Helen Pfeifer, "Empire of Salons: Conquest and Community in Early Modern Ottoman Lands" (Princeton UP, 2022)


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It’s the sixteenth 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 (Princeton University Press: 2022) 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 sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She can be followed on Twitter at @krel7.

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of Empire of Salons. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.