To Eyup

I had never gone all the way up the Golden Horn to Eyup, but knew that would be an important part of our explorations of Turkish culture. I thought a stop at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate on the way, and a walking tour of the old Jewish community area of Balat would be important ways to consider Turkey’s tolerant past. But the day was hot, and the students a bit tired. We had actually hired a guide this time, who took us first to Rustem Paşa mosque, one of my favorites, a small mosque built by the great architect Sinan. It’s hard to find the structure, surrounded as it is by the buildings that have grown up around it.

We decided to take the boat to Fener instead of walking all the way, and when we got to Fener found the Patriarchate closed for cleaning for another hour. We walked up the steep hill to a Greek Orthodox high school, now with dozens instead of hundreds of students.

Back down the hill we visited the Bulgarian Orthodox church, a pre-fabricated structure built in Vienna in the late 19th century and assembled on a site just off the water. After lunch, we returned to view the building housing the Patriarch of Constantinople, a remarkably ornate and guilded structure to which the Patriarch moved in the 17th century. It is a far cry from Aya Sofia, earlier center of Orthodox life before the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

Then we had to decide whether to keep walking (it was getting hotter) or just take the boat to Eyup. Some had had enough monuments (mosques and churches) and wanted to focus on neighborhoods. (Reminded me of a friend’s characterization of the ABC’s of European tourism: Another Bloody Church, Another Bloody Castle.) But Eyup is different.)

We decided to take the ferry all the way to Eyup.

After a gondola ride up the mountain for tea in Pierre Lotti’s café (Freely claims it wasn’t really), we walked to the pilgrimage site. The guidebooks claim Eyup as one of the holiest sites for Muslims, the place where Prophet Muhammad’s standard-bearer Eyup was buried after dying in an unsuccessful effort to take Constantinople in the 7th century. The guide repeated the tour books: an Ottoman religious man dreamed the location of Eyup’s body shortly after the conquest of the city in 1453. As Freely and Sumner-Boyd point out, however, medieval texts describe the site of Eyup’s tomb over the intervening centuries, and the Byzantines had treated the site with respect.  Is the guide’s story an effort to pretend that the Byzantines were not tolerant, or is it a way to show that Muslim mystics have powerful dreams? (A few years ago, we were struck by the Budapest population’s respect for the Ottoman conquerors–clear at their military museum–and that they had maintained and beautified the tomb of Gül Baba, a Muslim religious leader during the Ottoman period. It seems tolerance and intolerance have historically gone both ways in the past, but that present elites seem mostly to emphasize each other’s intolerance.)

The tomb of Eyup is clearly not only a venerated site, but a loved space. People’s devotion was clear in the way they walked into the tomb, touched the screens and the windows that protected both the tomb and a stone with the Prophet’s footprint.  People exited walking backward, women stroked the stones and kissed the screens.  Turkish boys, circumcised as young children, are dressed in distinctive outfits for the day’s celebrations. Many families come to Eyup’s türbe as part of the celebration.  Like us, it seemed, many of the Turkish women were wearing headscarves just for their visit to the tomb.

The difference between the tomb at Eyup and Istanbul’s large, touristic mosques was palpable. This is a place of devotion, in addition to aestetic apreciation. People begin praying outside, hands held open, concentrating. The students asked why the place was so significant.  It is the closest connection possible with the lifetime of Muhammad.  Kevin asked about orthodox Islam’s insistence that there be no intercessor between the person and God–what is this veneration of saints? This is, of course, one of the resons that Salafis (“fundamentalists,” Wahabbis, and others) have, over time, tried to destroy the tombs of important forebears. Great questions, these students have!

June 28, 2008 at 7:02 am Leave a comment

Church to Mosque

After last week, I thought we needed to take things a bit slower. Monday had not been a promising start–we grappled with questions of Turkey, religion, and politics from 10 am until dinner was over nearly 11 hours later.

Tuesday we got to enjoy the final student site presentations. The morning was at Kariye museum, a strangely asymmetrical domed structure with the most remarkable and spectacular mosaics still intact. William and I had gone to the old Byzantine church-turned mosque-turned museum some years ago with our kids and our friend Bob Ousterhout, who had written his dissertation on the structure. He is one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever met, and his explanations have stayed with me.


Then it was Kalenderhane, another Byzantine church recreated as a mosque. Both student pairs described the transition, and Zoe actually distributed a page with the basic mosque structures that the students colored while she described the basic needs for the conversion.

