BA History and Sociology

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Culture in Ottoman Society, ca. 1300-1800

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST31872
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course explores the human landscape of the Ottoman Empire, a rich, vibrant, cosmopolitan society too often overshadowed by its military reputation. It aims to situate the Ottomans in the Islamic and wider early modern world, on one hand, while paying attention to the empire’s distinct social, geographical, and political configurations on the other. The course is organized by theme. We will focus each week on a major aspect of Turco-Islamic popular or elite culture – e.g. poetry, scholastic pursuits, gender, religious movements, or family. Students will approach these in part through close engagement with translated primary texts as well as miniatures, coins, textiles, and other visual and material objects. They will examine what kinds of ideas and issues “moved” Ottoman society as it evolved from a frontier outpost to a transcontinental empire, how cultural practices changed, and how its inhabitants sought to create meaning and beauty in the world around them.



Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes and Classics and Ancient History programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas.; and CLAH-owned programmes. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


  • To introduce the main features of political, social, and cultural life in the Ottoman Empire during the period ca. 1300 to 1800.
  • To challenge older views of the empire as culturally and intellectually imitative or “sterile,” through engagement with revisionist scholarship.
  • To expose students to an array of cultural media from the empire, including art, poetry, architecture, music, and scholarly texts, and to provide critical tools to assess these sources.
  • To refine skills in reading and source analysis, argumentation, and academic writing.  

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able:


Knowledge and understanding

  • To understand the Ottoman Empire’s main lines of historical development and its place within the wider Islamic and early modern world.  
  • To show an informed appreciation for the empire’s religious, ethnic, linguistic, artistic, cultural, geographic, and political diversity and to evaluate a range of cultural production.
  • To grasp major scholarly debates on politics, society, and culture in the empire and to assess and challenge older historiographical narratives.

Intellectual skills

  • To engage critically with historical debates and scholarship.
  • To read, analyse, and assess evidence from primary sources of various kinds.
  • To locate, assimilate, and synthesise secondary sources and offer persuasive interpretations in writing or orally.

Practical skills

  • Formulating and evaluating oral and written arguments.
  • Conducting independent research.
  • Locating and retrieving print and internet resources.
  • Developing written and oral communication skills.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Working in groups.
  • Communicating orally and in writing
  • Thinking critically
  • Managing time effectively
  • Conducting independent research

Employability skills

Students will hone a number of employability skills during this course. These include critical thinking and analysis, formulating complex ideas aloud in a group setting (oral communication), conveying complex ideas in writing (written communication), working within in a team unit (collaboration), locating and interpreting data (research), and taking initiative through essays, research, assessments, and seminar preparation (independent work/leadership).

Assessment methods

Presentation 0%
Primary source analysis 40%
Essay 60%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback on group discussions and presentations


Written feedback on source analysis and essay


Written feedback on exam



Recommended reading

Doug Howard, A History of the Ottoman Empire (2017)

Baki Tezcan, The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World (2010)

Kate Fleet and Ebru Boyar, A Social History of Ottoman Istanbul (2010)

Walter Andrews and Mehmet Kalpakl¿, Ottoman Lyric Poetry (2006)

Dror Ze’evi, Producing Desire: Changing Sexual Discourse in the Ottoman Middle East, 1500-1900 (2007)

Leslie Peirce, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (1993)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ethan Menchinger Unit coordinator

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