Conference Report: Global History Student Conference (Istanbul Sehir University, June 22-24, 2018)

Academic trends can encourage collaboration among scholars from different parts of the world. A good example of this was the student conference on global history held in Istanbul last month, attended by students from 21 different universities. The fact the conference took place in Istanbul seemed particularly appropriate in the context of global history. Indeed, the city of Istanbul has long been a multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious place, especially during the long periods when it was the capital of empires. The conference was organized by undergraduate students from Istanbul Sehir University on behalf of the History Department: Fatma Aladağ, Beria Kafalı, Muhammet Mazı, Elif Can, Aişegül Akkoyun, Büşranur Bekman, Halime Karayel, Feyza İkiz, Elif Altın, Fatmanur Özdemir, Hande Tuzlakoğlu, Müberra Kapusuz, Hande Betül Ünal, and Neyyire Erdoğan.

The three-day conference included five panels and 22 presentations. The welcome speech was given by Prof. Abdulhamit Kırmızı, a member of the History Department at Istanbul Sehir University. Kırmızı briefly touched on the relation between the emergence of nationalism or the nation-state and academic historiography. These concurrent developments led to the use of history as a political apparatus even more than politics. However, as Kırmızı pointed out, many of the social sciences are now trying to reach beyond the nation and criticizing ethnocentric and Eurocentric approaches. One indication of this is the increase in the words “global” and “transnational” in the titles of history books over the last decade. In this context, Kırmızı described global history as emphasizing interconnectedness, interdependence, similarities, connections, linkages, circulations and contact zones. At the end of his speech, the professor turned to some of the problems of global history. Even as global history criticizes eurocentric views, for example, almost all its published works are in English.

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins (Yale University) gave the keynote speech. He presented a part of his forthcoming book, The Rise and Fall of Global Secularism Since the Cold War. He began by drawing attention to the limits of the secular state, suggesting that his work might serve as a model for global intellectual history. In order to understand the role of religious freedoms in the formation of the secular state, he said, one needs to understand the acceptance of religious freedom shortly after WWII within a transatlantic historical framework.

After Jenkins’ stimulating speech, the first panel was led by Prof. Tufan Buzpınar, chair of the History Department. The first panelist, Annika Barwald (Bremen University) talked about subaltern groups in nineteenth-century century Hamburg, in her study “Cosmopolitan Careers between Dependency and Assertion”. Analyzing advertisements in newspapers, she argued that these subaltern people developed a distinctive form of cosmopolitanism. The next speaker, Anisha Padma (Columbia University), presented her study on another diaspora group, the African Cavalry Guards in Hyderabad. She suggested her research an provide insights into the networks that connected the Indian Ocean. The third panelist Jeffrey Chen (Oxford University) used diaries in merchant logs to offer an alternative perspective on British and Chinese working relationships in the eighteenth century. The final panelist Aleksandra Babikova (Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg) touched on a slightly different topic, evaluating travel guides as a historical phenomenon. She emphasized that such issues as the role of tourism in the formation of national identity are studied in West Europe, but that such works are very rare for the Black Sea region. Babikova analyzed Black Sea travel guides published between the 1870s and 1914 and argued they could contribute to environmental, cultural, spatial and global histories.

The second panel led by Associate Prof. Emrah Safa Gürkan (Istanbul 29 Mayıs University) focused on global biographies. First, Kristof Szitar (Central European University) spoke about Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, an author from late-sixteenth century Deccan in modern-day India and his trans-regional connections with various Safavids. Next, panelist Ali Karamustafa (Stanford University) presented a biographical narrative of the Koroghlu Tales. Karamustafa claimed that these oral stories told by peoples in Ottoman Russia and Iran could be read as trans-imperial sources and as global histories. The third presentation by Chase Caldwell Smith (Oxford University) was about a cosmographer, Manuel Godinho de Erédia, the son of a Portuguese soldier and a Malay princess from the end of the sixteenth century. Next, Muhammed Niyas Ashraf (Freie Universität-Humboldt Universität) examined the reflection of Prophet Muhammed in literary traditions, specifically the devotional vernacular poetries of the south-west Indian Ocean. Finally, Lea Kröner (Freie Universität-Humboldt Universität) explored the encounter between Protestant missionaries on the north Pacific coast of British Columbia. In her research, instead of focusing on a single missionary or a single mission, she chose a “particular First Nation group” in order to comprehend larger patterns in their writings.