All day Wednesday we had conferences to talk about oral history and final projects, and Thursday provided everyone with some work time. Thursday evening was party time! Robin, the wonderful landlord, brought the Efes and some Turkish food, the students provided soft drinks, fruits and vegetables. William grilled, and the Burch students met a group of visiting music students and a number of Robin’s friends. The view, both on and off the terrace, was terrific.

June 19, 2008 at 5:17 am Leave a comment

Secularism, Turkish-style

We had to “finish” the history of Turkey this week, before we could really begin our travel around Turkey and the big projects. Feroz Ahmad’s narrative is not quite chronological, so we began Monday morning in a stereotypical, not quite creative, manner: building a collective timeline. But the timeline made Turkey’s political instability quite clear. How does Ahmad account for this instability? Taking the same information he presented, what other explanations might be possible?

We were immediately into a heady argument that seemed to recreate the dialogues among Turks over the past decades. It was the army, with its continuous interventions, that allowed politicians to be irresponsible and unaccountable because they always knew the military would fix the messes. No, no, the army was absolutely essential to the new Turkish Republic to keep it on the right path. It wasn’t the army, a third group argued, but the insistence on applying the principles of Kemalism in circumstances that demanded other approaches, the reification of decades-old goals and the controversies over how to implement them.

We ended the discussion before we had figured it out (of course!) in time to find our way to Suleymaniye, where my colleague Omid Safi had arranged a meeting with Istanbul’s mufti for both of our groups (and a few others). For the Burch students, it was an opportunity to try to understand the confusing relationship between Turkey’s religious and political institutions. They had just read an article by Haldun Gülalp explaining that secularism in the new Turkish Republic required both the privatization of faith (taking religion out of the public–and political–sphere) and, ironically, the control of the state over all religious institutions. The mufti spoke briefly, then answered questions. Some seemed strangely irrelevant, while others began to clear up our confusions. The mufti is employed by the government; he administers institutions that train those who do the call to prayer and the schools that train the jurists and control religious education in public schools.

We had to leave quickly to go to Yildiz University (our third campus tour) to talk with Professor Gulalp. The students asked him their questions about his article, about the relationship between the state and religion, and about his own answer to the morning’s question. Why is Turkey so unstable? He disagreed with all of their opinions, focusing instead on explaining how the military justifies their interventions (Rousseau’s notion of the difference between the popular will and the popular sentiment.) Once again, I was impressed with the students’ insights, and their clarity in both asking and responding to questions. Many carried the discussion into their own blogs (click links on the right).

June 19, 2008 at 5:01 am 1 comment

Experiential Learning

This was the educational philosophy we advocated when I headed UNC’s first year seminar program–that students learn better when through experience and discovery. This week, from Monday’s walking the Byzantine land walls to Friday’s site visit to a hamam, I learned that “experiential learning” really is effective–and, sometimes, a bit awkward.

And exhausting. I’m quite behind in the blog posting because the end of each day has come very late this week, because there is always tomorrow to prepare, because I’m experiencing so much I haven’t time to write about it. The students’ blogs seem a few days behind, too.

Before the week even began, we were scrambling to make the schedule work. Monday’s weather looked like it would be fine and cool, perfect to walk the land walls from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. David made this map. During the Byzantine period, the entire city was surrounded by walls. Many are crumbling now; some are in the process of being restored.

We began at Yedikule, the seven tower structure the Turkish government turned into a park. The views from the top were spectacular, though, an acrophobe since childhood, I only climbed one tower. The students quickly learned that I was very nervous with their energetic wall-scaling. They delighted in seeing me anxiously cover my eyes, and seemed to become more and more outrageous to get the response. They are all adults, I kept reminding myself.

See them up there?

(See them up there?)

The walls go through fascinating areas of the city, cutting through sections tourists don’t see. We wondered why so few tourists walked the walls, and how people who lived along these millenium-old structures perceived them. Many of the neighborhoods we walked through were quite run-down, the people very poor. Some of the unused archways seemed to house the homeless. At the same time, the government seems to be investing large sums in restoring sections of the walls. What do the walls mean? How do the Turks view them? What is it like living in a place with so much history?

They all made it back!All back down safely!

