Engin D. Akarli Joukowsky Family Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Modern Middle Eastern History

Akarli studied economics at Robert College (BA '68), southeast European history at University of Wisconsin (MA '72), and Middle East history at Princeton (MA '73, Ph.D. '76). He taught at Bosphorus University in Istanbul (1976-83), Yarmouk University in Jordan (1983-89), and Washington University in St. Louis (1989-96) before joining Brown. He held research fellowships at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (1985-86), at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2003-04), and at the Islamic Legal Studies Program of Harvard Law School (2005-06). He taught courses in economic history of the world and the Middle East and wrote on Ottoman demographic, fiscal and political history earlier in his career. His later works explore the history of geographical Syria under Ottoman rule. His book on Ottoman Lebanon in 1860-1920 won the Best History Book Prize of the Missouri Historical Society. Currently, he works on themes related to the legal history of the region.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

• "Law in the Marketplace, 1730-1840." In Dispensing Justice in Islam: Qadis and their Judgments, ed. by M. Khalid Masud, Rudolph Peters and David S. Powers (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006), pp. 245-270.

• "The Subordination of the Hawran Druze in 1910: The Ottoman Perspective." In The Druze: Realities and Perceptions, ed. by Kamal Salibi (London: The Druze heritage Foundation, 2005), pp. 115-128 (with Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayn).

• "Gedik: A Bundle of Rights and Obligations for Istanbul Artisans and Traders, 1750-1840." In Law, Anthropology and the Constitution of the Social: Making Persons and Things, ed. by Alain Pottage and Martha Mundy (Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 166-200.

• "The Tangled Ends of an Empire and Its Sultan." In Modernity and Culture from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, ed. by Leila Fawaz and Christopher Bailey (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 261-284.

• "Rights and Conditions of Religious Communities in Ottoman Lands" [in Turkish]. In Osmanli Devleti'nde Din ve Vicdan Hürriyeti, ed. by Azmi Özcan (Istanbul: ÌSAV, 2000), pp. 27-40 & 369-374.

• "Making Peace with the Past" (in Turkish). In Bilanço, 1923-1998, ed. by Sevket Pamuk et al. (Istanbul: Tarih Vakfi and TÜBA, 1999), vol. 1, pp. 13-17.

• "Particularities of History." Armenian Forum 1/2 (Summer 1998): 53-64.

• "Ottoman Historiography." Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 30/1 (July 1996): 33-37.

• The Long Peace: Ottoman Lebanon, 1961-1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

• "Economic Policy and Budgets in Ottoman Turkey, 1876-1909." Middle Eastern Studies 28 (1992): 443-476.

• "Ottoman Attitudes Towards Lebanese Emigration, 1885-1910." In Lebanese and the World: A Century of Emigration, ed. by Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi (London: I.B. Tauris, 1992), pp. 109-138.

• Ottoman Documents on Jordan: Part 1: "The Ottoman Government and Semi-Nomadic Tribes in Northern Jordan, 1846-1851" [in Arabic], and Part 2: "Ottoman Criteria for the Choice of an Administrative Center, 1909-1910" [in English] (Amman: Publication of the University of Jordan, 1989).

• "Provincial Power Magnates in Ottoman Bilad al-Sham and Egypt, 1740-1840." In La vie sociale dans les provinces arabes à l'époque ottomane, ed. by A. Temimi (Zaghouan, Tunisia, 1988), vol. 3, pp. 41-56.

• "Conceptual Simplification Impairs Historical Analysis" (in Turkish). Toplum ve Bilim (Science and Society), 39 (1987): 129-146.

• "Establishment of the Ma'an-Karak Mutasarrifiyya, 1891-1894." Dirasat (Amman: The University of Jordan), 13 (1986): 27-42.

• "Friction and Discord within the Ottoman Government under Abdülhamid II (1876-1909)." In Bogaziçi University Journal-Humanities 7 (1979): 3-26.

• "Spatial Organization in 14th Century Syria: An Exercise in Historiography." Bo?aziçi University Journal-Humanities 6 (1978): 1-25.

• "The State as a Socio-Cultural Phenomenon in Turkey." In Political Participation in Turkey: Historical Background and Present Problems, ed. by E. D. Akarli (with Gabriel Ben-Dor) (Istanbul: Bosphorus University Press, 1975).

• "Religious and Regional Composition of Ottoman Population in Europe, 1864-1876" [in Turkish]. Belgelerle Türk Tarihi Dergisi 12 (1973): 50-53.

• "Ethnic and Religious Composition of 19th Century Ottoman Population in Europe" [in Turkish]. Belgelerle Türk Tarihi Dergisi 10 (1972): 17-22.


research overview

Akarli's research project, "Law in the Marketplace: Istanbul Artisans, 1730-1840," examines how the Ottoman legal system worked and where it failed in dealing with conflicts affecting urban market relations in a relatively long and critical period of Ottoman history. The project also links the tensions of the Ottoman legal system to its gradual transformation in the nineteenth century and discusses the implications of this transformation for state-society relations in the modern Middle East.

research statement

Engin Deniz Akarli's book project, Law in the Marketplace: Istanbul Artisans, 1730-1840, examines how the Ottoman legal system worked and where it failed in dealing with conflicts affecting urban market relations in a relatively long and critical period of Ottoman history. The project also links the tensions of the Ottoman legal system to its gradual transformation in the nineteenth century and discusses the implications of this transformation for state-society relations in the modern Middle East. The originality and significance of the project are in the sources on which it relies and in its focus on a combination of understudied themes.

