If you're surprised that I'm presenting about the Ottomans, I have to admit I am too. I've always had an interest in Asian culture and I used to teach about art and religion from India, China, and Japan, but I was less familiar with the Ottoman world. Ever since I took a course last semester on the Ottoman Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries, however, I have become fascinated by their interactions with the British during the 19th century. I'm particularly interested in Sultan Abdülmecid, whom you see here (image courtesy of Wikipedia; painting in the Pera Museum in Istanbul). He reigned in Istanbul from 1839 to 1861. There is a lot one could say about this Sultan, but Wikipedia gives a pretty good summary. Since the anonymous author provides citations and an extensive amount of detailed information, I suspect the fact he had 24 wives in his harem must be true. What the entry doesn't talk about is his court favorite, Serefnaz Hanım, presumably his homosexual lover. One of my favorite quotes about this relationship comes from Çelik Gülersoy, who writes in Dolmabahçe: Palace and It's [sic] Environs (Istanbul, 1990): "When, on one occasion, the government had with the greatest difficulty managed to scrape together fifteen thousand gold purses to pay some of the wage debt they owed the construction workers, Abdümecid gave five thousand of these to Serefnaz Hanim, with whom he was infatuated at the time, and then had to distribute vast amounts of gold to his wives and concubines to keep them quiet.” (p.55)
Here is my abstract for the conference paper. Since I first submitted it, I have modified it somewhat. It's such an enormous topic that I had to make some cuts and modify my methodology a bit. In any case, wish me luck! I'll report next week about some of the other papers at the symposium.
Turkish Delights: The British, the Ottoman Turks, and the Great Exhibition of 1851
Roberto C. Ferrari
On May 1, 1851, the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations officially opened in London’s Hyde Park. When it closed in October, the Crystal Palace had welcomed in over six million visitors to see the products of Great Britain and other nations. Although it was not the first industrial fair, the Great Exhibition was truly the first world’s fair, as foreign lands were asked to display their own national examples of products for public consumption. Among the more eager international participants were the Ottoman Turks. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire had been Europe’s most formidable enemy, but by the eighteenth century they were smaller and a less serious threat. By the mid-1800s, the Ottoman Turks were regularly interacting with Western Europe, and Great Britain was one of their closest allies. Although they had helped liberate Greece from the Turks, the British now worked with the Ottomans to help modernize their empire, encouraging the Tanzimat reformation laws that forever transformed Turkey, and in 1854 fighting with them against the Russians in the Crimean War. Thus, the 1851 Great Exhibition was for the Ottoman Turks an excellent opportunity to display not only their empire’s industrial productivity, but also their strong ties with Great Britain.
Situated in a prime location in the Crystal Palace, at the northeast corner where the nave and transept intersected, their pavilion was boldly labeled “Turkey.” It was large in size, surpassed only by India among the Eastern nations. Arranged like an Eastern bazaar, the pavilion hosted a panoply of Turkish delights, from spices, animal skins, and swords, to hookahs, embroidered silks, and a sled. Yet, despite the pavilion’s size and impressive display, it is startling that over the past 150 years few (if any) scholars have considered the impact of the Ottoman Turks and their pavilion at the Great Exhibition. Indeed, the historiography on the fair largely has focused on, not surprisingly, what the Great Exhibition tells us about Victorian British culture. Only recently have scholars such as Jeffrey Auerbach, Lara Kriegel, and others begun to consider the international scope of the Great Exhibition, and much of this discussion has been on India because of its importance as a British colony. Until late 2008, no article in English had discussed the Ottoman Turks at the fair. This new article by Francesca Vanke considers their presence from a historical perspective; however, she neglects to incorporate the visual culture that provides us with insight into Anglo-Turkish relations at this time.
In this paper, then, I will discuss some of these examples of visual culture, such as published lithographs of the Turkish pavilion and its wares, the architectural floor plan of the pavilion, and an illustrated guide to the fair that was written for children. More importantly, and thus coursing through this discussion, will be an assessment of Edward Said’s ideas about colonialist attitudes towards the East, first published in his book Orientalism in 1978. Scholars have taken to heart Said’s theories, with Linda Nochlin’s subsequent groundbreaking work among the more demonstrative examples of Orientalist attitudes in Western art. However, in more recent years, other scholars such as Emily Weeks have begun to redress Said’s (and thus Nochlin’s) essentialism in art historical discourse. Ultimately, by considering some of the primary source material in English on the Ottomans, such as news articles from the London Times and the works of visual culture mentioned above, I will demonstrate that indeed both Saidian and post-Saidian interpretations are necessary and apparent in an examination of Anglo-Turkish relations and the Ottoman presence at the Great Exhibition. Indeed, the products of the Ottomans—their Turkish delights—were greatly welcomed, as long as their producers—the Turks—knew their place and didn’t intend to stay.