Monthly Archives: February 2008

‘Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters…’

Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800.
Robert C. Davis.
London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

In this compact yet detailed volume, Robert Davis presents a fairly straight-forward description of slavery in the early-modern Mediterranean. The text is divided into chapters which run through the material without serious regard to chronology, each one intended to communicate a particular facet of the Christian slave’s experience at the hands of Barbary pirates and Maghrebi slaveholders. Unfortunately, he does so in a way that occludes most of the complexities, and eschews most of the theoretical sophistication, that such a topic deserves. Indeed, the book shows nary a hint of the multi-cultural sensitivities or critical nuances that are becoming almost clichéd in this field. The narrative is instead reminiscent of another era of scholarship, when it was possible blithely to echo the sentiments of pre-modern polemicists, and to ignore the vast literature on a not-inconsiderable portion of the book’s subject matter: the Arab and Ottoman culture of North Africa.

Setting out to determine the exact contours of Christian enslavement in North Africa, Davis begins by trying to piece together some estimate of the enterprise’s scale. (ch.1) Although many more were captured (there was, after all, a significant mortality rate), he determines that there were approximately 35,000 Christian slaves in the three main Barbary cities over the seventeenth century, with less certain figures for other periods. (15) His use of sources in arriving at this number is impressive for its thoroughness, and for his efforts to see through the self-serving inflation that affected a good many of those sources. He does, however, make absolutely no use of Muslim sources in his calculations, even though he admits that we have extant material from at least the eighteenth century. (One searches his notes in vain for a single reference to an Ottoman or Arab source.) Having established the extent of the operations, he proceeds to describe the activity of raiders, both in the waters of the Mediterranean and along the littoral regions of (primarily) Italy and the various islands. (ch.2) Along the way, he manages to dismiss the cultural influence of Europeans on North African society, and to misrepresent conversion to Islam in fairly gross terms. In the former case, he states that — despite Christian converts making up one-eighth of the free population of Algiers — any cultural influences were “obliterated” by the nineteenth century colonial experience and “nearly fifty years of self-rule” (26), though he later wants to argue for a long-term cultural impact of slavery on the European side of the Sea: “Unquestionably… the psychological trauma of enslavement or its threat left a mark on the culture of the Christian Mediterranean.” (173) Davis can see a long-term socio-cultural impact of slavery in Italy (though he offers no studies of this), and yet recognizes no shared cultural features with the modern Maghreb?

Far worse is his treatment of conversion, which he seems to treat as either irrational or motivated by self-preservation, depending on where the convert chose to remain for the rest of his life. Davis fails to recognize, in observing converts who later rose to command corsair expeditions, that such individuals might have any honest motives; he alludes to a patina of “false zeal” intended to impress Muslim compatriots, and expresses confusion as to how the “real or imagined wrongs of rejection, abandonment, or persecution” could lead one to target local lords or churchmen. (42-3) Not only does he fail to appreciate obvious class elements, through which a European peasant once in a position of power might turn against a feudal overlord, but he utterly neglects the potential appeal of a meritocratic social order in which a peasant — or former slave — could rise to command a fleet of ships, and having done so, might genuinely hold the unrelenting hierarchies of Christendom in contempt. He seems honestly to have no explanation in mind for the “surprisingly strong” attraction that some former slaves had to the “freewheeling world of the Barbary cities”. (99) In a related point, Davis very strangely describes the desecration of shrines and churches as “violating all spiritual norms”; but desecration of shrines to competing traditions has been a consistent feature of Judeo-Christian history from its very earliest days, and was certainly the norm during the period he studies. Even more curious is his assertion that the “practical aim” of littoral raids may have been the propagation and perpetuation of an image of the Moor as “Satan’s personal agents in the tormenting of Christians”; does he really think that Muslims saw themselves as Satan’s agents? (41-2)