The week seems a blur now. There is so much to see and to do, that we planned things for mornings, afternoons, and evenings. Tuesday we visited an NGO that focuses on women and Islam, and listened to a wise woman answer many questions. I’ve been struck for years that Cemalnur’s answers only seem to make sense some time later. Instead of simple answers about religion and the state, what the NGO does, how sufis are different from other Muslims, she tells stories and suggests parallels. When we returned to Europe, two of the students did the first site project: Sirkeci (the 19th century train station) and the Orient Express it hosted. They spoke of the way the railroad tied Istanbul with western Europe, of the elites that frequented it and the culture they fostered, of the effects of railroads on the Ottoman (and later Turkish) state.

Then most of us went to Tumata to hear Tatar and Uyghur folk music played on remarkable instruments in a musical museum. Like last week, the music gradually became more devotional and the audience more participatory, various students began to figure out how to play the drums that the regulars handed them, and one of the regulars began to turn–the sema.

As we prepared to leave, they insisted we stay for soup, then for dinner, then for the celebration of the birthday of one of the musicians. When I returned upstairs after helping put away dishes, I found all the UNC students up and dancing with the musicians.

Wednesday was museum day, Dolmabahce in the morning, and the Military Museum in the afternoon. Two students took us through the Military Museum, emphasizing how the choices and content of the exhibits reflected the way the Turkish directors wanted their history to be understood. Thursday we visited Bogazici University, where Sevket Pamuk did a remarkable presentation on changes in the Turkish economy over the past century–and hosted us for lunch! The students returned in time for Turkish class. They can put verbs in their sentences now.

Friday morning we sat in the courtyard of the “Blue Mosque” and heard stories about the man who built it, about his life and the issues surrounding his accession to the Ottoman throne, about his goals for the structure and the reason he placed it where he did. Then Gunhan, an Ottoman historian who doubled as a tour guide, took us inside, talked about the tiles and the structures, the arches and the domes. Over lunch, we talked about history writing and national identity, about the challenges of being a historian. Then he took us to neighboring Aya Sofya and did the same thing! We learned about the Emperor who build it, the reasons he needed such a monumental structure, the design and the redesign, the mathematicians who worked out a way to keep such a massive dome from falling. And I learned that it is just as striking to walk into Aya Sofya regardless of how many times one has seen it before. Gunhan was amazing, wearing his tour guide license along with his historian hat. Again I was struck that the “gee whiz” of tourism is a delightful but limited phenomenon. History matters, even (especially?) in the face of spectacular structures.

Two of the students had decided that they would do their site presentation on hamams. After telling us about the origins, economy, and social functions of public baths, we actually did one. Gedikpaşa built his hamam in 1475, making it one of Istanbul’s oldest. It’s a bit rundown at this point, and hasn’t been restored to tourist/spa quality, which is one of the reasons the students wanted us to go there. Countless groups of women have used it over the centuries to wash–and to recreate community. It was amusing to watch that happen, as the UNC women began to splash water around and sing. Needless to say, I’ve no idea how much splashing went on on the men’s side.

June 10, 2008 at 6:19 am 1 comment

Cross-Cultural Amusements

Aylin, one of Katie’s friends, invited us to come to Sabanci University to meet her students. I’ve never gotten bored with crossing the Bosphorus, and it seems the students share my enthusiasm (even at 8 a.m.) After a long bus ride, we were ushered into a darkened classroom with some 20 Turkish university students. A few minutes of sitting at their own table convinced the UNC students to take action: they suggested integrating the room.

Even sharing the same tables led nowhere. The Sabanci students had prepared fascinating PowerPoint presentations for us. Aylin had left them free to choose the topics we would need to know about Turkish culture. I was surprised by some: folk dance (do they do this?), amused by others.

I had misunderstood the process, and we hadn’t prepared anything in response. Kelly showed remarkable poise and creativity in finding photos online to describe “our” culture as we shouted suggestions: UNC’s high points (the Old Well, the Dean Dome and football stadium, Michael Jordan playing in Carolina Blue), a map, a tarheel emblem, “our” food (sweet tea and biscuits, OK, but pork barbeque Kelly?) It was Edward who really broke down the cultural barrier when he decided to show them the soulja boy dance.

After an enthusiastic round of applause, the room became quite noisy as the two groups talked, laughed, and exchanged contact information. They took the UNC students on a campus tour–a bit nervous about showing off their athletic facility after seeing the photos of ours.

