C. Karamursel

Ceyda Karamursel

Visiting Fellow, Fall 2019

Affiliation
University of London
Research Project
Unlikely Migrants: Being Black, Greek, and an Apostate in the Reform Era Ottoman Empire

Ceyda Karamursel is a Lecturer in modern Middle Eastern history at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, with research and teaching interests centering on the social, political, and legal history of the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Bogazici University and received her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was also a postdoctoral fellow at the Middle East Center.

Karamursel’s work explores the practice of slavery and the elusive meanings of freedom in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic in the second half of the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth centuries and has been supported by the Social Science Research Council and the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, among others. She is currently working on her book manuscript entitled The Sack and the Bowstring: A Global History of Ottoman Slavery and Freedom, which continues to explore Ottoman slaves’, slaveholders’, and the state’s perceptions of such liberal fictions as freedom, justice, and equality in a global context.

In addition to her book manuscript, Ceyda Karamursel works on a number of smaller projects, first of which traces the sewing machines’ arrival and reception in the Ottoman Middle East, with the specific goal of understanding how relations of production in particular, and capitalism in general, transported and transformed themselves to attain new lives in different social and political contexts. Her second project takes an international legal dispute between the Ottoman Empire and Greece on stolen personal property as its point of departure to explore how different, presumably conflicting, legal systems worked with each other in the making of international property rights. The third and the final one, which also launches her second book project on how Ottoman concepts of slavery circulated in the Atlantic world in the nineteenth century, follows the news of an American opera singer who was allegedly murdered in the imperial harem in Istanbul.

Karamursel's work appeared in New Perspectives on Turkey, Journal of Women's History, Comparative Studies in Society and History, and most recently in the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

About the Research Project
Unlikely Migrants: Being Black, Greek, and an Apostate in the Reform Era Ottoman Empire

In August 1874, the customs officers at the Constantinople port seized a young African woman named Katerina, just as she disembarked the ship that brought her from Alexandria. Her arrest was made on the assumption that being a young, black woman on a ship destined for the biggest “human entrepôt” in the region, she could not have been anything but a victim of slave traffickers. As her interrogation progressed however, it gradually became clear that Katerina was not a “smuggled slave” as they thought she was, but a member and an employee of the Greek Church, who came to the city with the purpose of taking up employment. Taking this incident as its point of departure, this chapter, a new addition to my book project entitled The Sack and the Bowstring: A Global History of Ottoman Slavery and Freedom, explores the entangled histories of religious rights and anti-slavery policies in the reform-era Ottoman Empire, shedding light on two interconnected histories: first, the ways in which international law gained precedence over the sharia law, and second, how these new political and legal processes created “gradated liberties” in the Ottoman Empire.