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Social Life & Customs

Constantinople To-day or, The Pathfinder Survey of Constantinople: A Study in Oriental Social Life

Clarence Richard Johnson, 1922

Johnson conducted a survey of Constantinople from November 1920 until May 25, 1921. His work was supported by the Council of Fifteen, a group of academics, missionaries, and community organizers that were based in Istanbul. While the study is not exhaustive, it presents a detailed picture of many aspects of life in Istanbul, including the industry and the local civic administration. There is a humanitarian focus as well, and the lives of orphans, widows, and the needy are examined at length. While the information is of course outdated, the methodology and attitudes of the surveyors are fascinating.  

Autobiography of Lutfullah, a Mohamedan gentleman; and his transactions with his fellow-creatures: interspersed with remarks on the habits, customs, and character of the people with whom he had to deal.

Edited by Edward B. Eastwick, 1857

This intriguing tale offers a different perspective from many of the books in the collection. The author is an Indian Muslim, and he is most critical of the British and their imperial projects. The editor claims that Lutfullah's opinions are representative of most Indians, and thus Lutfullah's autobiography helps us to understand the perspective of both the colonized and the colonizer during this turbulent period in history.

Diary of an Idle Woman in Constantinople

Frances Minto Dickinson Elliot

Elliot was a prolific English writer, primarily of non-fiction works on the social history of Italy, Spain, and France. She also authored many travelogues. In this volume, published in 1893, she speaks often of the "ruin" of Constantinople, criticizing the floundering Ottoman Empire. She offers a well-written and insightful account of her travels in Constantinople, and much of her writing is grounded in historical fact and research.  

Romance of a Harem

Clarence Forestier-Walker

Lady Montagu was an English aristocrat and writer. During her youth, her father was sent by the French government on a mission to the Sultan of Turkey, and it was there that she learned the language and custom of the Turkish people and was given a rare glimpse into the private harems of the leading Turkish class. The translator attests that everything written is "true," although the text presents a largely romanticized picture of the dark glamour of the Turkish aristocracy.  The author writes extensively about the deep sensibilities of women in a harem, specifically on their sense of "affection, devotion, and the decency of life." She is enraptured with harem life, describing it as far better than normal existence; in comparison, European life is presented as quite deficient.

Customs and Manners of the Women of Persia and Their Domestic Superstitions

James Atkinson, 1832

Atkinson translated this text from the original Farsi. In the preface, he notes that the tone of the book is light and comical, as is befitting its content. When this book was released, little was known of the lives of women in Persia, and the English thought that the women there enjoyed almost no freedom. This account, humorous as it may be, served to humanize both the women and men of Persia.  

Syrian Home Life

Reverand Isaac Riley, 1874

Riley's account of Syrian home life is, by modern standards, unapologetically racist. On the very first page of Chapter 1 he refers to Arabs as one of the "ignorant races,” and his tone throughout is paternal and overly critical. It is important for modern scholars to understand how Western perceptions of the Middle East were formed, and Riley's writings constitute a clear example of the prevailing understanding of the Orient during the later 1800s and thus are worth reading and preserving.  

The Empresses of Constantinople

Joseph McCabe, 1913

The author seeks to tell the tale of the Empresses or "Queens" who occupied the throne set up by Constantine in the Byzantium Empire. McCabe believed that the literature of the time failed to present an interesting and complete picture of Byzantium life, and he sought to remedy this with his account of the "romance" of the Byzantium court. He explains that there was no one set path to royalty, and thus the Queens had come from every corner of the Empire: his account, then, does not merely serve to give us a greater understanding of the court, but rather allows us to learn about the women of the entire empire. Each chapter details the story of an Empress, and the stories are rich and fascinating. 


Social Life & Customs
Social Life & Customs