts. Such an archaeology of independent seeds of the modern is frequently connected to the larger project to revise modernization theory, and to replace it with the paradigm of early, alternative, and multiple modernities.35 But this refashioning of modernization theory is no less problematic. In the last instance, the paradigm of multiple modernities also posits an identical telos—modern, capitalist society—even if this goal is achieved not by the transformations inspired by contact with the West, but rather on the basis of recently “rediscovered” indigenous cultural resources: a teleology of universal disenchantment, realized in each society internally, but across the globe. It is the specter of parallels—“the search for the Indian Vico, the Chinese Descartes, the Arab Montaigne”—that continues to haunt the recent quest for alternative modernities.36 The emphasis is on the internal conditions and dynamics of change—and on the “strange parallels” between widely separated parts of the globe.37 In this way, the history of the modern age is constructed as an order of analogous, autopoietic civilizations, thereby neglecting, and indeed effacing, the long history of entanglements and systemic integration of the world. Reducing the complex and locally specific histories of cultural transformation to an indigenous prehistory of the modern thus tends to obfuscate the larger structures and power asymmetries that brought about the modern world.38

These three paradigms—modernization, postcolonialism, and multiple modernities—converge in their methodological bias toward national and civilizational frames. Their many differences notwithstanding, they all rely on internalist logics in their attempt to explain what was in fact a global phenomenon. In response to stimulating recent scholarship, however, we need to place the various notions of “Enlightenment” in the context of connectivities that shaped and reconfigured societies globally. Referring to the issue of modernity, Sanjay Subrahmanyam has argued that it is “historically a global and conjunctural phenomenon, not a virus that spreads from one place to another. It is located in a series of historical processes that brought hitherto relatively isolated societies into contact, and we must seek its roots in a set of diverse phenomena.”39 From such a vantage point, it is less instructive to search for alleged origins—European or otherwise—than to focus on the global conditions and interactions in which the “Enlightenment” emerged.

Debates about Enlightenment were the product of related attempts to come to terms with a global situation. They were conducted within a space that transcended the boundaries of Western Europe, and the circulation of concepts and ideas followed a variety of trajectories.40 These debates were linked across borders, but they did not unfold everywhere or equally. The trajectory of interactions was not indiscriminate, but was conditioned by the larger structures of the world economy and political powers such as the British Empire. Invoking the “Enlightenment” presupposed some relation with Europe, even when references were primarily rhetorical and strategic. Connections reached beyond the integrated Atlantic world, but the speed and density of contacts was highly uneven; while Madras was part of multiple networks in the Indian Ocean and beyond, Korea, the “hermit kingdom,” aimed at isolation, and intellectual transfers reached social elites in port cities earlier than elsewhere, if at all.41

Related to these different forms of cultural interaction, a spate of exciting new scholarship has resituated the emergence of Enlightenment thinking. So far, most of these studies have addressed a particular literature, while a synthetic picture has yet to emerge. But drawing on this work allows Enlightenment debates to be read in a context that transcended Europe. The globality of eighteenth-century Enlightenment needs to be located on two levels: it was a product of, and a response to, global conjunctures; and it was the work of many authors in different parts of the world.

The production of knowledge in the late eighteenth century was structurally embedded in larger global contexts, and much of the debate about Enlightenment in Europe can be understood as a response to the challenges of global integration. The non-European world was always present in eighteenth-century intellectual discussions. No contemporary genre was more popular and more influential than the travelogue.42 Accounts of the Hurons in North America, of the Polynesian Omai who was taken to England by Captain Cook in 1774, and of the Mandarins at the Chinese court reached a broad readership and found their way into popular culture. Most direct was the impact of the idealization of the reign of the Qing emperors Kangxi (1661–1722) and Qianlong (1736–1795); China was posited as the incarnation of an enlightened and meritocratic society—and instrumentalized for criticisms of absolutist rule in Europe.43