Law has been a long-neglected theme in modern historiography of non-Western contexts, partly because habits of thought shaped by modern concepts of law and state used to make it difficult to recognize, let alone appreciate, differently conceived legal cultures and systems. Recent debates on law, however, challenge established perceptions and encourage efforts to expand the scope of human experience on which to base our understanding of law and its place in human life. Simultaneously, recent research on Islamic legal thought (which informed Ottoman legal practice) points to its sophistication and significance as one of the major legal traditions of human history.

Studies on Islamic legal history, however, rely primarily on sources of a theoretical nature. We still know little about how Islamic legal tradition informed the judiciary processes and reasoning in specific historical settings or about its perceptions by the people who relied on it to defend their interests. One of my main objectives is to address these gaps relying on the most detailed sources available to us, namely the judiciary documents preserved in the Ottoman archives.

The Ottoman kadi court records and the judicial files of the Ottoman Imperial Council (Divan) constitute by far the richest sources available to researchers interested in legal praxis in an Islamic context before the advent of the modern state and legal systems. There is a growing interest in using the regular court records as a source of legal history, in conjunction with contemporaneous collections of legal opinions (fatawa) and legal treatises. However, the formulaic nature of the court records impedes in-depth inquiries into judiciary processes and reasoning. The judicial files of the Divan, on the other hand, provide detailed information on the background of each case as well as on the legal evidence pertaining to it. Only a few scholars mostly interested in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century legal history have used these files so far, although the most detailed files date from the period covered in my research. I rely primarily on the Divan files (but also use some relevant court records and legal treatises) to shed light on the legal contexts and practices through which the meaning of law and justice was negotiated and interpreted in the Ottoman capital.

Scope of the Work
The sheer volume of the Divan's judicial files necessitates the limitation of the scope of research. I focus on the artisans and traders of the major business-districts of greater Istanbul in 1730-1840. Artisans and traders were religiously and ethnically mixed town-dwellers. They had differences among themselves as well as with merchants, owners of work premises, vendors, and various government offices and officials. They turned to the legal system to defend their interests and became involved in demonstrations calling for justice when they believed the legal system had failed them.

The period I cover begins with a major popular uprising in which Istanbul artisans and traders were actively involved. It ends with a turning point in Ottoman history, when the adoption of a bureaucratic and legal reorganization policy began to transform the Ottoman state and society after Western models. In between, we have a period of relative tranquility and prosperity until about 1775, then a phase of wars and economic hardship. Observing the performance of the Ottoman legal system through the vicissitudes of this period with a focus on artisans and traders enables me to examine how it worked or failed to work through a broad range of conflictive situations that affected the marketplace and the various social groups that made up its human tapestry.

Outline of the Work

Part I: The Legal System and the Due Legal Process: Part One describes the organization of the Ottoman legal system and the procedures with which it worked. My main argument is that at all levels of the legal process, the Ottoman legal culture emphasized the reconciliation of real or potential differences through negotiations in light of certain broad legal principles and norms embedded in Islamic legal tradition and held to be universally relevant. Through this process, the courts made and remade the laws, in the practical sense of the word as binding provisions, with the participation of those actors to whom the provisions would apply.

Part II: Property Relations: In Part Two, I illustrate the operation of the system in detail by focusing on the legal regulation of property relations over immovable urban commercial property, an issue particularly sensitive to social and economic changes in general. I show how the complexity of these relations eventually strained the courts' capacity to reconcile differences and to accommodate change.

Part III: Fundamental Objectives of the Law and Non-Muslim Artisans: In Part Three, I focus on tensions and cooperation among artisans and traders of the same calling but of different religious affiliation and on the courts handling of these differences. My aim is to examine how certain universalistic norms or claims of the Ottoman-Islamic legal tradition worked in practice. I observe that the Ottoman legal tradition served quite effectively in a complex multi-religious environment but not as equitably as the emerging modern ideals of law and citizenship promised.

Part IV: Changes in the Reform Era and Conclusions: In this final part, I will examine the changes in legal institutions and the concept of law in the nineteenth century and the repercussions of these changes for state-society relations in the post-Ottoman Middle East. At this point, I hold that reforms may have produced seemingly strong and stable states and, in certain cases, rule of law in the modern Middle East but not regimes that are consistently accountable to the people over which they rule. This is a legacy of the nineteenth century, rather than the eighteenth. Law had different meanings and objectives that were more responsive to the society and provided a greater degree of civic autonomy and initiative in the eighteenth century. That system cannot be resurrected and would not fit our world. Learning about the experience of the people who used and influenced it, however, may inspire reassessments of the current relations between state, society and law in the Middle East. At the least, it should broaden the comparative and historical base of our understanding of the place of law in human life.

funded research

For current research:
National Endowment for the Humanities at Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton ($35,000)
Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School ($22,950)
Brown University (sabbatical leaves and research account)