By Carol Hakim
2009 has been a good year for Assistant Professor Giancarlo Casale.
Giancarlo has completed his first manuscript, The Ottoman Age of Exploration: A Study of Ottoman Imperial Expansion in the 16th Century Indian Ocean, which will be pu-blished by Oxford University Press in 2010.
The book unveils for the first time the exploration feats of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, following the conquest of Egypt and Arabia by Sultan Selim, at times referred to as 'Selim the Grim' by chroniclers despite the fact that during his lifetime he more modestly assumed the title of King of the Two Lands (Europe and Asia) or Khagan of the Two Seas (Mediterranean and Indian seas). At any rate, Sultan Selim's glorious conquests brought the Ottomans in direct contact with the Indian ocean trading world, where for some decades they engaged in fierce competition with the Portuguese for access to the lucrative trade routes of maritime Asia. Giancarlo's groundbrea-king research on this previously overlooked episode of Ottoman history sheds new light on the Ottoman global exploration drive and establishes the Ottoman Empire's credentials as a major imperial maritime presence in early modern history, on par with the Spanish and Portuguese Empires.
While researching his first book, Giancarlo was puzzled by the fact that 16th century Ottoman exploration did not translate into a concomitant interest in foreign societies and cultures. In contrast to European intellectuals, who between the 16th and 18th centuries authored thousands of travel narratives, geographies, and other works dea-ling with the world beyond their borders, Ottomans produced virtually no cultural geographies, ethnographies, or other works that engaged specifically with foreign cultures per se. This intriguing intellectual paradox piqued his curiosity and gave way to a new research project on cultural curiosity. More importantly, Curiosity and Intolerance: The Paradox of Early Modernity earned Giancarlo a coveted Mc Knight-Land Grant Professorship.
In contrast to the 'Clash of Civilizations' paradigm, which links the insularity of Ottomans to the timeless nature of 'Islamic civilization,' Giancarlo proposes to base his analysis on the lack of Ottoman interest in foreign cultures on internal social and political dynamics. More specifically, he argues that the Ottoman Empire's ethnically and linguistically diverse population lacked a clearly defined sense of identity that made curiosity about 'the other' such a pervasive component of intellectual life in early modern Europe. Conversely, the increasing interest of European societies in foreign cultures corresponded with a period of state formation based on the politics of exclusion. The differing social and political dynamics in the Ottoman Empire and Europe of the time therefore suggests the existence of a direct link between cultural curiosity and tolerance.
Giancarlo's new research project on the link between cultural curiosity and the politics of exclusion and inclusion will be of interest to historians of Ottoman intellectual history as well as to scholars of Renaissance Europe. It promises to present another major contribution by Giancarlo to early modern global history. The Department of History would like to congratulate Giancarlo on his award.