The next two chapters use the accounts of ex-captives, missionary and “redemptive” priests (those involved in freeing slaves), and (for lack of a better term) consular personnel of various states, in order to sketch an portrait of life as a slave in the Maghreb. The material he brings together here is often fascinating, yet again, without even an attempt to mine non-Christian sources, it is difficult to take all of the various particulars with the level of credulity that Davis shows at times. Indeed, even though he notes the questions others have raised about the accuracy of his sources on the matter of brutality, he simply asserts that slavery must have been arbitrary and cruel, dealing in random, terroristic violence, but his only directly-cited sources on this are of North American slavery! (133) It may well be that slavery was equally inhuman in the Barbary states, but outside the European polemics that he draws upon, how can we know? This highlights again the limitations of his source base, and may help to explain his startling representation of sodomy in North Africa. Still unable to understand why any sane person would forsake his former home to remain in a Muslim country, he suggests that it “may not be too far fetched to conclude that some who… left Christendom, with its harsh strictures against homosexual practices… came to the Maghreb… for what they saw as the region’s sexual liberality”. (127) Not only is the category of “homosexual” almost nonsensical prior to the modern era, but Davis must be unaware of the equally “harsh strictures” in Islamic discourse on homosexual conduct. Though there was unquestionably a public recognition of the sexual relationship many men had with boys and younger men, this was certainly a far cry from gay bathhouse culture, which seems to be how Davis would characterize Algiers at this time!

Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters is a difficult work to review fairly, as its many virtues were — for this reader — frequently obscured by its manifold defects. Davis actually argues that the extent of Christian enslavement has been infrequently broached “because it never served anyone’s purpose to know or even guess at the answer.” (193) This is, to put it mildly, difficult to believe. Only in the last few pages does the book begins to show any sincere effort to integrate the history of European enslavement in the Mediterranean with the global history of slavery, which was ostensibly the study’s main purpose. Here Davis tries to engage with the racial components attached to the condition of slavery, particularly by Americans, but does so in a way that — as throughout the book — does not approach the theoretical subtlety that such a study seems to require. On the whole, this book presents a wealth of original research on the European experience of slavery, but the author’s analysis is often hampered by a lack of sufficient scepticism towards his sources, by the negligible presence of critical theories of race and slavery, and by an apparent lack of substantive knowledge on the cultural dynamics of Ottoman and Maghrebi society.

‘The Imperial Harem’

The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire.
Leslie P. Peirce.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

In a well-argued and defended study, Leslie Peirce contends that the exercise of political power by women in the sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire was an inevitable outgrowth of the dynasty’s political traditions, and not the aberration it has been taken to be. This requires her to recast the fictionally-embellished harem as “a sanctuary or sacred precinct” (4), and to argue that the word harem “is a term of respect, redolent of religious purity and honor, and evocative of the requisite obeisance.” (5) Despite working to ground her hypotheses in the traditional culture of the Turkish rulers, Peirce’s thesis bravely risks exceeding the direct evidence by reading the sexual politics of the Ottoman sultanate in a way that makes more sense to a twenty-first century audience than it might have to a seventeenth-century commentator. But in doing so, she challenges not only the Orientalist image of Ottoman rulers as ‘degenerate’, but brings into question the supposedly-minimal parts that women have played in politics and governance throughout the world.

Following an introduction which careful interrogates popular (mis)conceptions circulating about the Ottoman harem, Peirce spends five chapters on the historical background underlying her thesis. She describes first the cultural milieu in which the House of Osman rose to power in thirteenth-century Anatolia. As an explanation for the unprecedented durability of the Ottoman dynasty in the Muslim world, she posits an enduring loyalty of subjects for their ruling family which derived from two distinct sources: the “Turco-Mongol traditions of pre-Islamic Central Asia”, wherein “sovereignty was held to be granted by the divine power to a family chosen for earthly rule”; and “the classical Islamic tradition that G-d gives to whomever he chooses a turn at sovereignty.” (15-6) That these traditions would have been operating in numerous dynasties which did collapse is left unmentioned. But much more importantly, she talks up the Ottoman womens’ “exercise of sovereign authority through their roles within the family.” (17) Here she draws on familiar sources to discuss the part played by mothers in preparing their sons for power — and guiding them in its exercise — as well as their service as regents to youthful sultans, and as power-brokers within the Ottoman bureaucracy. All of this is placed within a political patrimony which was deeply sexualized in its expression; where “sexual maturity and political maturity were inextricable, and political control involved control of sexuality.” (19)

The relevant sixteenth century background is broken into two phases: an “Age of the Favorite” (ch. 3), in which women jockeyed for position in order to boost the chances of their sons in a bloody contest for the throne, and an “Age of the Queen Mother” (ch. 4), in which succession has shifted to favour the eldest surviving heir, and in which women were vitally active in the political process. This activity ranged from participation in inter-dynastic diplomacy (ch.8) to keeping their sons out of the sultan’s displeasure, and hence alive to succeed him. (230) This occasionally involved the cultivation of extensive networks of power and influence, exercised in part through a legitimating bond with the sultan, but also independently of him — one example being the widely-reviled Safiye, mother of Mehmed III. (241-3) Critically, Peirce observes that we have few historical sources for life within the harem, and that historians need to turn to European sources (e.g., correspondence and the observations of courtly visitors) for information (113-4). More fundamentally, Peirce argues that modern historiography has taken on board a number of prejudicial interpretive frames from the polemical tracts of seventeenth-century reformers, and that whilst these have been useful to Eurocentric phantasies about Ottoman depravity, they are not particularly valuable as representative descriptions of the sixteenth century harem. (154-5)

