At the core of this presentation is a richly illustrated album at Harvard Fine Arts Library, which preserves 25 hand-painted engravings and lithographs from 1830s Ottoman Izmir/Smyrna. From an art historian’s perspective, Gwendolyn Collaço has demonstrated that the album reveals important new details about the transmission of print technology, which facilitated image transmission throughout the Mediterranean.
Alongside its distinct character and nature as a work of art, however, the printed image is also known to act as a historical source, which can be read and analyzed as it reveals historical events of the era. In current autobiography studies, visual media have begun to be considered as ‘tools’ of self-representation that go beyond literary practices to include visual materials, as a life narrative. In this sense, the personalized compilation¾not unlike a modern-day photo album¾assumes an autobiographical dimension offering a self-representation of the artist or, perhaps, also the individual consumer of the album.
From a historian’s point of view, the album in question has two conflicting reference points, each with their own official historiography and established interpretation: the Ottoman Empire on the eve of the Tanzimat reform era (1839-76) and the newly established Greek state, which was created and internationally recognized by the London Protocol (3 February 1830) and the arrival of the Wittelsbach Prince Otto of Bavaria (2 February 1833). The collection captures a multifaceted view of Smyrna’s cultural landscape and the wider Eastern Mediterranean with views depicting the city’s famous port, local setting, and socio-religious groups. At the same time, the album touches on heavily debated issues of the day, including Ottoman sartorial reform, as well as social upheavals in Egypt, Greece, and Algeria, whose leaders enjoyed considerable coverage in the press across languages.
Originally purchased by Thomas Walley Langdon, a member of a prominent American merchant family in Smyrna, the album also offers a distinct window into the personal and political leanings of its owner. The album presents a rare personal interpretation by the album’s owner, and, perhaps, the Levantine Smyrniot artists from a prominent lithography workshop, of the social and political realities of Izmir and the Eastern Mediterranean during the 1830s as they play themselves out in a phase of unsettled relations between the Ottoman Empire and the new Greek state.
Richard Wittmann (Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University 2008) is the Associate Director of the Orient-Institut Istanbul, a German humanities research institute abroad. The Istanbul based member institute of the Max Weber Foundation is dedicated to the promotion of academic research on Turkey and its neighboring countries of the Balkans and the Near East. After studying Law, Islamic Studies, and Turcology at the University of Munich and at Freie Universität Berlin he was awarded a scholarship from Harvard University where he continued his studies at the Department of History and at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
His research interests focus on Islamic legal history and the social history of the Ottoman Empire. Special attention is given in his work to the consideration of life narratives as historic sources for the study of the Near East. Richard Wittmann coordinates an international collaborative research project aiming at the study and publication of Ottoman life narratives (www.istanbulmemories.org). He is the editor of the publication series Memoria. Fontes Minores ad Historiam Imperii Ottomanici Pertinentes (http://menadoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/menalib/nav/classification/2322084?s=date&lang=en) and (co)editor of the monograph series Life Narratives of the Ottoman Realm: Individual and Empire in the Near East (https://www.routledge.com/Life-Narratives-of-the-Ottoman-Realm-Individual-and-Empire-in-the-Near-East/book-series/LNOR).
His latest coedited volume Istanbul – Kushta – Constantinople. Narratives of Identity in the Ottoman Capital, 1830-1930 was published with Routledge in 2019.