LCSS Training Programme on Ottoman and Archival Studies, London, 3rd-7th August 2015

In August 2015, LCSS has successfully conducted the Training Programme on Ottoman and Archival Studies, which took place in London and Oxford.

LCSS Training Programme on Ottoman and Archival Studies, London, 3rd-7th August 2015

The Programme was designed to fill the gap for much-needed short-term programmes aimed at helping researchers and Master’s/PHD students working in the field of Ottoman Studies. The idea of the Programme was conceived by Dr Salim Ayduz, Director of the Heritage Department at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester. Rosa Vercoe coordinated the whole event. The Programme attracted a number of researchers working and studying in academic institutions in the UK, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the USA.

The Programme provided a stimulating environment for developing research skills through workshops, talks and training sessions taking place in the various libraries and archives of the UK. It equipped the participants with knowledge of the UK archives containing Ottoman resources and manuscripts, as well as with the research tools necessary for archival studies. The trainees got an invaluable opportunity to study some rare original documents and to network with leading experts on Ottoman Turkish and Islamic sources working at British institutions.

LCSS is proud to share the highlights of the Programme, which, we very much hope, is just the beginning of a series of events dedicated to Ottoman Studies.

The induction of the programme took place in the beautiful and elegant Keynes Library at the School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London.  It was a perfect venue for the participants and the Programme organisers to meet and talk. Dr Ayduz made his keynote speech about ‘The Importance of the UK Public Record Office for Ottoman History Studies’ followed by a joint presentation by Dr Gabriel Koureas, lecturer at Birkbeck, and Dr Colette Wilson, lecturer at the University of Westminster. The presentation was the result of a fascinating project entitled ‘Ottoman Pasts, Present Cities: Cosmopolitanism and Transcultural Memories’ supported by the AHRC Research Network.

Soon after the induction, the participants visited Senate House Library, where they were hosted by Dr Karen Attar. The participants took the opportunity to explore some rare books pertaining to the Ottoman Empire.

The second day of the Programme took place at the National Archives, a massive modern building holding some fascinating historical materials and archives. Dr Juliette Desplat and Ruth Selman took the trainees on a journey of discovery, exploring original correspondences accumulated by different departments of the National Archives including with the Admiralty, the War Office, the Treasury, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, the Board of Trade, and the Slave Trade Compensation Commission.

Dr Desplat introduced some important research tools and strategies as well as principles of archival records and the system of indexes. Some examples of Foreign Office registers and indexes related to various historical periods (stretching from 1780 to 1953) were demonstrated to develop the trainees’ understanding of how the sources are catalogued and systematised and how they can be located. The students used a rare chance to study in detail some fascinating original documents including the report on Sultan Solyman II by Bernardo Navagero, Venetian Ambassador to Constantinople, 1552 and the Grand Vizier’s letter to Queen Anne on the Grand Signior’s accession to the Ottoman Throne in 1704, to name just a few.

Dr Naguib, a lecturer in Islamic Studies from Lancaster University, commented on the National Archives workshop as “extremely informative” and their researchers’ handouts and presentations as “very useful”.

The third day was focused on the School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS) Library and Archives Both sessions were incredibly informative and useful for the Ottoman researchers. The trainees received a set of Guidance Notes including both the UK-based archival sources with relevance to the UK, Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as the archives of the World-Wide Web. The SOAS librarians, May Fisk and Dominique Akhoun-Schwarb, were very helpful. Mary made a presentation on the SOAS Library resources for Turkish and Ottoman Studies including printed onsite and offsite materials, materials in other scripts, audio-visual materials and SOAS Archives and Manuscripts collections. The trainees received a fully comprehensive guide on Ottoman archives, rare books and manuscripts including personal papers, maps, atlases and pictorial works. The Guide was kindly prepared by Dominique Akhoun-Schwarb.

The participants very much enjoyed a teaching session with Ali Bayindir, PHD Candidate from Dundee University, who talked about research methodologies for Ottoman Studies followed by a demonstration of original pictorial works and manuscripts from the SOAS Archives. Dr Naguib said that “the final presentation on archival research, and the visit to the store and reading room” where a specially selected manuscript was laid out for the group “was very enriching”.

The SOAS archives staff also invited the group to the archives where the trainees could learn how the priceless archival materials are stored and preserved. This was fascinating because the SOAS archival storage facilities comply with the international standards for manuscript preservation. The participants really enjoyed both sessions – at the Library and the Archives. Needless to say, they also enjoyed the hospitality of the SOAS staff who treated them with coffee, tea and biscuits.

The fourth day was a very busy day indeed. It started with a general tour of the British Library where students learned about the history and resources of the Library. They also admired the Treasures Gallery, where some of the Library’s most precious and iconic items were on display. The highlight of the visit was a group session with Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, Lead Curator of Persian and Turkish Collections of the British Library. Dr Waley demonstrated a number of fascinating manuscripts, for example: an account in verse of the Ottoman military campaigns led by Ken‘ān Paşa in the Balkans, 1036-8/1626-9; the poetical works of Burhān-ed-Dīn, the ruler, judge and poet of Sivas, and Ottoman history of the period 1094-1157/1683-1745 by İbrāhīm Na‘īm-ed-dīn of Temesvár, to name just a few.

Dr Shuruq Naguib mentioned that Dr Waley’s “commentary on the British Library collection and his selection of Ottoman manuscripts provided [her] with many insights on the complex nature of the field and the variety of available materials”.

Another highlight of the day was the visit to the Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, where the group was greeted and welcomed by Karima Benaicha, Head of the Library department, and Celeste Gianni, Library assistant. Karima gave a very informative presentation on the Al-Furqan catalogues of Islamic manuscripts held in libraries around the world, and on other unique reference sources in the area of Islamic written heritage. Celeste focused her talk on the library catalogues and the Al-Furqan’s Digital Portal. Dr Naguib commented that “this was the most useful visit. The presentations were highly relevant to my research and provided information on resources for globally researching religious manuscripts produced during the Ottoman period and beyond.” The trainees left the Foundation’s office feeling inspired.

The last day of the Programme took place in the Weston Library, a part of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford. The weather was perfect and everyone felt relaxed at the end of a very intensive Programme. The group was hosted by the amazing Alisdair Watson, Bahari Curator of Persian Collections, Middle Eastern and Islamic Manuscripts. Mr Watson prepared some fascinating examples of Ottoman manuscripts and pictorial works in the beautiful Bahari room. The attendees also had a rare opportunity to explore and admire masterful filigries and the sophisticated style of the old Ottoman authors and artists.

The ending of the programme was celebrated on the Roof Terrace of the Ashmolean Museum with afternoon tea and biscuits, where certificates were handed out and feedback given. The commonly agreed view was that the Programme should carry on and the next phase should take place in the Istanbul archives.