‘Guided by The Almighty‘

The journey of Stephan Schultz in the Ottoman empire, 1752–6

Authored by: Jan Schmidt

The Ottoman World

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  December  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415444927
eBook ISBN: 9780203142851
Adobe ISBN: 9781136498954


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European travel writing on the Ottoman empire in the pre-modern era is a voluminous and fascinating genre, especially for readers who like so-called ego documents. 1 Apart from the experiences of the travellers themselves, a broad but limited range of subjects is discussed in these books. Only a minority of authors went beyond the parameters set by the existing literature and refrained from copying passages from previous works or commenting on them. Thus, many writers discuss the inconveniences of travel; the ancient, especially classical, past of the area; the beauty and monuments of Istanbul; the customs and religion of the Turks (as non-Arab Ottoman Muslims were invariably termed); the treatment of women; and the state of the eastern churches. Only a few authors wrote about more abstract subjects like Ottoman politics or belles lettres. Many of these travel books are, at least in part, pleasant to read; the best are, even today, able to produce something close to the ‘historical sensation’ as first defined by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. Apart from their entertainment value, some are also valuable historical sources, especially if they reveal aspects of daily life and culture in the Ottoman empire not easily found in native sources – often controversial activities such as wine-drinking, drug consumption and paedophilia. The Ottomans did write on these things, but in a different and often more enigmatic way – enigmatic for us, that is – than European observers, who could be more matter-of-fact, if not unbiased. Occasionally we even hear the voices of Ottoman men, rarely also Ottoman women (exceptionally in the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu), if travellers met them in the privacy of their homes and bothered to record their conversation.

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