College of Liberal Arts

The Material Culture of Poverty: Cristina Trivulzio’s Account of Life in Mid-nineteenth Century Central Anatolia

Friday Mar 24, 2017 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM | CLA 1.302B

Studies of nineteenth-century material culture in the Ottoman lands normally focus on Istanbul and a few coastal cities, where some artifacts survive in museums and a few buildings from the late Ottoman period are open to visitors. However, the material conditions of a limited group of well-to-do inhabitants in cities like Istanbul, Izmir or Salonika should not be taken as a norm for the country as a whole. Inland towns such as Ankara, Kayseri, or Konya by contrast, often suffered great want.  How did this economic crisis translate into material life? To answer this question, I examine the work of the Italian traveler Cristina Trivulzio (1808-71), who came to the Ottoman Empire as a political exile, after the attempt to found an Italian state had failed in 1848-49.  Still a woman of means despite her hasty flight, Trivulzio acquired a landholding near Taşköprü in northern Central Anatolia, where she spent several years. In the winter of 1851-52, she decided to take her young daughter to Jerusalem; and on the way, she and her small escort passed through Ankara, where they stayed for two weeks, before continuing to Kayseri and from there to Syria and Palestine. On the way back, they did not return to Ankara, but stopped to visit Konya.  Cristina Trivulzio’s accounts debunk the notion, widespread in Europe, that the women of small-town notable families lived luxurious lives.  Her observations on mundane matters - like windows and heating arrangements, the costumes and accoutrements of various people she encountered, and most interestingly, the relationships between local people and their domestic animals - reveal the prejudices of an educated European aristocrat toward ‘the other’.  Yet, the Ottoman documentation on the Ankara region of the mid-1800s, surviving in Ottoman archives, shows that Trivulzio was a good observer. After the fighting between local power-holders and Mahmud II on the one hand, and the drought of 1845 and the resulting flight of the local population on the other, poverty and the attendant dirt and decay were indeed ubiquitous. Trivulzio’s detailed account of the survival skills of local people shows how the inhabitants of Central Anatolia tried to make the best out of a strictly limited number of goods and generalized poverty.

Educated at the universities of Hamburg, Istanbul and Bloomington/Indiana, Suraiya Faroqhi has taught English (1971-72) and history at Middle East Technical University, Ankara (1972-87) and served as a professor of Ottoman Studies at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany (1988-2007). Since her retirement from LMU she has worked as a professor in the Department of History at Istanbul Bilgi University (2007-17).  She has received several fellowships and held visiting positions at Dartmouth College, Moscow State University, Al al-Bayt University in Jordan, the University of Minnesota, Fatih and Boğaziçi Universities in Istanbul, the American University in Cairo, and most recently at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.  In 2014 she was awarded the "WOCMES Award for Outstanding Contributions to Middle Eastern Studies 2014" by the "International Advisory Council of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies” (WOCMES). Her most recent publications include:   The Ottoman Empire and the World Around it, 1540s to 1774 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004); Artisans of Empire. Crafts and Craftspeople under the Ottomans (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009); A Cultural History of the Ottomans: The imperial elite and its artefacts (London: I. B. Tauris, 2016). 

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