William Bamber

Interdiciplinary Near and Middle East StudiesUniversity of Washington

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2017 IDRF Program

Interdiciplinary Near and Middle East StudiesUniversity of Washington

Visual Transnationalism and the Spread of the Fez from Ottoman Turkey to South Asia, 1876-1908

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Ottoman dress, in the form of the fez and 'stambouline' frock coat, became widely adopted across South and South East Asia. In a period habitually associated with European imperial hegemony and the rise of nationalism, what explains these garments attraction across a huge geography and variety of classes and social groups? What enabled this fashion to spread so quickly, even to distant regions and cities far inland? This dissertation considers the operation of South-South cultural exchange and changing identity in the late nineteenth century through a comparison of patterns of male self-fashioning in Ottoman Turkey and South Asia. I employ archives of photographic studio portraiture, advertisement and caricature to track the fez and stambouline's social and spatial patterns of use, and the meanings projected onto them in each of these contexts. This will allow me to both track the process and path of their spread, and gain comparative insight into changing ideas of identity and selfhood amongst wider urban publics in Turkey and South Asia. The fez and stambouline's far-reaching popularity appears to reflect a strong association with new notions of urbane modernity emerging across the region in this period, which sought to express a civilized, cosmopolitan, yet consciously non-Western identity. It is my hypothesis that the familiarity and positive associations of Ottoman styles in South Asia and elsewhere formed part of new modes of informed and visually intense international awareness that became possible in these decades through the combined development of photography, lithography and popular print. These technologies allowed internationalist awareness and solidarities to develop over huge distances and on an unprecedented scale, and were rooted not in imperial networks, but local centers of print dissemination, intellectual life and production.