It’s the 16th century, and the Ottoman Empire has just defeated the Mamluk Sultanate, conquering Damascus and Cairo, important centers of Arab learning and culture. But how did these two groups—Arabs and “Rumis”, a term used to refer to those living in Anatolia—interact? How did Arabs deal with these powerful upstarts, and how did Rumis try to work with their learned, yet defeated, subjects?
Dr Helen Pfeifer studies one venue where Arabs and Rumis in the Ottoman Empire interacted, learned from each other, and jockeyed for status: the salon. Empire of Salons: Conquest and Community in Early Modern Ottoman Lands looks at how gatherings of “gentlemen” helped to build Ottoman culture.
In this interview, Helen and I talk about the Ottoman Empire, the differences between the Arab and Rumi communities, and what exactly people did in the salon.
Dr Helen Pfeifer is the inaugural university lecturer in early Ottoman history at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Christ’s College. She has an interest in understanding the empire within larger Islamic, European, and global contexts. Her research focuses on issues of empire, cultural exchange, and Islamic devotional practice in the 16th and 17th centuries. She can be followed on Twitter at @krel7.