Writing the History of Ordinary Ottoman Women during World War I

in Aspasia
Elif Mahir MetinsoyMiddle East Technical University elif_mahir@yahoo.com

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Ordinary women are among the least known subjects of Ottoman Turkish historiography. One of the most important reasons for this lack of information is that the Turkish archives are not organized in such a way that researchers can easily access documents on ordinary women. However, the difficulty in finding women’s voices in historical documents is only one part of the problem. Whereas conventional Ottoman-Turkish historiography prioritizes the acts of those holding power, most Turkish feminist historiography focuses on the organized activities of elite and middle-class women rather than ordinary women due to various paradigmatic and methodological restrictions. This article explains these limitations and proposes less conventional methods for conducting research on ordinary Ottoman women, who were important actors on the home front during World War I. It discusses theoretical approaches, methodology, and alternative sources that can be used to conduct research on women in the Turkish archives. It also presents some examples of ordinary Ottoman women’s voices and everyday struggles against the violence they suffered during World War I, using new, alternative sources like women’s petitions and telegrams to the state bureaucracy as well as folk songs.

Contributor Notes

Elif Mahir Metinsoy, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History of Middle East Technical University, received her PhD from Université de Strasbourg and Boğaziçi University. She is the author of Mütareke Dönemi İstanbulu’nda Moda ve Kadın, 1918–1923 (Fashion and women in the Istanbul of the Armistice period) (Istanbul: Libra Books, 2014). Her other published works are on the impact of World War I on ordinary Ottoman women, Ottoman feminism, Ottoman women’s periodicals, etiquette rules of the early Republican period and gender and politics. Email: elif_mahir@yahoo.com.

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The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History