HIST 13184-2: Christian-Muslim Encounters: Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire

Instructor: Alexander Beihammer

History University Seminar

This course is about two empires and one city, which was the capital of both. In the fifteenth century, Byzantium, the Christian Empire of the New Rome, was on the verge of collapsing while the Ottoman State, a strong power based on the unifying dynamics of a Turkish-Muslim dynasty, was ready to become a universal empire straddling large parts of Southeast Europe and the Muslim world. Constantinople/Istanbul, the Christian center of the Roman Empire founded by Constantine the Great in 330, with the Ottoman conquest on 29 May 1453 became the unrivaled capital of one of the most powerful Muslim empires in history. The City soon developed into a multicultural center of Muslim-Christian symbiosis, associating the heritage of its Byzantine past with the aspirations of its Ottoman ruling elite. With the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, Constantinople/Istanbul lost its status as imperial capital but continues to be a point of reference for the identity and collective memory of both modern Greeks and Turks. Aside from familiarizing you with the history of late Byzantium, the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and the city of Constantinople, this course introduces you into forms of co-existence and acculturation between Christians and Muslims living at the turn from the Middle Ages to the early modern period. As we approach these issues from a historian’s viewpoint, the course is also an introduction into the methods and theories of modern historical research. Much of the modern discourse on the rise and fall of empires, cross-cultural contacts, and interreligious conflicts has to do with concepts of national history and cultural identity. Thus, we have to explore the question as to how our views of the past are informed by modern master narratives and ideological discourses. We will approach these issues through assigned course readings, the analysis of primary sources (near-contemporary documents), discussions, and writing assignments.

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