Approaching the sources without these documents allows Peirce creatively to re-interpret several aspects of Ottoman culture and ceremony in a way that increases womens’ actual place in the exercise of royal sovereignty. Some of these are mildly problematic, such as her wish to find a deeper meaning in the observation that the title ‘sultan’ was used to refer to most members of the royal family, including the women. Other facets are on much stronger ground, however. Peirce rejects the simple dichotomy between private and public spheres which has shaped modern views of gender relations (6-7) to argue that, despite being physically concealed from view, the royal womens’ presence increased along with their access to political power, through larger retinues and processions, and through public endowments (as for mosques). (186+) She also places the increased prominence of the valide sultan (‘queen mother’) in the context of the gradual removal of the sultan from public view; i.e., “In a period when it was deemed politically useful for the sultan to remain aloof… promotion of royal women helped to compensate the populace for the paucity of sultanic ceremonial.” (216) With the end of open war for the succession and the institution of an orderly succession by seniority, Peirce argues that there was a corresponding decline in the bond between the ruler and his sons, and a strengthening of the rôle played by the mothers of princes. (ch 9.) Intriguingly, she speculates that the actual shift from conflict to semi-orderly transitions may have been instigated by the favourite of Ahmed I, in order to protect the lives of her own sons. (232)

By drawing attention to such things as the public honouring of Khadija, first wife of the Prophet (204), Peirce makes the pronouncements of the ulema against women in public life “prescriptive” rather than “descriptive”. (270) Following other scholars in using court records with active female plaintiffs, evidence of home schooling, and exercise of property rights, a gradually picture emerges of women as both publically engaged and privately segregated. (concl.) As she positions the household as the “fundamental unit of political as well as social organization”, power was intimately bound up with position within the family (285); and in such an environment women might excel in complementary ways, fostering a complex interplay of factions competing for influence within the family and beyond.

‘Islam In Britain, 1558-1685’

Islam in Britain, 1558-1685.
Nabil Matar.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Nabil Matar’s compact yet stunningly-detailed study outlines the cultural interaction between British and Islamic civilizations, from the beginning of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, through the Civil War years, and up to the end of Charles II’s Restoration. It builds upon a vast array of primary sources, ranging through published sermons, travel journals, poetry and drama, diplomatic correspondence, and political tracts. Throughout he seeks to invert (in this period) the basic thesis of Edward Said’s Orientalism, arguing that in the early modern it was Western Europe that stood on the weaker side of the colonial relationship, and that rather than having the liberty to redefine the world to fit within its own shadow, Britain (and Europe) were forced to fashion their identity in relation to a dominant civilization. It almost certainly exceeds his own ambitions, but the book can also be read in a way which subverts that theoretical binary, as the documentary evidence in his text points to a complicated relationship which may defy easy generalizations.

The first chapter alone may be worth the price of the book, as it samples a vast array of primary sources to provide an astonishing portrait of British subjects converting to Islam. Often dismissed in other accounts as primarily taking place under duress (as for the sake of self-preservation during captivity) or sexual temptation (as through the wiles of ‘Turkish’ women), Matar documents a broad range of motivations for conversion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and brings to light sufficient examples of wilful and deliberate conversion to answer this canard. He does not deny or diminish the rationale of ‘dishonest’ converts, or that many times they were effected by force (as at the hands of Barbary pirates); but he does provide a compelling argument for conversions motivated by free personal choice, ranging from the appeal to the low-born of a meritocratic society(*) (43), to admiration for Ottoman military strength (15), to a simple preference for Qur’anic theology.

