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Zeynep Ecem Pulaş

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PhD project: "Synchronising the Empire: Technological Infrastructures and Imperial Imaginaries in the Late Ottoman Empire (1855-1914)"

The story of modern communication and transport technologies in the Ottoman Empire has been framed as one of transfer, incompetence, arrested development and creeping Western capitalist logic. This project analyses the Ottoman telegraph and railway networks— through a hitherto unused lens of maintenance and repair— to show how unrecognised labour of Ottoman actors who maintained and repaired the telegraph and railway networks, was critical not only for the successful functioning of the Empire's economic and political apparatus, but was also central to the continuation of global transportation and communication technologies, of which they sat at the crossroads. A close examination of the hybrid set of elite and non-elite Ottoman actors—engineers, telegraph clerks, translators, lower-ranked officials, technicians, skilled workers, lay persons— and their practices helps us refine our understanding of technology in the very constitution of modern empires.

By situating railway and telegraph networks within the wider scope of turn of the century imperialism and capitalism, as well as within the discourse of "civilization" and "progress" I hope to find answers to the following questions:

How did Ottomans utilise, maintain and repair modern technologies — namely telegraph and railway? How did these technologies become part of new ways of thinking—about imperial space, time and Ottoman society at large? How do the Ottoman transport and communication networks relate to the global technological change in the nineteenth-century?