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Book review: Sibel Bozdogan on Ahmet Ersoy, Architecture and the Late Ottoman Historical Imaginary

23 November 2015

Orientalist Orientals: re-conceptualizing Ottoman architecture in the late Empire

By Sibel Bozdogan  13/SB1

Review of:

Ahmet Ersoy, Architecture and the Late Ottoman Historical Imaginary: Reconfiguring the Architectural Past in a Modernizing Empire, Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2015, 313 pp. includes bibliographical references and index; 72 b & w illus., $112.46 hdbk,ISBN: 978-1-4724-3139-4

Abstract: Late Ottoman Empire’s concerted effort to forge a modern imperial identity to better position itself within the emerging world system was accompanied by a proto-nationalist desire for an authentic cultural past. In the field of art and architecture, the result was a new interest and patriotic pride in the Islamic artistic and architectural heritage of the Empire, along with an intense period of creative engagement with European artistic and scholarly discourses. The book offers a meticulously historicized account of what emerged as a major intellectual effort to construct a genealogy for Ottoman architecture, to make it intelligible in terms of Western architectural theory and above all, to recast it as a historically evolving style capable of revival in the modern world. In doing so, it critically engages with recent scholarly debates on modernity, historicism, romanticism, orientalism, nationalism, revivalism, cosmopolitanism, authenticity, eclecticism and hybridity among other topics. Taking issue with both the received “westernization paradigm” and its companion, the notorious “decline thesis” in terms of which the architecture of Ottoman Tanzimat has long been written, it gives us a more complex, more nuanced, more cosmopolitan and more ambivalent picture. As such, it makes a major contribution to Ottoman/ Turkish studies, to the historiography of Islamic architecture and to cross-cultural studies in general.

Keywords: Historicism, romanticism, orientalism, revivalism, cosmopolitanism, authenticity, hybridity, eclecticism, Usul-i Mimariyi Osmani, Ottoman Renaissance, Tanzimat, Balyan family, Istanbul Gothic, Vienna World Exhibition 1873, Sultan Abdulaziz

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