Part of the Fall 2020 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series
Michael Ferguson, Affiliate Assistant Professor, History, Concordia University
The 1857 abolition of the trade of enslaved Africans in the Ottoman Empire began a process that resulted in the formation of ‘African quarters’ on the margins of most large cities across the empire, especially major port towns. Ironically, as efforts to police the trade increased so did the demand for enslaved and emancipated African women in Ottoman households to cook, clean, and help with child rearing. By the 1880s Izmir arguably had the largest proportion of emancipated Africans of any Ottoman city, with a unique culture and history that still reverberate today. This presentation draws upon local newspapers, travelogues, memoirs, Ottoman and British government documents, as well as interviews with the descendants of the enslaved known as ‘Afro-Turks,’ to recreate the social world of this unknown wing of the global African Diaspora. In Izmir, African women, and particularly elderly women, played a central role in community formation, as seen in their annual festival. They were also perceived by the non-African community as a threat to “public order,” an attitude which persisted into the Republican period, and informs anti-Black/African racism in Turkey to this day. In turn, descendants of enslaved Africans in Izmir have begun to reclaim and valorize their largely unknown history and traditions, leading to the rise and celebration of a new “Afro-Turkish” identity.
Dr. Michael Ferguson is an Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Concordia University in Montreal. Broadly, his work focuses on the history of slavery and migration in the late Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. After completing his doctorate in History at McGill University (2015), he joined the Department of History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) as a Post-Doctoral Fellow. He has also held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University, as well the position of Visiting Scholar at the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near and Middle East Studies at NYU. Michael is currently completing an article-length project on the food history of enslaved and emancipated African women in the Ottoman Empire.
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