But the appropriation of the world was not confined to its function as a mirror. In many ways, central elements of the cultural transformations that are customarily summarized as “Enlightenment” need to be understood as a reaction to the global entanglements of the times. The expansion of Europe's horizons that had begun in the Age of Discovery and culminated in the voyages of James Cook and Louis de Bougainville resulted in the incorporation of the “world” into European systems of knowledge. In particular, the emergence of the modern sciences can be seen as an attempt to come to terms with global realities. Further examples include the discussions about the character of humanity following the interventions of Bartolomé de las Casas; the idea of the law of nations and an international world order as proposed by Hugo Grotius; the ethnological and geographical explorations of the globe; the comparative study of language and religion; the theories of free trade and the civilizing effects of commerce; and the notions of race, on the one hand, and cosmopolitanism, on the other. The perception of an increasingly interlinked globe posed a cognitive challenge that was gradually met by reorganizing knowledge and the order of the disciplines.44

On this level, the worldliness of the European Enlightenment was not limited to references to distant places, instrumentalized essentially as mirrors of the Self—such as Montesquieu's imagined Orient in his lettres persanes. Neither is it helpful to calculate balances of influence, a kind of cultural import-export sheet that weighs the diffusion of Occidental culture against borrowing from the East—porcelain and tea, but also ideas of a just life. Instead, we need to understand the production of knowledge in the late eighteenth century as fundamentally tied to conditions of globality: as a specific way of incorporating the world in the context of the expansion of European trade relations, the annexation of military and commercial bases and colonies, and the cartographic mapping of the globe. Crucially, these debates did more than merely express the fact of entanglement as such; rather, the particular modes and structures of integration affected the terms that were employed and the theories that were developed. Geopolitical hierarchies, in other words, found their way into the very content of the vocabulary that was devised to think the world. The dichotomies of civilization and barbarism, as well as the discovery of a progressive regime of time and the stadial theories of history, for example, responded not only to the broadening of horizons, but specifically to emerging European hegemony—or, more precisely, to what Europeans perceived as such, even though their traders were still complying with local rules in Asia, and Lord Macartney was compelled to kneel in front of the Chinese emperor.

Enlightenment debates were thus always political moments, never just intellectual appropriations of an abstract world. The invention of “Eastern Europe,” for example, not only represented the stages of civilization prescribed by conjectural history, but was closely tied to power differentials on the Continent.45 And when Hegel defined freedom in terms of master and slave, he reformulated an Aristotelian ontology that should also be placed within the long history of relentless expropriation and slavery that shaped the Atlantic economy.46 The mapping of the world was situated in, and corresponded to, the asymmetrical power relationships that structured the integration of the globe.

The intellectual discussions of eighteenth-century Europe not only were situated in a global context, they were also received, appropriated, and indeed made globally. The history of Enlightenment debates was a history of exchanges and entanglements, of translations and quotations, and of the co-production of knowledge. “Whose Enlightenment was it, anyway?” Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra has asked, and this question can easily be extended beyond the Atlantic world.47 The Enlightenment, as recent scholarship suggests, was the work of many actors and the product of global interactions.

In particular, historians have underscored the global gathering of facts and information and the co-production of modern knowledge regimes. Historians of science have contributed to a broad view of the transregional networks and cross-border circulations that fed into Enlightenment science and world views.48 The geographic reach of these networks was broad, ranging from Latin America all the way to Tibet, Japan, and Oceania.49 But in contrast to an earlier literature that was based on a diffusionist reading of scientific encounters, historians have begun to emphasize the degree to which “scientific knowledge [is made] through co-constructive processes of negotiation of skilled communities and individuals” in many parts of the world, “resulting as much in the emergence of new knowledge forms as in a reconfiguration of existing knowledges and specialized practices on both sides of the encounter.”50

This literature suggests that to a large degree, the production of knowledge in the Age of Enlightenment was not confined to the academy and the laboratory, but came out of forms of “open air science” in a multiplicity of contact zones in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Circulation itself emerged as a central ingredient of knowledge formation. To be sure, these relationships were by no means equal; economically, politically, and militarily, the balance was skewed, usually—but not always—in favor of Europeans. But the asymmetrical conditions of knowledge production did not preclude the active cooperation of a wide variety of actors. “Important parts of what passes off as ‘Western’ science,” concludes Kapil Raj, “were actually made outside the West.”51

