Gülay Yılmaz, Associate Professor (Akdeniz Üniversity, Department of History)
The Devshirme System of the Ottoman Empire, 1450-1650

Devshirme recruitment, Arifi, Süleymanname, Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi, H. 1517.

The goal of this project is to produce an authoritative scholarly monograph on the devshirme, a system of slavery that was crucial to the formation of the Ottoman Empire, yet remains insufficiently understood. For centuries, the Ottomans levied children from the Christian population of the Empire. These children were converted to Islam, educated and taught Turkish, and eventually placed in administrative and military posts. Accounts of the devshirme institution by Ottoman historians have focused predominantly on Ottoman statesmen of devshirme origin, or the most famous “end product” of the slavery regime, the janissary army. Instead, the current project will shift the attention to imperial politics of recruitment, its connection with the ruling methods in the Balkans, and to the children and youth caught up in these politics. It will examine the agency of these overlooked historical actors, analyze the embodied experiences of this institution of slavery as both an Ottoman phenomenon and as part of contemporary global forced labor regimes. This project will employ underutilized archival records, such as the unique levy register of 1603-4, salary registers, narrative sources, as well as miniatures to provide a critical account of the devshirme system from the mid-fifteenth century up to its demise in the mid-seventeenth century.

Audrey Wozniak, M.A. (Harvard University)
A Discipline for the Nation: Turkish Classical Music Choirs in History and Practice

Cumhurbaşkanlığı Klasik Türk Müziği Korosu (Presidential Classical Turkish Music Chorus) Concert, Istanbul, November 2021. Photographer: Audrey Wozniak.

My research project is concerned with an extraordinary but overlooked musical phenomenon in Turkish classical music that emerged in tandem with the establishment of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923: the formation of many state-run and amateur choirs throughout the new Republic, which also entailed a fundamental shift in the musical genre and performance practice. My central argument is that seemingly extramusical social and political during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and in the burgeoning Turkish Republic were reflected in these emerging Turkish classical music choirs, which prove to be valuable sociocultural microcosms within which anxieties and contentions over (individual and national) identity play out in rehearsal and performance practices.

Using ethnographic and archival research methods, my work traces the historical phenomenon of the choir as an ensemble format in Turkish classical music over the course of the last century as well its widespread present manifestations in Turkish and diasporic urban contexts. My project is the first to center Turkish classical music choirs as sites in which contestations of “Turkishness” and concerns about political, cultural, social values continue to be performed. I aim for my work of documenting the cultural and political significance of Turkish classical music to have long-term national and international impacts by demonstrating how a manifestation of Turkish cultural heritage has meaning for Turkish citizens and Turks around the world.