Theses Doctoral

Ghost Rations: Empire, Ecology, and Community in the Ottoman East, 1839-94

Ghazarian, Matthew

“Ghost Rations” draws on environmental history and the history of capitalism to explain the development of the communal conflicts that tore apart the multi-ethnic, multi-confessional Ottoman Empire. It focuses on the Ottoman East in 1839-94, a period that began with a Sultanic declaration of religious equality and ended with a dramatic wave of communal violence, the Hamidian Massacres (1894-97). Recent work has described how communal boundaries hardened thanks to the rise of new discourses and symbols of belonging put forth by powerful agencies like the Ottoman state, European colonial powers, and Protestant missionaries. This project builds on these discursive and intellectual explanations for ethnic and religious divides, but it argues that in order to understand how new ideas about difference and belonging came into practice, we must account for provincial partners and the material conditions that assisted in their spread and uptake. To accomplish this, “Ghost Rations” takes up famine, the most intense of material conditions, in the decades before the Hamidian Massacres. The first half focuses on the 1839-76 expansion of imperial institutions that worked to define and police communal boundaries. The second half analyzes three cases of famine between 1879 and 1894, when these reform-oriented institutions wielded outsized influence by distributing life-saving humanitarian aid. These institutions, however, also had the effect of distributing hardship and trauma unevenly along ethno-religious lines. New technologies like the telegraph, environmental forces like El Niño, and financial changes like the spread of banking combined to distribute hunger and hardship along confessional lines. Suffering unequally borne radicalized communal tensions and set the stage for unprecedented violence in subsequent years.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Khalidi, Rashid
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 2, 2020