Barbara Jelavich Book Prize

2015 Citation Recipient

Julia Phillips Cohen

The Barbara Jelavich Book Prize, established in 1995 and sponsored by the Jelavich estate, is awarded annually for a distinguished monograph published on any aspect of Southeast European or Habsburg Studies since 1600, or nineteenth and twentieth- century Ottoman or Russian diplomatic history in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Julia Phillips Cohen
Title: Becoming Ottomans: Sephardi Jews and Imperial Citizenship in the Modern Era (Oxford University Press)

In Becoming Ottomans, Julia Phillips Cohen uncovers the process by which Jews, who were marginalized before the onset of the reform period that began in 1839, became a “model community” within the Ottomans’ modern Islamic empire by the end of the nineteenth century. This is no simple story, however: Cohen persuasively argues that the narrative of Ottoman-Jewish friendship that depicts the Ottoman Empire as a safe haven for Jewish refugees and a place of unprecedented tolerance is a myth. On the contrary, the Ottoman state and its Jewish subjects engaged in complex, multi-layered, and sometimes uneasy relations. Cohen analyzes a series of historical moments ranging from war to an invented holiday to a World’s Fair as well as an impressive array of archival sources and literature in Ottoman Turkish, French and Ladino to demonstrate how Jewish leaders crafted an ideal image of their community in response to their new patriotic project. The resulting book uses the Sephardic community to test and ultimately challenge the way we think about Ottomanism, citizenship, and the emerging modern state.

The committee believes this work highlights the intersections between the different geographic regions represented by the Jelavich prize, and suggests the fruitfulness of closer integration of Habsburg, Romanov, and Ottoman history. Notable works of Habsburg history (including past Jelavich Prize winner Lois Dubin’s The Port Jews of Habsburg Trieste) have explored the extent to which Jews in the Habsburg Monarchy were its most patriotic subjects. Cohen’s study, which speaks to broader Ottoman history but is simultaneously nested in southeastern Europe, shows how critical it is for historians in the twenty-first century to recognize the ways in which Ottoman history is of and in Europe.