March 7, “Militarized Somnambulism: Converts, Orphans, and the Technological Instruments of Ottoman Reform,” Adrien Zakar

Tuesday, March 7, 5:00 – 6:30 pm

Buchanan Tower 1112

In cooperation with UBC Program in Middle East Studies

Adrien Zakar

Assistant Professor, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology Fellow, Victoria College University of Toronto.


Militarized Somnambulism: Converts, Orphans, and the Technological Instruments of Ottoman Reform

Since the Age of Revolutions, the Middle East has been a laboratory for mapping devices. Beginning with triangulation during Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and later in the Crimean War; moving onto aerial photography in interwar colonial theaters of operations; and finally to the GPS and the contemporary use of drones – regional politics have both shaped and been shaped by the global proliferation of mapping instruments. How has this technological development transformed the region from within? This is the question at the heart of this talk. Initially rare and expensive artifacts, maps and geographical books became small and ordinary objects that spread across military institutions, bureaucracies, private firms, schools, and individual households beginning in the mid-19th-century. Tracing overlooked tensions at the core of Ottoman imperial reforms following the Crimean War (1853-56), I will examine how marginalized subjects – runaway converts and enslaved orphans – managed to deploy new forms of power in the imperial order by foregrounding their skills in mapping. They did so by drawing on what I term “militarized somnambulism,” a technological process through which military devices surreptitiously reconfigured socio-political struggles in both the capital and the provinces while simultaneously shifting the disciplinary boundaries of geographical science and making small instruments and their users central to the ordinary machineries of empire.