June 10, 2008 at 5:49 am Leave a comment

Turkish/Art

I’ve often wondered how people teach art. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is overwhelming. They have objects dating back before the building of Bagdad, and the collection is spectacular. I wander from carpet to pot to door to map to miniature, gawking at beautiful colors and complex shapes. I was fascinated watching the others. Some stayed close by Nazende, an art historian from Marmara University, who talked about symbols and techniques. (Muslims are much more symbolic in their art: God is often represented by a tulip, Muhammad by a rose, Ali by a carnation… Iznik potters don’t get the red really right until the sixteenth century…) Others wandered apparently aimlessly, while still others walked through the whole exhibit and sought an exit, air, and less visual stimulation.

We all gradually made our way out onto the terrace, to see a remarkable juxtaposition of famous (fabulous) monuments.

Then we asked Nazende questions. In European art museums, the focus is on paintings. Why are all the objects here useful items instead? We heard about reforming Ottoman elites’ efforts to introduce painting, efforts that were quite unsuccessful. We talked about calligraphy as art, the importance of words in this artistic culture, thinking about Efdal’s demonstration. We talked about values and arts and monuments–is this teaching art?

And then the students had their first formal Turkish lesson. They have obviously been testing out their growing vocabularies as they acquire new phrases, and had been requesting classes since their second day in Istanbul. They were picking things up rapidly, living on the local economy where most people selling to their price range speak no foreign languages. Yekta had done a terrific job as teacher and translator, but they were pushing for more, strongly motivated, it seemed, to be able to really communicate with the Turks they were meeting. Their blogs reflected that strong impulse, so I found a teacher, with Katie’s help. Hande teaches English to adults all day long, but agreed to take on another group. This was the most light-hearted language class I have ever watched.

June 1, 2008 at 6:05 am Leave a comment

Trains, Ottomans and Modernizers

It has been Ottoman week. Tuesday afternoon Murat Özyüksel (who writes on the Hijaz Railway) climbed the 90+ stairs to the students’ flat–they have a DVD player. The first installment of his TRT series on trains is essentially a visual essay on the transformative effect of railroads on world economies and cultures during the 19th century. Yekta did simultaneous translation from Turkish (thanks, Yekta!). The continuous pauses were a bit disconcerting. The students seemed to appreciate more the ensuing conversation on the terrace, where Murat responded to their questions about the effects of the train on the politics and economies of Turkey (and the UK, the US, Germany…) He argued that Great Power competition over the Ottoman Empire before WWI was exacerbated by Germany’s efforts to build a railway to Bagdad.

The students have been fascinated by Atatürk’s role since we arrived, and by the continuing power he has in today’s Turkey, decades after his death. Murat’s discussion of contemporary Turkish politics and his insistence on the importance of the democratic rule of law were quite powerful. I have the sense these students will welcome all discussions about Turkey’s contemporary politics.

I had asked them to read two articles about efforts to “modernize” Istanbul toward the end of the 19th century. Both articles argued that Istanbul could not be remade to look like Paris, despite the desires of late Ottoman sultans, European architects, and Ottoman modernizers. It was great to have an artist in the group, who could explain what the author meant by single and multiple perspective. On the other hand, it showed me again the challenges of teaching through discussion. I have been insulted since childhood when people ask questions to which they already have a desired answer. That means discussion must really be open-ended. The advantage was clear yesterday.  In addition to talking about the implications and inadequacy of Bouvard’s plan (in an article written by Zeynep Celik), the students pointed out that French planner considered the Ottoman capital so unimportant that he didn’t even come to look at Istanbul before drawing his plan.  They connected this with various other ways in which Europeans had slighted the Ottoman empire, and speculated on the continuing unequal power relationship as it was manifested today with the EU (and elsewhere).  It was an argument I hadn’t really seen in the article. The students had gone well beyond where I would have taken them. There does seem to be some consensus that Istanbul shouldn’t be like Paris–though having more walkable streets would be desirable.

We got to hear more of their stories at dinner here last night–William cooked his weekly non-Turkish student meal (Tex-Mex this week). I’m looking forward to traveling with them–this crowd is funny, good-natured–and very smart!

May 31, 2008 at 2:13 pm Leave a comment

Topkapi

Standing in the second courtyard of Topkapi Palace, I realized these students were getting an unparalleled introduction to the Ottoman Empire. Leslie Peirce, professor at NYU and author of The Imperial Harem, was explaining the process by which young men were brought to the Ottoman palace and trained to enter the service of the state–and the courses their careers might follow after that.

In the process, she outlined the religious, civil, and military structures of the Ottoman empire. She is an amazing teacher: enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and a terrific story-teller. But it wasn’t only a lecture: we got to hear the stories as we walked through the kitchen, the throne room, the harem–stores of intrigue and of murder, of the process of justice and the inheritance of power. So the ooh-aah! that always comes with seeing the gorgeous tile walls and the over-decorated audience rooms now had content: this is where real people (well, real royal people) engaged in personal and political behavior that steered the course of this long-lived empire.

