What is Kaime?

(The staff of Izmir Branch of Ottoman Bank, 1895)

cropped-salt14l1.jpg

Welcome to Kaime!

We are very excited that Kaime finally saw the light of day after months of brainstorming over the ideal of a blog on economic history of the Ottoman Empire. The final product has become more broadly defined than we initially planned, covering the Middle East and the Balkans, most of which was once ruled by the Ottoman dynasty. Doing so relaxed the temporal limitation too, extending its scope to all periods from antiquity to the age of nation states.

Our understanding of economic history is broadly defined as well. We think that the “economic” cannot be abstracted from the “political,” the “social,” the “cultural” and the “religious.” Given the nature of current debates, it is even truer in the case of the region under consideration. Related to that, we hope to touch occasionally upon the present implications of past institutions that once prevailed in the Middle East and the Balkans. Did someone say path dependence?

So what kind of gaps Kaime attempts to fill in? It is argued that, once upon a time in the medieval ages, Chinese and Islamic civilizations were doing better than Europe. When did that “Great Divergence” occur? Kenneth Pomeranz, who coined the term, argued that England and China was not much different even in the eighteenth century. While China can be considered nowadays as passing through a catching-up process, the same does not hold true for Islamic countries, which occupy the bottom lines of economic, political and human rights indexes. What went wrong? Timur Kuran undertook a task similar to that of Pomeranz by answering this old but still valid question for the Middle East. It was the legacy of Islamic law, he found. Others came up with different views. What had gone wrong really? Was it to do with politics, the rigidity of legal institutions, religion, culture, geography? Or, was it “poor judgment” as an undergraduate student of Gerrardo Serra of Sussex University wrote in his exam sheet as the answer to a question about the failure to modernize of the Ottoman Empire? Was Ottoman modernization a total failure after all? Going back to where we started, how did those “golden ages” of tenth and eleventh centuries look like? What were the institutions that promoted scientific discoveries and long-distance trade? Such questions interest us and probably you too if you read this very first post until this point.

There are actually tons of questions like this waiting to be answered. Yet we think that Timur Kuran was right in one thing, if nothing, that the specialists of the region seem very reluctant to engage themselves with analytic social sciences (See here). That partly stems from the hard work necessary to produce useful data. If this will change, the change will probably come from economic historians, who often situate themselves in between. Descriptive studies might be very useful to understand how institutions, industries, firms and states functioned. However, without analytic and perhaps comparative approaches, or, at least, a good understanding of comparable studies done in other contexts, they tell us little about the present state of the region -whatever it is. Disinterestedness in those things turns to us as disinterestedness in our works from outside of our own discipline.

What motivated us was not only a call to this engagement, though. Like traditional traditions, we are amazed by economic and social history as a pure academic curiosity. Wasn’t it why we all started to study history after all? We are indeed firm believers of the idea that little stories and individuals might tell us a lot, let alone they are joyful to explore. And, this belief of us does not necessarily challenge our view that history should learn from social sciences. At the end of the day, as the co-founders of this blog, we are both studying micro issues rather than macro ones, although our methodologies are different from that of traditional historians. Like them, we love to work in the archives. So you will find here also some of those little stories and individuals that we encounter in the archives even though they do not seem contributing much to the big picture.

And even more… We think Kaime also as a practical guide to those working or planning to work in this small discipline. We hope to share calls of papers, reflections on the conferences we attend, and useful information on the use of archives and primary sources.

We also hope that the posts in this blog will not be limited to those by the co-founders of Kaime, namely  Yasin Arslantaş and Pınar Çakıroğlu. Contributions from anyone sharing similar interests with us are more than welcome.

In terms of the style, our posts will be semi-academic, reader-friendly and bilingual (English and Turkish -according to the targeted audience of the post).

For contact information, see “about” section.

And see you in our second post!

Pınar and Yasin.