Past Event

What Can Tunisian History Teach Us About the Ottoman Empire?

April 1, 2022
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

What Can Tunisian History Teach Us About the Ottoman Empire?

For the better part of the twentieth century, modern historiographies of the Maghrib and the Ottoman Empire have remained impervious to one another. Ottomanists rarely wrote about North Africa beyond Egypt. This lack of interest found its roots in the implicitly notion that the garp ocakları (lit. “Western provinces” – Algiers, Tunis, and Tripolitania) were not ‘real’ provinces of the empire. That they were at the empire's (administrative, geographic) periphery seemed to justify their peripheral place in the historiography. In recent years, historians of the Maghrib have begun to challenge this state of affairs. Bringing the region into the Ottoman fold, they have started to write an Ottoman history of North Africa. Taking the Ottoman autonomous province of Tunis as a case-study, this panel seeks to flip this question around: it asks what can Maghrib history teach us about the history of the Ottoman Empire? 

With comments and reflections from Julia Clancy-Smith (The University of Arizona).


Youssef Ben Ismail is a historian of the Ottoman Mediterranean with a focus on North Africa from 1700 to 1900. He received his PhD in the Histories and Cultures of Muslim Societies from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University in 2021. He is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows for the Humanities at Columbia University. At Columbia, he also lectures in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) and in the Department of History. His research deals with law and empire in the nineteenth-century Mediterranean with particular attention to the connected histories of sovereignty in Europe and the Ottoman Empire. He is currently writing a book on the French-Ottoman imperial rivalry over the sovereign status of Tunis after the 1830 conquest of Algiers. The book takes the imperial dispute over Tunis as a case-study to explore how Ottoman and French conceptions of sovereignty circulated, competed, and influenced one another across imperial legal traditions.He is also a research collaborator with JaNet, an ERC research project based at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies in Rethymno which explores Ottoman janissary networks in early modern port-cities around the Mediterranean. Before joining Columbia, Youssef taught modern middle eastern history at Harvard University and Ottoman palaeography at the University of Tunis.

M’hamed Oualdi is a historian of Early Modern and Modern North Africa and professor at Sciences Po-Paris. He has worked on two main topics: on the many effects of transitioning from the Ottoman rule to a French colonial domination in North African societies and on slavery and its social impacts in the 18th and 19th Mediterranean. He is the author of two monographs: Esclaves et maîtres. Les mamelouks au service des beys de Tunis du XVIIe siècle aux années 1880 (Publications de la Sorbonne, 2011) and A Slave between Empires (Columbia University Press, 2020). His current research project, funded by an ERC consolidator grant, will deal with the narratives and ego-documents written by enslaved North Africans in Europe and by European, African and Caucasian slaves in 18th and 19th-century North Africa.

Julia Clancy-Smith (UCLA, History, 1988) is Regents Professor of History at the University of Arizona,  School of Middle East and North African Studies. She recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete a monograph on schooling, education, and gender in colonial North Africa. Clancy-Smith authored Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c.1800–1900 (California, 2012); Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800–1904) (California, 1994); and published “The Mediterranean of the Barbary Coast: Gone Missing,” in Judith E. Tucker, ed., The Making of the Modern Mediterranean: Views from the South (California, 2019). Her Occasional Paper, Tunisian Revolutions: Reflections on Seas, Coasts, and Interiors (Georgetown, 2014) examines the “Arab uprisings” from a long-durée Mediterranean perspective. In addition, she co-edited Walls of Algiers: Narratives of the City in Text and Image (Getty Research Institute, 2009) as well as Domesticating the Empire: Languages of Gender, Race, and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism, 1830-1962 (Virginia, 1998). Clancy-Smith co-authored a textbook, The Middle East and North Africa: A History in Documents (Oxford, 2014) and is completing a multi-authored text North Africa: from Carthage to the Arab Spring (Cambridge, 2023).