Matar follows this with a discussion of the images produced of “renegades” (converts) within British literature. He argues that, with merchants and officials unwilling to take up the challenge of Islam to Christianity, it fell to playwrights and poets to excoriate apostasy and vilify those who chose that path (50-1). This image of converts as a “generic evil” was “as much an invention of the English imagination as the Machiavellian malefactor, the Faustian atheist or the Moor” (52), and the stage was fashioned into a field on which Islam could be defeated (unlike the battlefield) and where perfidious converts could be destroyed. (58) In the third chapter he shifts from one form of literature to another, tracing the slow infiltration of Arabic and Qur’anic materials into English translation and use. He places the first significant English translation of the Qur’an into the context of the English Civil War, as the author — despite liberal doses of anti-Muslim bigotry — managed to place Islamic civilization in a more favourable light vis-à-vis the Cromwellian régime. (79-80)

The fourth chapter deals with a somewhat more familiar topic: largely unsuccessful efforts by Christian missionaries to convert Muslims. The most intriguing discussion in this chapter is of the approach taken by the Quakers, who chose to forsake criticism of Islam as heretical in order to focus on the “inner light of reason” that Christians and Muslims shared. (134-5) Indeed, the placement of such attempts in their proper context — internal conflicts within Christianity — does offer a number of key insights, such as the presumed pro-Ottoman bias in English foreign policy (as against the Catholic dynasties), and the way in which various denominations used the few converts they did receive in order to argue for the imminent victory of their sect against all others. (123-4, 125) In his final chapter, Matar follows this theme of religious gamesmanship into the arena of apocalyptic eschatology. He documents the use of Islam, and phantasies of Islamic conversion to Christianity, in the millenarian movements that were becoming increasingly popular in the seventeenth century. In what appears an intriguing prefiguration of the right-wing ideology of “Christian Zionism”, Matar describes in some detail the way that a Jewish “Restoration” was presented and popularized in millenarian literature, managing even to connect a movement in British Protestantism to the Palestinian “mystical messiah” Sabbatai Sevi, whose actions and intent were gleefully misinterpreted. (ch. 5; 177-9) Despite the desire of most British Jews to attain equal rights at ‘home’, Christian authors wrote enthusiastically about the Jews being somehow “willing to undertake a Christian crusade” in Palestine against the Ottomans, after which they would convert en masse to Protestantism. The delusional character of such a scenario at the time should give us pause, given the way that policies continue to be warped by the popularity of apocalyptic Zionism in the United States.

Matar concludes his enlightening and widely relevant study by returning to Said’s power-driven binary opposition, noting that as the Ottoman Empire declined in stature after the seventeenth century the treatment of Islam in British thought and culture underwent a significant revision. He suggests that the emergence of philo-semitism in British thought was possible largely because the Jews had been powerless for so long, and that it was precisely that history of conflict between Islam and the West that prevented Muslims from being included in the gradual liberalisation of British laws governing religious minorities. If this argument holds up over time, it could prove a substantial contribution to more recent debates about the place of Islam within European society, and the ease with which Islam is stigmatized when so many other irrational prejudices have been put to rest. Indeed, the book’s only significant flaw may be its dependence on the kind of oppositional thinking that drove Said. As the widely-variable nature of the texts cited by Matar should demonstrate, relations between European Christian culture and the Muslim world are infinitely more complex and nuanced than such an elegant theoretical model can accommodate.

*. In an irony lost on Christians at the time, the appeal to many of the Islamic disregard for the social station of converts is strongly reminiscent of the appeal of early Christianity, which depended upon slaves and women in much of its initial spread through the Roman world.

‘Venetians In Constantinople’

Venetians in Constantinople: Nation, Identity, and Coexistence in the Early Modern Mediterranean.
Eric R. Dursteler.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

In another welcome contribution to a growing literature on mutual influence and peaceful relations between Europe and the Muslim world, Eric Dursteler’s first book is an uneven but well-aimed complication of human identity in the early-modern period. As he notes, the history of conflict has — from Herodotus to Huntington — always been a profitable topic, but the “moments and mechanisms of coexistence have largely been overlooked.” (151) By focussing on a handful of locations where there was significant contact between the Ottomans and Christian Europeans, such as Galata (a suburb of Istanbul) and the Venetian overseas empire, he hopes to tease from the sources a significant case for his assertion that, rather than conflict, “coexistence and symbiosis”, and indeed syncretism, were “almost certainly the quotidian norm rather than the exception.” (11, 12)