William, Leslie and I stopped in at Otag Muzik Merkezi after lunch to buy a Central Asian CD she had heard at a friend’s house. Up two flights in an old building on Divan Yolu we met Yaşar Güvenç, who sells musical instruments and specializes in Central Asian, sufi and music therapy CDs. He told us about a Tatar music festival at Sultan Ahmed Square on Friday and invited us to bring the students on Thursday evening for what sounds like a jam session on the top floor of his building. The students, apparently always eager for new experiences, seem delighted at the prospect.

May 28, 2008 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

Thoughts on Teaching (suite)

These students are quite amazing! Instead of landing at Ataturk airport exhausted and jet-lagged, they arrived eager, excited, and delighted with anything we offered. In the airport shuttle, they wanted to talk about Orhan Pamuk’s take on Istanbul, asked about the aqueduct of Valens, tried their first words of Turkish. They hardly commented on the 90+ stairs to their flats or the very close quarters, instead exclaiming again and again about the truly amazing view from its windows. It’s hard not to be enamoured of such enthusiastic students!

By Sunday morning, with only a third of the students here, I was already facing my second crisis. (My first was what to do about the student who had laundered his passport. We helped find him lodging in London and an appointment with the embassy.) The students who had arrived on Saturday and Sunday had already walked across the Golden Horn and explored some of Istanbul’s incredible monuments. That was on the schedule for Monday…

My friend Mary, a specialist in early childhood education who had cared for my children when they were quite small, had reinforced all of my own antipathy toward passive education. People learn and remember what they discover, she insisted, and I recognized how accurate that was when I began to teach at the university. I became an advocate of “active learning,” and I had taken it up as my cause when I became director of UNC’s freshman seminar program.

So here were my students, thrilled to be in Istanbul, teaching themselves how to get around, exploring the city and talking with whomever they could find, diving into the doner and the kebab being sold by the street vendors, being hustled by the carpet dealers, and trying to communicate with whatever Turkish they could pick up. Active learning!

With such fascinated and eager students, and a text as huge, complex, and varied as Istanbul, then, what role could a professor play? After three days of tentative introductions, I’m now convinced that my job is to provide them opportunities, ask them questions, offer them context, and stay out of their way.

The Course Begins

Monday morning, I arrived at the tea shop at the base of Galata tower with copies of maps, Freely’s Istanbul, and copies of the plan for Yeni Cami’s kulliye (the foundation around the New Mosque at Eminonu). After a short talk about the program, courses and requirements (over Turkish tea), I distributed the maps.  Then we proceeded to the balcony at the top of Galata tower.


As the acrophobes among us walked cautiously (and quickly) around the balcony and ducked back inside away from the railing, the rest pointed out the city’s seven hills, exclaimed over the view, identified the landmarks, and talked into their cameras. Back on the ground (thankfully!), we walked down the steep hill to the Galata bridge and walked over the Golden Horn, admiring the view from the bridge.

When we got to Yeni Cami, I tried to explain the urban-planning, social-service, and religious functions of the institution of the waqf (vakif), and we looked at the plan of the Yeni Cami complex. The Spice Bazaar (Misr carsisi) produced rents which funded the neighboring mosque, hospital, and tombs. We split up to do a bit of shopping (headscarves were necessary), an experience a bit overwhelming for first-timers. By the time we met again after some snacks, it was time to visit our first mosque. We had arrived just in time for prayer, so we got to sit in the visitors section for an unplanned educational experience.


We left the students after prayer. I have, over the years, had the remarkable privilege of walking around this city with some superb teacher/scholars. As a graduate student in Istanbul 25 years ago, my two closest friends were doing research on Ottoman textiles and Byzantine buildings. Later, while doing research and traveling with family, I have had amazing opportunities to walk around the city with an architecture historian. I would love to be able to introduce the students to the same sort of opportunities.

As we left them, I wondered whether I was supposed to stay with them, to make sure they find their way home, to provide tour guide services. What is my role here, anyway?

Introducing Asia

Tuesday was Katie’s day. She had improved the train map to show the students ferry routes and the coastal bus. She was to come to the students’ flat, talk about transportation and living in Istanbul, shepherd them through getting an akbil (transport pass) and across the Bosphorus to Europe, share with them some of her favorite places in Asia, and introduce them to Kadikoy’s weekly market. But she called in sick, high fever, horrible sore throat. Her day was spent with the doctor, so I got to do the orientation to transport and Kadikoy.

