Leading Ottoman historian passes away
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 2/20/2011 12:00:00 AM | NIKI GAMM
Professor Donald Quataert, one of the world’s leading Ottoman historians, has passed away at the age of 69. He was a chairperson of the Board of Governors at the Institute of Turkish Studies but resigned from this position in 2006 amid controversy over remarks concerning the events of 1915 in Eastern Anatolia
Professor Donald Quataert, one of the world’s leading Ottoman historians, passed away earlier this month at the age of 69 from prostate cancer. He nurtured many students of Ottoman history, influenced the study of labor history in the Ottoman Empire and added to the controversy over the events of 1915 in Eastern Anatolia.
Quataert was born in Rochester, New York, and acquired a reputation as a prodigious reader even as a child. His initial introduction to Turkey occurred in 1960-61 when he helped build a radar station for General Dynamics in Samsun, Turkey. The job influenced his approach to Ottoman history and he focused on looking at “history from below,” studying the lives of ordinary people.
Quataert pioneered the field in Ottoman studies. He wasn’t just content to pore over documents – he visited the places that he wrote about. For example, he was interested in the Tekel tobacco factory at Cibali, now part of Kadir Has University. He not only spoke with the head of the factory but visited the factory floor to see firsthand how the women did their work there. And not just content with writing about it, he even commissioned a photographer to go and take pictures of it.
He loved learning about new things and was inquisitive about all he saw. It was an infectious quality that he imparted to his colleagues and students alike. He reportedly treated his graduate students with equality and took an interest in their lives as well. He was also devoted to his immediate and his extended family.
Quataert was a prolific writer and is best known for his book, “The Ottoman Empire: 1700 to 1922.” He also wrote many articles and other books dealing with Ottoman industry, labor, manufacturing and consumption. Most recently he studied Ottoman labor history, which has suffered from a dearth of interest. For him the important issues were the role of guild organizations in the work force; the importance of women as workers; the lives of labor; the role of the Janissaries in Ottoman guilds; and a reconstruction of the everyday lives of workers.
His book titles include “Ottoman Manufacturing in the Age of the Industrial Revolution,” “Miners and the State in the Ottoman Empire,” “Manufacturing and technology transfer in the Ottoman Empire, 1800-1914” and “Workers, Peasants and Economic Change in the Ottoman Empire, 1730-1914.”
He was an Ottoman and Turkish Historian at State University of New York – Binghamton and received his Ph.D. in History from the University of California at Los Angeles. He spoke Ottoman Turkish, modern Turkish, German, French and Spanish.
Quataert was a chairman of the Board of Governors at the Institute of Turkish Studies but resigned from this position in 2006 amid controversy over remarks concerning the events of 1915 in Eastern Anatolia he made in the book review, “The Massacres of Ottoman Armenians” that appeared in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History that year. A number of highly placed Turkish officials were incensed at the article and the Turkish ambassador at the time conveyed the message to Quataert that if he did not resign from his position at the institute, the Turkish government would withdraw its funding from that organization.
He has said in an interview that he personally was not told by the ambassador to resign, merely that there was a real chance that the money would be withdrawn. He also has pointed out that he did not sign the article as the chairperson at the institute but rather as a professor of history at Binghamton and insisted that he had a right to express his opinion freely. Aside from his resignation, the controversy had little or no bearing on his career although it raised the question of Turkish government manipulation of funding to present its point of view.
According to Quataert, the violence directed against the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was the product of very specific historical conditions, including World War I. He believed that historians need to examine the specific conditions that produced these results. For him, a beginning would be to allow free and open discourse within the Turkish and Armenian communities.
Quataert, who loved nature, will also be remembered as a devout bird watcher. He could be seen most days in the SUNY Binghamton Nature Preserve with binoculars and bird book in hand to identify any bird he saw that he didn’t know.
Funeral services were held this past Sunday in Binghamton and a celebratory memorial service will be held for Donald Quataert at Binghamton University in April.