The philosophical and political vocabulary of the Enlightenment was also a global creation. In many cases, this was a result of the purposeful reformulation of a particular body of thought and practice associated with the “Enlightenment” in Europe. Thus our attention shifts from the salons in Paris, Berlin, and Naples to the conditions under which cultural elites in Caracas and Valparaiso, in Madras and Cairo, engaged with its claims. Engagement with Enlightenment propositions reached well beyond Western Europe—from Greece and Russia, where Catherine II refashioned herself as an “enlightened monarch” intent on correcting the “irrational” course of history, to Philadelphia, the birthplace of the American Declaration of Independence—a document of global reach, “an instrument, pregnant with our own and the fate of the world,” as Thomas Jefferson contemplated in retrospect.52 In cultural centers such as Lima and Bogotá, small groups of Creole “Enlighteners” (ilustrados) engaged with the ideas of European philosophers while also mining the earlier works of indigenous elites in their quest to challenge crucial assumptions of European Enlightenment rationality and the Eurocentrism of European theories about Latin America.53

The late-eighteenth-century reference to Enlightenment ideas was not confined to the Atlantic world. In other places as well, European expansion set in motion a confrontation with claims for the validity of Enlightenment propositions. In Egypt, for example, Napoleon's expedition served as a trigger for social transformations that harked back to debates about inner-Islamic reform, but now were also legitimized by referring to the authority of the Enlightenment.54 In India, it was Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore and arch-enemy of the British, who fashioned himself an enlightened monarch: he was one of the founding members of the (French) Jacobin Club in Seringapatam, had planted a liberty tree, and asked to be addressed as “Tipu Citoyen.”55

Analytically, it is important to recognize that the widespread engagement with these terms and ideas did not leave them unaffected. As actors in different situations and moments mobilized concepts for their own concerns, their re-articulations set in motion a process of displacement. These reformulations were the product of particular historical situations, but their impact went beyond their local effects. Moments of appropriation were thus frequently instances of programmatic radicalization. The most powerful example of this kind of redefinition was the revolution in Haiti (Saint-Domingue) in 1791, only two years after the fall of the Bastille. As Laurent Dubois phrased it, “The democratic possibilities imperial powers would claim they were bringing to the colonies had in fact been forged, not within the boundaries of Europe, but through the struggles over rights that spread throughout the Atlantic Empires.”56

The most radical revolution of the Age of Revolution had many causes, chief among them structural conflicts in a slaveholder society and the transformations of the Atlantic economy. At the same time, the French Revolution and the symbolic power of the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789 were important reference points. The spokespersons for the rebellious slaves and the gens de couleur frequently formulated their claims in the language of republican rights.57 As important as the transfer of ideas was, the rebellion was not just a distant and peripheral effect of the French Revolution. As recent work has amply demonstrated, it had world-historical significance of its own. It was part of the revolution of the public sphere that spanned the Atlantic and beyond, extending to social groups beyond the bourgeois European elites.58 Most importantly, it reframed the parameters of the debate on human rights, as—the long history of enlightened critique of slavery notwithstanding—the Assemblée nationale in Paris had explicitly denied the extension of civil rights to slaves. The eventual transfer of the rights of man to the slave population “did challenge the ontological and political assumptions of the most radical writers of the Enlightenment.”59 The notion of humanité as it was employed in metropolitan France was based on a largely abstract concern with natural rights; only its refashioning in the Caribbean turned the appeal to “humanity” into the claim with universal reach that it was retrospectively taken to have always been. The universalization of the rights of man—nothing less was at stake—was thus the result of a circulation of ideas and their re-articulation under colonial conditions.60

