A past to be forgotten? Writing Ottoman history in early republican Turkey

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Abstract

Scholars of modern Turkish history have long asserted that Ottoman history and historiography were effectively silenced by the Kemalist elite in the early republican period. According to the existing scholarship, the Kemalist nation-builders regarded the new republic as the exact opposite of the ‘cosmopolitan’ Ottoman Empire, discrediting it as an illegitimate ancien régime. As a result of this break with the Ottoman past, which entailed the destruction or silencing of everything recalling it, the study of Ottoman history was discouraged and Ottoman historians were pushed to the margins of academic and intellectual life by the single-party regime. This article problematizes this widely accepted and oft-repeated argument that not only derives from but also reproduces the stereotyped perspectives on modern Turkish history. Focusing on the historical literature produced in the 1920s and 1930s, exploring the relationship between the single-party regime and Ottoman historians, and examining the temper and content of contemporary works on Ottoman history, this article aims to present a more nuanced picture of early republican Turkish history and historical writing, and argues that Ottoman historiography, which had already received a nationalized vocabulary and agenda before the republican era, continued to flourish in its own realm throughout all this period.

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APA

Sönmez, E. (2021). A past to be forgotten? Writing Ottoman history in early republican Turkey. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 48(4), 753–769. https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2020.1714428

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