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Urban Borders in post-Ottoman Cities of South-Eastern Europe. Edirne and Niš from a comparative perspective

Dr. Florian Riedler

The aim of this project is a comparative urban history of Edirne and Niš from their genesis as modern cities in the late Ottoman Empire to their subsequent passage into the post-Ottoman era. In this phase, the history of both cities was marked by successive radical breaks, the establishment of new borders and a complete transformation of their urban societies and economies, their appearance and spatial structure, as well as their symbolic self-representation as cities. This is why the historiography on both cities has remained highly fractured and both have been strictly tied to different national academic contexts. In contrast, the present project seeks to think beyond breaks and borders re-uniting the Ottoman and post-Ottoman histories of both cities and to look for commonalities as well as differences in their transition from empire to nation state. Borders in various forms (visible and invisible, internal and external, self-created and imposed) will be the central theme of comparison. They shall be understood not only as dividing lines, but at the same time as institutions facilitating communication and exchange.

As the main example of borders on an urban micro-level, the project will pay attention to new and shifting boundaries of class, ethnicity and gender in the cultural and social spheres of Ottoman and post-Ottoman cities. These boundaries were the outcome of processes of differentiation that were kicked off by the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into a modern territorial state; they found their continuation in the succeeding national systems. The formation of ethnically defined national communities on the basis of older divisions, in particular, left its imprint on the spatial structure of the cities.

Intricately linked with these borders were the political borders of the new nation states that began to cut into the Ottoman imperial space in the nineteenth century. Niš was integrated into Serbia in 1878, while borders successively surrounded Edirne before the city became part of the Turkish nation state in 1922. National borders and the wars that created them showed various effects in both cities: refugees were set in motion and added to city populations or substituted for those who had fled or had been driven out of the city; long-established inhabitants could suddenly become foreigners or minorities; flows of people and goods were cut and cities lost their hinterlands. Overall, like all post-Ottoman cities, Edirne and Niš each had to find a new position within their respective national state systems that, in the Serbian as well as in the Turkish case, were marked by centralism.


Kompetenznetzwerk mit Centre Marc Bloch Berlin, MLU Halle, HU Berlin