His argument is founded in an approach to identity which avoids essentializing from any of its common bases, such as religion, nation, and ethnicity. In his reading, identity in the early modern was “multilayered, multivalent, and composite”, and for any who doubt the value of taking this more abstract line he offers a succinct defence: “Studying individual and group identities as process rather than object, as fluid rather than fixed, reveals a picture that, while often contradictory and ambiguous, nonetheless gives us a much more historically sensitive and accurate image of the premodern, prenational world.” (20, 105) His decision to limit the applicability of this model we will take up later, but the text does manage to carry his theme quite effectively through several sectors of Mediterranean society: officials, merchants, the marginalized and hybridized, the cosmopolitan urbanite. Within each he returns to familiar themes, such as the “porous … frontiers of faith” and the natural tendency of we social animals to accommodate ourselves to our immediate surroundings. The argument is equally convincing in some of the more obvious subjects, such as Jews and slaves, as in the less well-known Venetian exile community of Galata. Apparently, “exile was a key means of punishment” in Venice, and given the extent of relations and the presence of a friendly (and officially recognized) Venetian political entity in Istanbul, large numbers of banished citizens settled there. (70)

Dursteler seems to prefigure contemporary debates over immigration in his discussion of the “Venetian made” rather than “Venetian born” and their increasing dominance of the Eastern trade. (60) The Venetian Republic established a far-flung empire of islands and littoral enclaves encompassing a tremendous cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity, and held these lands together without strictly mandating conversion (religious or cultural) as a precondition of nationality. This approach was echoed in the Republic’s greatest trading partner, the Ottoman Empire, which — though almost entirely Muslim in the upper echelons of power — was astonishingly tolerant of other faiths within its domains. (e.g., 181) Moreover, despite common stereotypes of Muslim disdain for commerce and exploration, from mediaeval polemicists to the seemingly-wilful ignorance of Bernard Lewis et al., Dursteler shows an Islamic polity eagerly engaged in mutual trade and cultural interchange with its European neighbours. (160) And it is perhaps that Ottoman willingness to borrow the ideas of neighbouring states and resolutely ‘meritocratic’ approach to promotion and administration which is most intriguing in light of subsequent shifts in culture and perception in the Mediterranean.

Dursteler’s treatment of Islam and the Ottomans is derived entirely from secondary sources, but he has done substantial research in Christian archival documents and published accounts of travel and interaction. It is tempting to absolve him of inconsistency in light of that specialization, but there are troubling aspects to his approach which defy such easy explanation. Why is it so difficult for him to provide a rationale for conversion that is even moderately free of Eurocentric language? It is reasonable enough for him to describe many conversions to Islam as being motivated by “poverty, ignorance, oppression, and the hope of better socioeconomic conditions”, but when he fails for the most part to ascribe similar motives to conversion from Islam to Christianity, one begins to smell a rat — even if only a well-worn and unconscious rat. (113) He suggests that most conversion to Islam was “in name only”, whilst offering only a belated and passing reference to the reverse, and in fact couches his entire discussion in Christian language: converts are never called converts, but rather “renegades” (103, etc.). The adoption of such value-laden language seems to speak against his thesis of a fluid and ambiguous identity which avoids essentializing of attributes like religion, by keeping the conversation within the discourse of religion itself. And, in what may seem an almost trivial objection along similar lines, why is Istanbul consistently referred to as Constantinople — to the extent that the former does not even appear in the index? Is it unfair to see in persistent use of the Christian name for the Ottoman capital a recapitulation of the East-West, us-them conflict dynamic that he is ostensibly criticizing?

Finally, a note on his theoretical model. Dursteler’s challenge to the modernist reading of nationalism as exemplified by Eric Hobsbawn, Ernst Gellner, and Benedict Anderson (whose work he mistakenly calls ‘postmodernist’), is refreshing in itself, with so many scholars merely parroting Anderson. (13) Yet he offers little of substance, avoiding mention of alternative theorists of nationalism (of which there are many), and drawing frequent attention to ill-considered restrictions on his own method. Why does he feel the need to limit his insights into identity to a set period? He states that a fluid identity in early modern Mediterranean peoples drove “their ability to accept inconsistency and discontinuity in ways that may seem confusing or impossible in a world such as ours in which rigid religious, racial, sexual, and political boundaries are often conjured.” (152) But these identities were “conjured” in the early modern as well, and if they were incoherent and untenable then, how exactly is to-day any different?

