Call for Papers on Visible/Invisible Urban Boundaries

Deadline: 30 November 2013
Open to: Researchers knowledgeable in Ottoman and historical studies of urban areas
Venue: Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, 22-23 May 2014


One common characteristic of cities in the Ottoman world – Anatolia, the Balkans, the Middle East, North-Africa and adjacent regions – was the diversity of their inhabitants. Ottoman urban studies have acknowledged this diversity studying its effects on city life as well as the challenges of managing it. Within this framework of research the central focus was often either on the peaceful coexistence or the violent conflicts among different groups.

With the workshop “Visible and Invisible Urban boundaries in the Ottoman and post-Ottoman world from a comparative perspective” in Berlin from 22-23 May 2014, the organizers Ulrike Freitag, Nora Lafi and Florian Riedler would like to take a fresh look on the cities and towns of the Ottoman world in order to try and gain a better understanding of their social condition, their cultural and political life, as well as their own representation and image of themselves by focussing on their internal boundaries.

Very basically they are interested in questioning what sort of boundaries characterised different cities of the Ottoman world, be they functionally defined as borders between different parts of the city or between the city and its margins. Boundaries are understood here as both social and morphological between different communities, classes or groups of inhabitants and as signs, which are visible in the urban semiotic or even more implicit and pertaining in the symbolic dimension of urban life. They hope to examine how these boundaries intersected or ran parallel to one another and how they were expressed in urban space. This also implies the question of the role of the state, the Ottoman central government, local city regimes as well as the successor states in their various attempts at policing, altering, maintaining or abolishing urban boundaries according to their own understanding of order in the city. In addition, the perspective of the respective inhabitants, their way of crossing boundaries, neglecting, stressing or even challenging them, could be central to our understanding of city life.

It is the organizers’ aim to put urban boundaries into a historical perspective by asking about the processes of when and how they came into being and how they changed over time. This question is especially pertinent for the time of Ottoman modernisation in the 19th century and the transition from empire to nation state that followed different timelines in the regions under consideration. How did political borders that increasingly cut up imperial space impact internal urban boundaries? What happened to established urban boundaries during these transformations? Were they themselves transformed to continue to exist in a different form or to re-emerge later as phantoms?

By examining such phantom borders inside cities more thoroughly, historical research can be linked with present-day concerns about city life. Especially in the Ottoman and post-Ottoman world there are numerous examples for such phenomena that call for an explanation on both the historical and the contemporary level. Such questions are at the centre of the research network “Phantom borders in East Central Europe” in the framework of which this workshop will be organised.

They like to attract new source based approaches to cities and towns in the wider Ottoman world that deal with these or related questions. Papers that allow comparisons with similar issues in other parts of the world are also highly welcome.


Some funding for travel and accommodation costs is available for participants.


Researchers knowledgeable in the subject matter are eligible to apply for this conference.


The deadline for abstract submission is 30 November 2013. Please send a 600 word abstract and a CV to Florian Riedler  at and Nora Lafi  at

Paper presenters will be informed about the selection by December 15, 2013.

As this workshop is conceived as a fundamental step in the preparation of a collective book, presenters are also expected to provide a 7000/10000 word original version of their article by March 31, 2014.

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