I climbed the six flights to the terrace directly above the students’ flat, with a view overlooking the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and Istanbul’s peerless skyline, carrying Katie’s maps.

I love the ferries across the Bosphorus, and I hope the students do, too. I’ve been trying to convince UNC students for years that there is tremendous diversity in the Middle East. But I hadn’t expected them to meet–right off the bat–a Turkish evangelist who was saved on the road to Texas. He told them this was a wonderful time to spread the good news in Turkey. They were a bit surprised.

We found the goose-fish-market, and the overwhelming Kadikoy Tuesday market. Consensus was that the tables and tables (and tables and tables) of people selling inexpensive clothing, watches, shoes, and kitchenware were too much. By the time they got to the fruit and vegetable sellers, though, they were ready. They took the good-natured joking by various vendors with a sense of humor, posed for photos with the man who sold them artichoke hearts, wended their way among the tables with artfully-arranged produce, and emerged unscathed back into the streets of Kadikoy.

By the time I left them again in the fish market (with the pet goose), they seemed quite comfortable finding food and strolling the streets.

Putting It Together

Wednesday was the big day. I had taken them across the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, introduced them to the trains and oriented them to the city. They had their akbils, they knew how the money worked, they had a cell phone and an assignment. They had to find my house for dinner at 6:30 in the evening, after having identified, found, and photographed a long list of sites, objects, and activities from Besiktas to Beyazit, in Europe and Asia.

All three groups of students returned, exhausted, exhilarated and triumphant. Each group had actually found three Sinan structures and two Ottoman palaces, three images of Ataturk, Kaiser Wilhelm’s fountain, and a fish-seller. They brought back train schedules from Haydarpasa, found Babylon, and could state the prices of important local commodities and the names of Istanbul’s most popular football teams. And they had hilarious stories of simit sellers on trains and school children’s questions.

Today, only day four, these students are clearly able to make their way around Istanbul. And as we talked about their observations (and the assigned readings), I realized that they have already begun asking the sorts of questions tourists don’t consider, making the sorts of connections that we hope our graduate students will make.

As we left the “classroom” we are using–in an old medrese built by the great architect Sinan–I found myself wondering yet again about whether I should be acting as a tour guide, whether I was doing enough, lecturing enough, intervening enough. Then I saw a tour bus pass, the kind where the people ride high, high off the streets and engage with the monuments without rubbing shoulders with the population. And I think I’ve finally decided that I had it right the first time. Active learning is the way to go. Provide the opportunities and stand back–these students are quite remarkable.

May 22, 2008 at 7:02 pm 2 comments

Teaching Turkey: A New Adventure

We leave this morning to begin a new adventure. Our ten UNC students should be meeting us in Istanbul over the next few days for a summer field seminar, Turkey: Layers of Identity. I have met these students only briefly, so, in addition to the excited anxiety that comes at the beginning of each new course I greet, I also get to contemplate seven weeks abroad in daily contact with nine strangers (and two friends). My hope is that, by the end of our stay, we will have cohered into a group of learners and teachers–and that we will all have learned an enormous amount about travel, about working together, and about the fascinating and complex society, polity, and culture of today’s Turkey.

This is a Burch field seminar, an innovative combination of study abroad and research sponsored by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Instead of the students attending various courses or going on a guided tour, the program encourages students to work with faculty on a topic central to the professor’s research. My current research is on the creation of collective identities in the Middle East. Although I’m concentrating on the 1920s and 1930s, our summer project both draws on that research and, I hope, will contribute some insights to my work. At the same time, it offers students an opportunity to focus on a particular topic while exploring a new world area. In theory, the Burch seminar program embodies the best of the “research university”–a place where teaching enriches research and research informs teaching.

William and I leave in a few minutes to get to Istanbul a few days before the students arrive, a little time to make sure we can find their apartments and walk through their neighborhood. I’m carrying the books I will need to write lectures, but mostly, I think, Istanbul will be their text. It is a remarkable city, and I can’t wait to share it with these students. My first visit was more than 25 years ago, and it hardly seems foreign. It will be fascinating to watch these students experience it for the first time. Another adventure, and I approach this one with anticipation, anxiety, curiosity– and excitement.

May 22, 2008 at 4:21 pm Leave a comment

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