Theses Doctoral

Building Sovereignty in the Late Ottoman World: Imperial Subjects, Consular Networks and Documentation of Individual Identities

Ispahani, Merve

This dissertation examines the formation of Ottoman sovereignty in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at the disciplinary intersection of international law and history. As an attempt to break away from a strictly territorial understanding of sovereignty as a fixed legal construct, it explores shifting definitions of sovereignty within and across the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire as well as its semi-autonomous provinces. It argues that Ottoman sovereignty was constantly re-defined by inter-imperial rivalries, jurisdictional politics and the formation of modern subjecthood and citizenship in the emerging arena of international law during the period in question.
Exploring what it meant to be an Ottoman and a foreigner in the Ottoman Empire during this period, I argue that subjecthood; nationality and citizenship often appear as instrumental categories incidentally utilized by ordinary individuals when deemed necessary. A careful examination of the Ottoman passport regime, on the other hand, proves that there already existed a prolonged process of experimentation on individual documentation and movement controls during the second half of the nineteenth history. Studying a collection of identity cards and passports, I argue that individual documentation mattered more for some subjects than others, who needed to maintain and negotiate their identities under overlapping structures of multiple sovereignties. A careful analysis of various case studies, from former Ottoman Bulgaria to never-Ottoman Dutch Indonesia, demonstrate that disputed claims to nationality and foreign protection in one locality were often connected to the enhancement or loss of Ottoman sovereignty elsewhere and can only be understood beyond the geographical and disciplinary constraints of area studies.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Khalidi, Rashid
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 13, 2018