Foundation degrees

Course Information

Cities of the Sultans: Life in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire

Module summary

Module code: HIST1074
Level: 6
Credits: 15
School: Liberal Arts and Sciences
Department: Humanities and Social Sciences
Module Coordinator(s): Michael Talbot



This is a level 6 15-credit History course for both single honours and joint honours History students. This course will introduce students to the social, economic, and cultural history of the Ottoman Empire from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, a period that saw Ottoman rule expand across the Middle East. We will examine a variety of primary sources, from archaeological evidence to travel accounts to poetry. Students will use their advanced skills to combine primary sources with historical analysis to develop their own ideas about life in the early modern Ottoman Empire. Exploring different kinds of sources, specific urban institutions, and different urban contexts, this course will not only provide students with the opportunity to think critically about centres of economic and cultural significance in the Ottoman realms, but also to develop their own critiques of historiographical tropes and piece together their own interpretations of the past.

The course aims to:
• Develop an awareness and critical understanding of Ottoman economic, social, and cultural history from c.1500 to c.1800.
• Equip students to work with interpretive concepts including the city, space, and the urban institution, and to engage comparatively with different contexts and spaces.
• Consolidate students' knowledge of a range of historical methods, primary sources (in translation), and historiography and encourage critical thought and comparative reflection.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course a student will be able to:

1. Analyse with confidence the major trends and key in the early modern Ottoman Empire, including specific urban institutions and source types.
2. Identify, critique, and engage with the major trends and debates within the historiography of the early modern Ottoman Empire in general and Ottoman urban history in particular.
3. Understand the functions of major urban institutions in the Ottoman Empire, and the differences in those institutions across the Ottoman realms.
4. Apply appropriate academic conventions with regard to referencing.
5. Work with self-discipline and self-direction; to work with others, and have respect for others' reasoned views.
6. Gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information; show structure, coherence, clarity and fluency of oral and written expression.

Indicative content

This course will examine some of the key themes in the history of the early modern Ottoman Empire, including state-provincial relations, economic crises, the role of religion in society, and cultural and artistic trends, through the prism of urban space. In the first half of the course, students will get to grips with the key historiographical building blocks of urban history, critiquing notions such as “decline” and the “Islamic city”, considering the nature of source material, written and material, and examining the key cities of Istanbul and Jerusalem. In the second half of the course, students will analyse in-depth some of the main urban institutions of Ottoman cities, with a comparative element to demonstrate the Sublime State’s variation. The economy will be considered through the market place, urban patronage and social care through the mosque, law, order, and social morality through the court and the brothel, and cultural productions through the literary salon. Finally, students will consider the challenges to urban life: famine, natural disaster, and climate change. By examining recent scholarly literature on specific institutions, buildings, and neighbourhoods in Ottoman cities (Istanbul, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Salonica, Damascus and others) and primary sources from travel accounts, archival documents, coins, material culture, and illustrations, students will build up their critical understanding of early modern Ottoman history.

Teaching and learning activity

The course will be taught through seminars with a focus on student-centred learning through discussion and analysis of primary and secondary texts, and well as images, videos, and material objects. Extensive use will be made of Moodle both as a repository for teaching and learning resources and as a means of facilitating group work and additional discussion. Classroom activities will take the form of discussions, debates, source-based analysis and writing exercises.

Students will be expected to engage in directed reading, to undertake independent research, and to interpret primary and secondary source materials in addition to demonstrating their ability to offer sound, well-informed, original arguments in a written format.


Podcast Recording - 20% weighting, 40% pass mark.
A 5 to 10 minute podcast examining a material or visual source from or of an Ottoman city (to be submitted with script).
1000 words.
Learning outcomes 1-6.

Essay - 80% weighting, 40% pass mark.
An original essay comparing buildings or urban institutions in two Ottoman cities.
3000 words.
Learning outcomes 1 - 6.

Students are not required to pass all elements of summative assessment in order to pass the course.

The formative task will be a short review of the relevant section of the Islamic civilizations collection at the British Museum following a visit there early in the course. This will focus the students on the critical analysis of material sources, the question of survival of the sources, and how historians make sense of cities through their fragmentary remains.