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The Ottoman Empire and the Imperial Turn

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 September 2012

Alan Mikhail*
History, Yale University
Christine M. Philliou
History, Columbia University


As a polity that existed for over six centuries and that ruled on three continents, the Ottoman Empire is perhaps both the easiest and hardest empire to compare in world history. It is somewhat paradoxical then that the Ottoman Empire has only recently become a focus of students of empires as historical phenomena. This approach to the Ottoman Empire as an empire has succeeded in generating an impressive profusion of scholarship. This article critically assesses this literature within the larger context of what we term the Imperial Turn to explain how comparative perspectives have been used to analyze the empire. In doing so, it sheds new light on some older historiographical questions about the dynamics of imperial rule, periodization, and political transformation, while at the same time opening up new avenues of inquiry and analysis about the role of various actors in the empire, the recent emphasis on the empire's early modern history, and the scholarly literature of comparative empires itself. Throughout, the authors speak both to Ottoman specialists and others interested in comparative imperial histories to offer a holistic picture of recent Ottoman historiography and to suggest many possible directions for future scholarship. Instead of accepting comparison for comparison's sake, the article offers a bold new vocabulary for rigorous comparative work on the Ottoman Empire and beyond.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2012

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