The last panel of the day revolved around historiography and was chaired by Dr. Kasım Kopuz (Şehir University). Pamela Nogales (New York University) opened the panel with her research on the 1848 Revolutions and its effects on the United States. Nogales tracked the intellectual contributions of European immigrants to the American reform tradition. Following that, Luca Nigro (University of Bologna) showed the possibility of a global history of Maoism, underlining the differences and similarities of other movements from the original one. The next student, Feride Saliha Taşpınar (Boğaziçi University) analyzed the different representations of an Ottoman governor of Ioannina (Greek Epirus), Tepedelenli Ali Pasha. Next, Rahime Aksa Boyraz (Istanbul Şehir University) sought to create a multi-centered approach to the Second Crusade. Boyraz looked at the Crusaders, the Zangis, the Anatolian Seljukids and the Byzantines for different perspectives on the crusades as an early example of global relations. The last presentation belonged to Jan Jelinowski (University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne). He evaluated the corpus of historical works produced under the elites in the Ilkhanate (1260-1335), studying their backgrounds in politics, culture, and their networks of sponsorship.

The keynote speech of the second day was made by Prof. Jon Thares Davidann (Hawai’i Pacific University). Davidann presented his forthcoming book The Limits of Westernization, explaining that he tried to set the framework of modernization in the twentieth century by examining Japanese modernization. He pointed out that the concept of Westernization had a positive meaning until the 1960s, referring to the relations and differences between modernization and Westernization. Davidann emphasized the necessity of examining historical arguments from different angles. In his case, he studied Western influences on Japanese modernization through the Japanese perspective, rather than looking only at Western sources. He did this by focusing on Fukuzawa, one of the most important Japanese intellectuals of his era, who laid the intellectual foundations of Japanese modernization in the nineteenth century. The professor noted that Eurocentric historiographies are still in place despite criticism and that the way to overcome this is by writing history through the eyes of the indigenous.

The first panel of the second day was moderated by Associate Prof. Mehmet Ali Doğan (Istanbul Technical University) and focused on diplomacy. Elizabeth Denny (University of Oxford) used the case of Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire, to examine the diplomatic relations and global trading networks of small kingdoms in early-modern India. Falco Driessen (University of Constance) then presented his research on the German diplomatic service in the formation of international trade relations with China. The third panelist, Ryan Glauser (Freie Universität-Humboldt Universität) used British-Soviet diplomatic correspondence from 1943 to 1947 to speak about the justifications of the Soviet Union for the reform of the Straits Convention. Lastly, Mehmet Doğar (Middle East Technical University) reviewed the opinions of the public on the position of the League of Nations during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-36 through humor magazines and political cartoons.

The last panel was moderated by Assoc. Prof. Nicole Kançal-Ferrari (Istanbul Şehir University). Camilla De Ambroggi (AlmaMater Studorium Bologna) started with the question “Can Vesuvius Speak?”. In seeking to answer this question, she discussed the effect of urbanization on the slopes of Vesuvius. Following this, Robert Obermair (University of Salzburg) explored links and continuities between scientists in Austria in the 1930s and 1940s and those in post-war Argentina. Muhammad Helmy bin Abdul Gapar (National University of Malaysia) spoke about the change of sports traditions among Malaysians during the British colonial period and analyzed it in sociological and historical terms. Lastly, Evita Dandali (University of Crete) spoke about the Ottoman sanitary reform in the nineteenth-century Hijaz.

During the roundtable meeting at the end of the second day, the participants evaluated the three-day conference. Students focused on ways to increase collaboration, connection, and linkages between academic studies. That communication should be supported by increasing digital possibilities was emphasized, especially in a field such as global history where different perspectives increase productivity. On the third and final day of the conference, panelists visited the historical peninsula of Istanbul.

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