Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Frontiers Made Flesh: Byzantines, Ottomans, and their Animals (1205-1512)

This project examines the roles performed by animals in relations between Byzantium and its rival the Ottomans. Because research on animals and the environment in this period remains in its infancy, I first undertake an inquiry in intellectual history, and will trace how diverse meanings were ascribed to animals by discourses of a political, religious, and veterinary nature in each society, demonstrating competing ways of knowing and categorizing creatures and their relationship to humankind. Then, reading sources across genres in Turkish, Persian, and Greek, I will pivot to a socio-economic and cultural approach which examines how how engagement with material animals (such as ostentatious hunting) elaborated hierarchies of gender and status within Byzantine and Ottoman society. Furthermore, I will explain how, despite different ideological valences, animals performed political work across the contested frontiers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, especially when given as diplomatic gifts. Here, close textual analysis is complemented by quantitative methods (database aggregation and mapping) to uncover patterns of change through time, particularly in the geography of landscape use as territory was brought under Ottoman rule. My research thus adds cultural depth to existing diplomatic and intellectual histories of the Ottoman Empire in its earliest phase of development, and bridges the methodological and linguistic gap between Ottoman and Byzantine historians. At the same time, it nuances existing interpretations of attitudes towards animals in the Middle East by providing a detailed case-study of a pre-modern Muslim society.