A few words from Mac
Gerald Maclean, Professor of English at the University of Exeter, shares a few thoughts on Evliya.
Virtual Londons are becoming daily more important ways of helping people to understand the city, its history and its people, and the Maslaha ‘Evliya Çelebi: Book of Travels’ adds massively to our access to and sense of everyday life in London during one of the city’s most formative eras, the age of Pepys. As others have shown, what Pepys is to London, Evliya is to Istanbul, and the Ottoman Empire more broadly, providing an exciting new perspective on the ways we think about life in Restoration London. Pepys and Evliya were brilliant chroniclers of these major cities at a time when trade between them was transforming the daily lives of Londoners. What Evliya’s writings enable us to see more forcefully and clearly is the enormous impact that Ottoman culture was having on the ways that Londoners, and the English generally, were living their lives. Making Evliya’s world better known, the exhibition draws attention to cultural differences that, in turn, emphasize moments of exchange and influence that need to be understood as widely as possible.
The virtual exhibition is all set to become an inspiring and invaluable educational tool for the British Council, most especially their activities in Turkey. The launch of the installation in Istanbul in the summer of that city’s 2010 European Cultural Capital celebrations is certain to be a major event that will generate lasting interest in the virtual exhibition thereby stimulating further developments and guaranteeing future audiences. Most valuably, his exhibition encourages understanding of a crucial age of Anglo-Ottoman exchange, a time when the so-called ‘Ottoman threat’ in Europe was over and English fascination with ‘Turkey’ flourished in travel writing and fiction, on the London stage, and in the consumption habits, domestic appointments and furnishings of bourgeois households.
Today, serious interest in Ottoman history is becoming increasingly widespread throughout Turkey. It is on the Turkish government’s agenda. This exhibition will assist the British Council in making that history better known. It was a time when Istanbul and London, the Ottomans and the English, had well established commercial and diplomatic relations, and these were shaping British colonial and imperial engagements in the Indian Ocean and Asia. Anglo-Ottoman bonds of this era were defining the emergent modern world. If this was not a love story as such, it nevertheless corrects the common error of imagining that East and West, Christian and Muslim, are invariably bound to conflict. And it is worth noting that Britain firmly supports Turkey’s EU-bid. Understanding Evliya’s world, an empire that included a lot of Europe, can only help us to understand better than we do at present, how to resolve debates concerning Turkey’s relations with countries making up the current EU.