New Paradigms for Oriental Studies: Symposium on the Occasion of the 90th Anniversary of Founding of Archiv orientalní

New Paradigms for Oriental Studies: Symposium on the Occasion of the 90th Anniversary of Founding of Archiv orientalní

22/08/2019 Tana Dluhosova

As 2019 marks the 90th anniversary of our journal, we would like to combine this event with the chance to discuss the present and future directions of publishing. In addition to the Editorial Board meeting, we organize a one-day symposium discussing the new frameworks for Oriental studies in the 21st century.


Moving beyond academic writings on the marginalised: Could Viramma be an example

 Raj Sekhar Basu (University of Calcutta)


Social theorists in contemporary times often find it difficult to redress the problems faced by a single self and those of similar types faced by others. Sometimes, they seem to be irreconcilable, because there may be yawning differences between the perceptions of an individual and that of a social aggregate defined in terms of society. The sense of inequality and discrimination as experienced by an individual might not match with broader notions of deprivation constructed in accordance to societal perceptions. Whenever, marginalised voices are represented in history writing, there are frequent references to classism, racism, gender inequalities and cultural hegemony which are seen as factors resulting in inequality, stalling all the prospects of social equity in all walks of life, often represented in the language of lived experiences. There are assertions that in an ambience of inequality, there can only be gross violations of human rights. The references are frequently drawn from the legacy of the Afro- American experience, shaped and reshaped by plantations both as an economic and cultural system, where men and women are exposed to varying degrees of debasement, resulting in an amnesia o their past cultural traditions.

But, it is not the only story that needs to be represented by the practitioners of social history. I would be interested in arguing that societies across the world, whether in the north or the south, advanced or lagging behind in terms of development parameters have always witnessed discrimination of women on a scale much larger to those experienced by males, sometimes lending credence to the fact that they might be seen as ‘double victims’. Western academia has always tried to write histories  of discrimination related to women’s experiences in the tropics from the point of view of what I would term as enlightenment discourse, frequently over emphasising the fact that feminist movement in the west gained in strength because of the presence of feminist voices in the public arena. This was something which was almost non -existent or scant in the tropical south. The point that needs to be highlighted is that the situations should never be judged in the binaries of plethora and scanty, but there should be a re-ordering of the information system and redefinition of what the west subscribes to as the knowledge system. I would argue that the western discourse on women’s history and feminism is too often couched in the adjectives of protest, resilience and challenge of hegemonic structures, which seem to be the architectures of patriarchal supremacy. Women’s movement in the south, basically is dominated by the perceptions of the social elites who try to write alternative histories based on a re-reading of experiences of women both in their public and private spaces.

I would be more interested in taking a cue from the lived experiences of Viramma, a Dalit woman from Pondicherry in the far south of India to validate the assertion that such academic representations can only be elitist and exclusivist , influenced by the discourses circulating within the elite academic discourses of the west. The popular or hidden side of the subaltern feminine discourse is seldom privileged in the north and the south. The argument that could be posited is that had the subaltern voices been discovered and given a recognition, there would have not only been new representations of women’s experiences, but there would have also been a big shift in the recording of women’s lives by the academics. The subalternity of Viramma as represented in the oral narratives of Viramma as expressed before Jean Luc Racine and Josephine Racine, the co-authors, forms the subject of a work, which is autobiographical in nature, aptly titled Viramma. While,it is true that Viramma’s family had been former slaves of the dominant Reddiar landowning groups, their entrapment in bondage, did not lead to an erasure of their emotions or their world view, which remained within the private space(s) of the individual and that of the community. The anger and rebuttal of the exploitative economic system was palpable, but did not always lead to a protest mentality, seeking to overthrow the dominance of the privileged sections of the society. In contrast to what ‘elite’ proponents of women’s studies believe and profess, Viramma tried to reconcile with her ill fate as something handed down by providence. This might sound a bit bizarre for academics trained in western academic vocabulary, but this is by no means an esoteric southern experience, guided by the ubiquitous dominance of oriental structures of power. Rather, this enslavement and (un)freedom within the terminology of free labour, did not lead to militancy, but to a forced acceptance of the realities. This is evidently clear, when Viramma glossed over the everyday experiences of inequality and emphasised more on the communitarian aspects of living, mediated through social networks, superstitions and traditions, thereby leading to a redefinition of the conditions in which marginalised women lived in most parts of the world.

Empire of Officials: A Prosopography of Non-Muslims in Late Ottoman Bureaucracy

Abdulhamit Kırmızı (Şehir University, Istanbul)


Starting from the early decades of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman statesmen tried to counter separatist/nationalist threats and centrifugal tendencies by developing a new and egalitarian concept generally known as Ottomanism. Acting in accordance to this idea, non-Muslims were appointed to the growing body of municipal, district or provincial administrative councils as well as to the state councils in the capital. Non-Muslims began to play more active roles in the bureaucracy.

That the most important characteristics of the expanding modern Ottoman bureaucracy was the increase in the number of both state officials, in general, and the non-Muslim officials employed in the central and provincial administration, in particular, is a generally shared observation. But it has not been tested thoroughly by resorting to quantitative methods and using archival materials. Qualitative research conducted previously both on the bureaucracy and the employment of non-Muslims contains certain flaws because of the lack of comprehensive quantitative analyses.

My project, however, deals with a strong and consistent sample, involving a coherent group with representative characteristics of the bureaucracy. With a prosopographical approach I will analyse the social and educational background and career trajectories of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ottoman statesmen. As an initial step, I already completed a three-year-project supported by TÜBİTAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey). All the Armenian, Greek and Jewish officials employed in the civil administration were part of the research spectrum of the project which aimed to identify the non-Muslim officials of the late Ottoman Empire (1879-1914). The main basis of the statistical survey was the personnel registers (Sicill-i Ahval Defterleri) kept in 1879-1914, consisting of 201 large volumes that provided information on 51,698 Ottoman bureaucrats. At the end of our research, we identified 2,826 non-Muslims (5.5% of total) who were employed in the Ottoman civil bureaucracy in various ministries. This research constitutes the largest prosopographical study completed for any imperial bureaucracy in late 19th-century.

Current accounts explain the employment of non-Muslims either Euro-centrically, attributing it to the pressure European powers put on the Ottoman government for equal treatment of all subjects or nationalistically, attributing it to the tolerance of the Turkish state elites. Recent challenges to euro-centric and nationalist historiographies, along with postcolonial, transnational, global and imperial turns in history-writing, urge us to look for fresh and historically more sensible explanations. Nationalist studies on non-Muslims of the Ottoman Empire are especially biased because their teleological historiographies ignore the context of “empire” and the diversity of imperial identities. The “imperial turn”, fed by postcolonial, transnational and global approaches in historiography, will provide a supranational vision that should help the proposed study to overcome the flaws of nationalist narratives.  The output of this project will provide historians with a more meaningful framework for further studies not only on the non-Muslims, but also on the bureaucracy itself and its human resources. With the largest sample ever used, this study will open a new window into the secluded world of Ottoman bureaucracy where non-Muslims shared policymaking and administrative tasks with their Muslim colleagues.


History and Science:  A New Frontier in Asian Studies

Nicola di Cosmo (Insitute for Advanced Study, Princeton)


The development of scientific research in the palaeosciences today allows researchers to access data that can be useful to historians. These data are especially important for the reconstruction of past climates and environments. The combination of “natural archives” and “human archives” has led to  new approaches and paradigms in historical research, which are materializing in a series of “experiments” that try to integrate very different datasets.  Asian studies is a field that is involved in this new trend, because much of the scientific research, from Central Asia and the Mifddle East, and all the way to Mongolia and China, is based on the work of climatologists, geographers, environmental scientists and geneticists working in those regions.  Using examples based on my own and other scholars’ work, my talk will illustrate the relevance of this new approach to the past in the field of Asian studies.

The Meiji Restoration at 150: Considering a ‘National’ Moment within Global Frameworks

Robert Hellyer (Wake Forest University)



2018 marked the sesquicentennial of the Meiji Restoration, Japan’s modern revolution and an event that initiated the formation of the Japanese nation-state. This talk will highlight how during the lead-up to the 150-year anniversary, historians employed global history in fresh ways to consider anew Japan’s “national moment.” The talk will also explain how during 2018, scholars of Japan throughout the world re-examined both the historical ramifications and contemporary implications of the Meiji Restoration.  Finally it will detail some of the ways in which the Meiji Restoration was commemorated in Japan and offer observations on its place in contemporary Japanese political discourse.


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