Imperial Connections: The Nahda and Translation Movements between Ottoman Turkish and Arabic, 1860-1914

Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, North-Eastern University
Monday, October 16, 2017 -
12:00pm to 1:30pm
144 Louis A. Simpson International Building
Monday, October 16, 2017 -
12:00pm to 1:30pm

What kinds of ties connected intellectuals in Istanbul, Cairo and Beirut in the last decades of the Empire? To what extent did these intellectuals follow each other’s debates and engage with (or simply read) each other’s works?  Is it possible to think of a common Ottoman intellectual realm that is not confined by linguistic barriers?  I propose to broach these questions by looking at translations between Arabic and Ottoman Turkish published in the three aforementioned cities, a topic that has elicited virtually no attention within the historiography of the late Ottoman Empire.  This silence is particularly remarkable, when contrasted with the considerable (and well-deserved) attention paid to translations from European languages, and especially French, into both Arabic and Ottoman Turkish during this period.

My paper will identify general trends, genres and themes among the texts that were translated and published, in the period under study, as books or articles. It will also dwell on certain translators, their choices and reasons given for undertaking such translations, as well as the role of the state and specific ideologies in promoting translation projects. The paper will also give an idea of how specific concepts and texts were translated, and the translators’ strategies and interventions into the original text.  Finally, I will raise the question of bilingualism and multilingualism in the last decades of the Empire, and compare the translation movement between Ottoman Turkish and Arabic with the undeniably much more dominant and widespread translation movement of European texts into Ottoman Turkish and Arabic.


Ilham Khuri-Makdisi is Associate Professor in Middle East and World History at Northeastern University in Boston. She received her PhD in Middle Eastern History from Harvard University (2004). She is the author of The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914 (University of California Press, 2010), as well as book chapters and articles, including most recently “The Conceptualization of the Social in late 19th early 20th century Arabic thought and language,” in M Pernau and D Sachsenmaier, eds., Global Conceptual History: A Reader (Bloomsbury, 2016) and “Narrating the Self in Istanbul: sources from Arab travelers and residents in the late Ottoman period,” in Richard Wittmann et al, eds., Recovering the Voices of Late Ottoman Istanbul’s Multiethnic Residents through Self-Narratives (1830- 1930): Exploring Sources and Research Paradigms (Ashgate: Forthcoming, 2018). She is currently working on two projects: one is a study on translations between Arabic and Ottoman Turkish in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the second centers on Bustani’s Arabic Encyclopedia, the Dai’rat al-Ma’arif of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sponsored by
The Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication