Forging Urban Solidarities: Ottoman Aleppo 1640-1700. By CHARLES L. WILKINS. The Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage, vol. 41. Leiden: BRILL, 2010. Pp. xvi + 323. $186.
Work on the surviving court records (sijills or sicils) of the Ottoman empire has for several decades been one of the most vibrant and contested fields of Ottoman history. As we have learned, the kadi courts were ubiquitous--though not perhaps as numerous as one might suppose--and the most obvious presence of dynastic power across Ottoman territories over six centuries. Historians have used evidence from the court cases to explore the long hand of Ottoman/Islamic law in order to construct state local (or center periphery) arguments about peasants, minorities, gender, trade, wealth, inheritance, and more generally, "civil society." Yet, as we have also discovered, the records could be as idiosyncratic as the judge in charge of a particular court in a particular place at any given time. For all those caveats, exacerbated by chronological gaps in the record, the sijills have afforded several generations of historians the opportunity to dig deeply into Ottoman social relations.
My own, very brief excursion into sijills occurred in the collections in Sofia, Bulgaria, as part of a study on Ottoman warfare of the eighteenth century. It seemed to me that the overwhelming concern of the court records I was examining was provisioning, mobilization, and extraordinary taxes, second only to the working out of inheritance cases of deceased Janissary Corps members, but that impression may well have been the result of my gaze at that particular moment. I came away wondering why we are not studying the sijills for the impact of major wars and campaigns on the social order and well-being of the provinces.
Clearly I was not the only one to pose the question. The editors of the Ottoman Empire and Its Heritage series are to be congratulated for publishing much of the new work on these sijills of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly Amnon Cohen, The Guilds of Ottoman Jerusalem (2001); Eunjeong Yi, Guild Dynamics in Seventeenth Century Istanbul (2004); Nenad Moaeanin, Town and Country on the Middle Danube, 1526-1690 (2006); Hulya Canbakal, Society and Politics in an Ottoman Town: 'Aynt[a.bar]b in the Seventeenth Century (2007); and most recently Charles Wilkins, Forging Urban Societies. That list does not include the many other scholars associated with this pursuit whose earlier work...