Prof. Edhem Eldem elected to the International Chair of Turkish and Ottoman History at Collège de France

Prof. Edhem Eldem, from the Department of History at Boğaziçi University, has been recently elected to the International Chair of Turkish and Ottoman History at France’s prestigious Collège de France. He is expected to lecture and conduct research in this institutional context for a period of five years.

Established in 1530 by King François (Francis) I, Collège de France is a unique and privileged institution combining teaching and research. Following the motto of “teaching science in the making,” the institution has no formal student enrollment and aims rather at the dissemination of knowledge and ongoing research by a number of leading specialists in a wide range of scientific disciplines.

Collège de France chairs cover fundamental and social sciences, together with the humanities, and are regrouped under Mathematical and Digital Sciences (4 chairs), Physics and Chemistry (8 chairs), Life Sciences (9 chairs), Sociological Sciences (10 chairs), and History and Literature (11 chairs). Individual chairs bear titles such as “Data Science,” “Statistical Physics,” “Chemistry of Biological Processes,” “Climate and Ocean Evolution,” “Metaphysics and Philosophy of Knowledge,” “Intellectual History of China,” or “Modern and Contemporary French Literature.” One striking institutional feature is that chairs are not permanent, but limited by their holder’s tenure.

There are three types of chairs: those that last until their holder’s retirement, five-year international chairs, and one-year chairs. To this day, Prof. Celal Şengör, from Istanbul Technical University, was the first scholar from Turkey to be appointed to a one-year chair in Tectonic in 2004/2005. Edhem Eldem is the first recipient of a five-year international chair, a new format developed to allow the long-term recruitment of scholars who wish to maintain their affiliation with their own non-French institution. There are presently 42 long-term, 6 international, and 3 one-year chairs. (https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/institution/index.htmhttps://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-institution/index.htm)

Futile as it may be to list all prominent scholars who have left a trace in the Collège’s almost five centuries of existence, a few names from the recent past may give an idea about the institution’s profile: Raymond Aron, Roland Barthes, Pierre Bourdieu, Henri Bergson, Georges Dumézil, Michel Foucault… In the field of Ottoman and Turkish history, a chair was held by the late Gilles Veinstein between 1999 and 2011.

The Collège de France International Chair of Turkish and Ottoman History was established by decision of the board of professors with the understanding that Prof. Eldem would use this chair to organize lectures and conduct research in this area during the five years to come. (https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/edhem-eldem/index.htmhttps://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-edhem-eldem/index.htm)

As the holder of one of the institution’s six international chairs, Prof. Eldem noted that this election to one of the most prestigious institutions of science and learning was “a great honor,” and gave the following information regarding the process:

“I consider it a great honor to have been elected to such a prestigious and peculiar institution, halfway between an academy and a research center. Given its present structure and distribution of chairs, a great number of disciplines seem particularly encouraging from the perspective of potential collaboration: Contemporary Arab History (Henry Laurens), History of the Powers in Western Europe (Patrick Boucheron), History of the Qur’an (François Déroche), History and Cultures of Pre-Islamic Central Asia (Frantz Grenet), Early Modern Global History (Sanjay Subrahmanyam), Mesopotamian Civilization (Dominique Charpin), Written Culture in Late Antiquity and Byzantine Papyrology (Jean-Luc Fournet), Cultural History of Artistic Heritage in Europe (Bénédicte Savoy)… Some of these chairs are directly related to my chair’s central concerns, some others more indirectly; some dovetail with the history of archaeology and museology in the Ottoman lands, a major focus of my ongoing research.

The creation of the chair and my name were proposed by Henry Laurens, holder of the chair on Contemporary Arab History. A chair of “Turkish and Ottoman History” had previously existed, from 1999 to 2011, held by my late friend and colleague, Gilles Veinstein (1945-2013). To honor his memory and mark a form of continuity, but also to give my chair a broader context, I have chosen to name it in identical fashion.

During the five years to come, I have planned to organize my lectures in January and February, during Boğaziçi’s winter break. In May, I hope to organize a colloquium on the theme of the history of archaeology, museums and collections. More generally, I hope that this appointment will translate as an opportunity to create a dynamic collaboration with several other chairs at the Collège, with Turkish and Ottoman studies in France, and with the existing structures at Boğaziçi University.”