‘The Age of Beloveds…’

The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society.
Walter G. Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı.
Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

In a text whose ambitions belie its overstated modesty, Andrews and Kalpaklı have chosen to argue for a closer integration of Ottoman and European history through the long sixteenth century. Its title contains a clever and useful conceit: namely, that the period in question constitutes an age, and that throughout it “there were significant characteristics of life common to certain classes of people inhabiting a broad area… from the central Ottoman lands to the British Isles.” (304) To illustrate this commonality, they examine love poetry from across the continent, placing this within the context of a sexuality not yet rendered unrecognizable by Victorian social mores, and within which the Classical influences remain clearly visible. Whilst they do not expect fully to answer questions about the basic thesis with these sources, their intervention is designed to stimulate future research. Their hope is that, given translations of this material, theorists should be able to “broaden the scope of their investigations to include the Ottomans”, and cultural historians of the early modern Middle East and Europe might be encouraged to “ignore the particularities and exclusivities” of their respective fields and “contemplate comparative and cooperative studies”. (14, 28)

In a move certain to make the less sexually-secure reader squirm, Andrews and Kalpaklı try to demonstrate that catamite affections were a common feature of Ottoman and late-Renaissance European culture. (18) One underlying reason, they argue, is an inherent gender bias: the so-called “phallocratic” nature of both Christian and Islamic societies (the term is borrowed from Eva Keuls). (12-3) Through the notion of “gendered space” (51) women were marginalized, and men fashioned for themselves approaches to sexuality that were divorced from the act of reproduction. Western women may have lacked the formal protections offered by Islamic law, and were in some ways more overtly oppressed; they were, however, present in the public sphere, with prostitution even reaching the level of high culture in the courtesans of Venice. Although the authors document the extent of homosexual conduct and imagery in the West (119+), we see that women remained the principal images of desire. There is, however, a noteworthy ambiguity, which Andrews and Kalpaklı illustrate with a clever Shakespearean reference: “When all the world’s a stage and women are not allowed on it, then the beloved is always a boy, however dressed.” (22) Yet even this illusion of public femininity would have been unacceptable in Istanbul; in Ottoman lands, “where the norm was for upper-class women… to be kept from the prying eyes of non-family members, it was no compliment… to be singled out as the object of erotic interest.” (43) The virtual absence of women from public spaces was thus one factor driving romantic interest in younger males.

Perhaps just as important was the context within which sexual liasons developed, for the authors stress the desirability of romantic companionship amongst perceived equals. Unlike in the modern West (and modern Turkey, for that matter), where men and women are educated to similar levels and can pursue nearly identical career trajectories, men in the late Renaissance could not expect to find in a woman the fuller intellectual reciprocity of a partnership. Andrews and Kalpaklı observe that “[ultimately] the Ottomans and our Greco-Roman ancestors were in substantial agreement that what was most special about same-sex… attractions and loving relationships lay, not in the mechanics of sexual satisfaction, but in the possibility of a relationship based on mutual understanding and something closer to a balance of power.” (20) And it is here that the difference in sexual culture between the Ottoman and European lands becomes more pronounced, as consensual relations in the West did not enjoy the veil of privacy reflexively granted the Islamic home (17), and Christian anti-sodomy laws grew increasingly harsh from the seventeenth century. (80)

Although the text is primarily concerned to provide carefully annotated poetry and prose excerpts, references to the changing social circumstances are folded seamlessly into the narrative. Most of these, such as the discussion of “comparable economic and political dislocations” in Europe and the Ottoman empire stemming from the tide of precious metals out of the New World, help to reinforce the commonalities Andrews and Kalpaklı see in the cultures of both. (304, 310) But their presentation of Ottoman poetry is the book’s main course, and the reader is treated to a sophisticated exegesis and ample cultural referrents. The authors also manage to evoke an aura of theoretical sophistication, as with passing—but significant—references to Foucault (11-12) and Derrida (24), though thankfully without larding the book with technical jargon.

One cannot at times shake the slight feeling that they have taken onboard some of the basic assumptions from an older historiography, for example in the way that the ancient Greeks become “our ancestors”, but given the general thrust of their argument this is likely only a rhetorical quibble. Their approach to sexuality is actually to be commended, in particular their skilful navigation of the treacherous waters of gender identity. Avoiding any sweeping pronouncements, Andrews and Kalpaklı admit only to a “weak nominalism”, which they define as “the belief that such things as heterosexuality and homosexuality… are discursive constructs. That is, they depend on the words and categories we use rather than on essential or natural characteristics.” (14) Given the authors’ oft-repeated reticence to make especially bold claims about the respective histories of Europe and the Ottoman East, it is perhaps unfair to claim for this book greater responsibility than it is willing (or able) to shoulder. Nevertheless, their suggestion that in the later Renaissance these two regions “appear to walk much the same path” (353) certainly deserves the debate and discussion that they hope to stimulate, and Europeanists are well advised to take note.