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CREES Lecture - Coffee House Babble: Smoking and Sociability in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Bulgaria

Thursday, October 23, 2008
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB

Mary Neuburger, associate professor, Department of History, University of Texas-Austin. Sponsored by the Center for Russian and East European Studies and Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.


In the course of the nineteenth century, Bulgarians came of age socially and politically in the smoke-filled rooms of the Ottoman kafene. The kafene was a portal to a public world of men of various social strata, in which sociability -- along with political and economic activity -- were facilitated by the ritualized consumption of coffee and tobacco. In fact the process of the discovery and invention of "Bulgarianness" happened, among other places, amidst kafene conviviality. With the scattering of newly mobilized Bulgarian with the kafene at home and abroad, Bulgarians quite literally learned to smoke from first Ottoman and then European sources, with all the changes of aesthetics and accompaniments implied. They learned to smoke amidst profound shifts in Ottoman and "Western" smoking practices, and amidst continuous interaction and mutual influence. By the second half of the nineteenth century, Bulgarian smoking became a constant in a rapidly transforming world of commerce, politics, leisure and sociability -- whether associated with sobriety in the kafene, or, soon after, inebriation in the kruchma (tavern). The Bulgarian kafene (and to a lesser degree the evolving kruchma) become a critical center for commerce, nationalist and socialist agitation, social commentary, and state policing. But this increase in tobacco consumption took place within a field of anti-Ottoman and growing anti-Western sentiments that permeated Bulgarian thought, seeping into newly articulated critiques of smoking and leisure, as well as the broader projects of defining boundaries of national culture and public morality. Whether embraced or reviled, smoking carved a permanent place for itself in the Bulgarian social world, while undeniably playing a role in the transformation of the parameters of that world.