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ASP Lecture | Shared Activities and Communal Bodies: Sports in late Ottoman Istanbul

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB
1080 South University Avenue

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Istanbulites from a plethora of backgrounds started to play soccer, perform gymnastics, and train their bodies in schools, at fitness clubs, and on athletic fields. These activities and newly constructed spaces formed a novel sports culture in the city. This culture centered around the belief that the regular performance of physical exercise was the most effective means to forming robust young men, modern communities, and a civilized empire. The individual and the community, after all, were not separate, but mutually constitutive. This paper investigates these developments by examining the contributions of Turkish and Armenian educators, intellectuals, doctors, and students to this shared sports culture and the relationships between young men that it facilitated. Analyzing the institutional and discursive trajectory of athletic associations, periodicals, and competitions, it documents how new understandings of the body, self, and nation underpinned sports during this period. These novel forms of organization, practice, and performance were embedded in broader transformations in the empire in which Ottomans challenged old and delineated new communal divisions and simultaneously projected civic and communal bonds. Together, they serve as unique vantage points from which to write an interconnected and textured history of Ottomans before World War I. The paper thereby encourages us to reflect on the ways in which Turks and Armenians, as well as others, collectively shaped the defining contours of novel practices, beliefs, and norms in the imperial domains. 

Cosponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies (CMENAS) and the Department of History.

Ottoman gymnasts of the Imperial High School.
Source: Galatasaray Museum (circa early twentieth century)