Finally, the appropriation of concepts and ideas needs to be situated in a broad context of transnational entanglements in which transfers from Europe were only one factor, albeit an important one. The global remaking of Enlightenment claims was a result of the hybridization of ideas and practices. As the example of Haiti shows, the various forms of appropriation were part of complex transcultural flows. Radical claims as formulated in Paris were received and mobilized in Haiti, for example by Toussaint L'Ouverture, the leader of the slave rebellion. Toussaint had read the strident critique of European colonialism in Raynal's multivolume Histoire des deux Indes, and was particularly impressed by Raynal's prediction of the coming of a “Black Spartacus.”61 But Europe was not the sole source of inspiration. Two-thirds of the slaves had been born in Africa and came from diverse political, social, and religious backgrounds. This enabled them to draw on specific notions of kingdom and just government from Western and Central Africa, and to employ religious practices such as voodoo for the formation of revolutionary communities.62 The revolution in Haiti was the result of the triangular trade in the Atlantic world, not only in goods and laborers, but in practices and ideas as well. Events in Haiti, for their part, forced the French National Convention to abolish slavery in 1794. The ripples of this transnational event were again palpable in both Americas, and remained an influential reference globally.63 The processes of mixing and hybridization were characteristic—and indeed constitutive—of the career of Enlightenment ideas and practices. The negotiation of different intellectual and cultural resources was a normal and integral part of this history.

Enlightenment was more than a self-contained moment in European history. As recent scholarship has demonstrated, it was produced in a regime of global synchronicity. But it did not stop there. Moving beyond that literature, it is possible to trace the trajectory of Enlightenment through the nineteenth century. A case can be made, then, for a long history of Enlightenment. Scholars have so far ignored this possibility, assuming that the development of the Enlightenment substantially came to an end around 1800, if not before, and that it resurfaced as an object of scholarly concern only in the 1930s and 1940s.64 But this chronology is Eurocentric, in that it erases the vibrant and heated contestations of “Enlightenment” in the rest of the world, particularly in Asia. Crucially, these debates should not be seen as merely the aftereffects of a foundational moment. Instead, the various reformulations of Enlightenment standards were part of its continuous history.65

Such a claim may immediately evoke two objections. Was this still “the Enlightenment,” and are we justified in subsuming a variety of debates in places such as India, the Philippines, and Korea under that rubric? And if so, was this not essentially a process of diffusion, a process by which a template of thoughts and ideas was transferred from Europe to the rest of the world? This second concern would also suggest that there is not much to learn about the Enlightenment by following the history of its dissemination.

Let us bracket the latter issue for a moment and address the question of the Enlightenment's substance. Do nineteenth-century global appropriations of Enlightenment shed light on “Enlightenment itself”? This question is wrongly put, as it assumes an essential and firmly fixed Enlightenment. Such an axiomatic definition forecloses every possibility of global perspectives, as it reads all variations as deficit and lack. But Enlightenment was not a thing; rather, we should ask what historical actors did with it. Enlightenment should not be confused with an analytical category. It was primarily a concept used to formulate and legitimize particular claims. “Scholars should not try for a slightly better definition,” Frederick Cooper has said in his discussion of the term “modernity.” “They should instead listen to what is being said in the world.” Thus, if Enlightenment is “what they hear, they should ask how it is being used and why.”66

Indeed, when social reformers around the globe tapped into Enlightenment rhetoric, they were able to filter a multiplicity of claims through its vocabulary. For some, the concept denoted a commitment to reason, to “improvement,” and some kind of emancipation, however differently defined. But “Enlightenment” was also employed to dismantle tariffs and to create private property in land; it was invoked to legitimize free love and to allow the remarriage of widows; it was quoted in support of the reform of penal systems and spawned discussions on national character; it was cited as authorizing the introduction of department stores, the use of underwear, the spread of pocket watches and of horizontal script, and the introduction of the Western calendar. “Whenever we open our mouths,” confessed the Japanese reformer Tsuda Mamichi in the 1870s, “it is to speak of ‘enlightenment.’ ”67

This implies that over the course of its global career, the label “Enlightenment” became to some degree detachable from the notions and ideas with which it was first associated. Thus, for example, the secularizing impulse of the label could be turned on its head: “There is no religion in the world today that promotes enlightenment as does Christianity,” Tsuda insisted in words that would have elicited a scowl from Voltaire and Diderot in the eighteenth century—and from Jonathan Israel in the twenty-first.68 This should not simply be discarded as a cultural misunderstanding. We cannot understand the global manifestations of Enlightenment by comparing them with an abstract blueprint, but only by looking at the concrete constellations in which “Enlightenment” was invoked—as authority, goal, or warning. It is less important, in other words, to compare the demands of, say, Philippine ilustrados diachronically with tenets of eighteenth-century Europe than it is to understand what labeling them as part of a Philippine “Enlightenment” implied in the closing years of the nineteenth century.

