The first session in the online seminar series of the International Symposium 2021 was held via Zoom from 3:00pm to 5:00pm on Thursday, September 9, 2021.
Speaker: Madoka Morita (Research Associate at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies). She joined our joint research project in 2018, when she was a junior exchange fellow at Yale University (January 2018 through March 2019). She received a Ph.D. for her dissertation entitled “Neighborhoods of Ottoman Istanbul: Politics of Order and Urban Collectivity, 1703–54” (University of Tokyo, 2021).
Discussant: Hiroko Saito (Associate Professor, Osaka City University)
“Looking into Neighborhoods of Early Modern Istanbul through the Lens of Sharia Court Registers”
Dr. Morita’s talk centered on sharia court registers as among the most important sources through which to approach early modern Istanbul, the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, and particularly its neighborhoods (mahalle)—religiously organized communities that served as the smallest units of urban administration. Istanbul constituted a judicial and administrative district to which a qadi (judge) was assigned in charge of judicial affairs as well as fiscal and administrative matters. Various documents the qadi issued and received were copied into court registers. After a brief account of the characteristics of the court registers of Istanbul, she moved on to introduce one specific document from these registers that epitomizes the Ottoman authorities’ considerable reliance on neighborhoods in the maintenance of order in the imperial capital, even at times of political crisis and urban insecurity.
Professor Saito, who specializes in Japanese history, provided some observations on early modern Istanbul from a comparative perspective by elaborating on the block association (chō 町)—a status group composed exclusively of house-owning townspeople—in early modern Osaka, with a particular focus on the role played by the chō in controlling real estate in the city. In compliance with orders issued by the town governor (machi bugyō 町奉行), the block association assumed collective responsibility for notarizing every transaction and inheritance concerning the houses, or residential lots (ieyashiki 家屋敷) in their area, which led to incredibly meticulous practices of record-keeping at the level of the chō and exceptionally voluminous quantities of archives that survive to this day. Significantly, the fullness of this historical record is in stark contrast to that for Ottoman Istanbul, and more generally Ottoman cities, which suffer a scarcity of archives produced and preserved at the level of the neighborhood.
Further discussions revolved around the possibility of conducting broader comparative analyses from the perspective of law and society that might encompass the following: the membership of the mahalle and chō, and their relations with the physical urban space; the management of newcomers (often tenants) deemed as a threat to public order; and the functions of the qadi of Istanbul and the town governor of Osaka, and the place they occupied within their respective societies, as well as their interactions with the local communities (mahalle and chō, respectively). It was considered that these points of comparison would ultimately contribute to a deeper understanding of the way in which the inner workings of local communities and their relations with government impacted the production and preservation of the archives in these respective societies over the centuries.