As dazzling as the variety of references was, it was not indiscriminate. When social reformers tapped into its vocabulary, references were sometimes explicitly to “Enlightenment” and vernacular equivalents of the term. But we do not always find that word. Once a set of ideas had been established and associated with the Enlightenment, it was also possible to appropriate it elsewhere without using the same vocabulary. In these cases, too, reformist elites drew on a specific group of ideas, texts, and authors, frequently sparked by translation movements of various kinds. Works by figureheads of the movement—Rousseau and Voltaire, Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin, but also Fukuzawa Yukichi and Liang Qichao—were made available to local audiences through publications and translations. Thus we can treat these debates about improvement and change as related but not converging phenomena—even if the labels attached to them ranged from “Enlightenment,” as in East Asia, to “Renaissance,” as in Bengal and the Arab world.

Nor was the chronology of these debates accidental. The timing typically corresponded to moments in which local crises were linked to the deep social transformations triggered by the integration of these societies into the world economy and imperialist order.69 In such moments of domestic and external urgency, proponents of change linked their claims for social renewal both to traditional resources and to the newly available Enlightenment discourse in order to link their programs of social reform to the authority of European power. In parts of India, in the context of the self-styled “Bengal Renaissance,” tenets of the post-Enlightenment reform era were discussed as early as the 1820s. Rammohan Roy, the most influential actor in the Bengali engagement with the West, fused different traditions in his project of social reform that made him a proponent of a “religion of reason,” as Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling called him.70 In the Ottoman Empire, the texts of the French philosophes emerged as an important point of reference in the 1830s, while the introduction of these classics into public debate had to wait until mid-century. As a result, Young Ottomans such as Namik Kemal legitimized their cause by referencing the works of Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu.71 In Egypt, Rifa al-Tahtawi was nominated in 1841 to head the translation bureau (Tercüme Odasi) and oversaw the publication of hundreds of European works in the Arabic language.72 In 1870s Japan, the journal Meiroku zasshi introduced crucial new terms such as “rights,” “freedom,” and “economy” to a larger public, while Fukuzawa Yukichi's bestselling Conditions in the West discussed Western institutions, customs, and material culture.73 In Qing China, Yan Fu emerged as the most prominent translator—of works by Thomas Huxley, Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer, Montesquieu, and others—since the 1890s.74

As a consequence of this shifting chronology, debates did not always focus on the same issues. This was primarily because the local contexts in which the term was invoked changed considerably, from 1820s Bengal to 1890s Korea. Moreover, the reference itself changed, too. “Enlightenment” did not mean the same thing in the 1830s that it had in the eighteenth century, and by the 1880s its connotations had been further transformed. As Enlightenment ideas were articulated across the globe, they were gradually fused with other strands of thinking, some of which had originally been formulated against them. Particularly important was the impact of liberalism, of utilitarianism along the lines of John Stuart Mill, of Darwinian and Spencerian evolutionism, and of positivist philosophy as outlined by Comte, often popularized by global bestsellers such as Samuel Smiles's Self-Help, and the more specialized handbooks by authors such as Frédéric Bastiat and Henry Wheaton. As a result of this merging of vocabularies, the conceptual content of “Enlightenment” changed, too. The focus now was less on individual consciousness liberated from religious fetters and state oppression, and more on collective and national projects of technical and material improvement. By the 1880s, an unequivocal notion of material progress was firmly entrenched and had lost the sense of ambivalence, and of the possibility of nonlinear alternatives, that had still been present in the eighteenth century. And as paradoxical as it might seem, the inclusion and grafting of different strands of thought helped turn the many Enlightenments of the eighteenth century into the singular “hyperreal” Enlightenment of the 1880s.75 It came to be embraced by a wide variety of actors. Many of them used the terms “Enlightenment” and “civilization” almost interchangeably; at times, they avoided both and merely employed a vocabulary of reform. In Japan, for example, the term keimō (“Enlightenment”) increasingly gave way to kaika, with its strong overtones of social evolutionism.76

Figure 4:

One thought on “Essays On Ottoman Historians And Historiography Of American

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *