Rosemary Lee

  • Fellowship year:2012-2013
  • University: University of Virginia
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
  • Dissertation Title: A Printing Press for Shah'Abbas: Science, Learning and Evangelization in the Near East 1600-1650
  •  By 1650, Italians knew more than ever before about Ottoman society, Arabic, and Islam. My dissertation explores how and why Orientalist studies developed in seventeenth-century Italy, and how "knowledge" about Middle Eastern cultures shaped Europeans' interactions with Christians and Muslims. Specifically, I am examining the activities and body of works produced by a seventeenth-century world traveler, Pietro della Valle, and the pan-Mediterranean network of merchants, missionaries, ambassadors, and scholars whom he encountered during his travels, or with whom he associated in Rome. Members of Della Valle's community composed Arabic grammars and dictionaries, analyses of Ottoman and Persian politics, and treatises on the relationship between Christianity and Islam. Della Valle and his community became Rome's "authorities" and "experts" on Islam and the NEar East, and through their writings, shaped what their contemporaries knew - or thought they knew - about Islamic cultures and societies.

    My dissertation is structured historically and geographically, beginning in Italy (Chapters 1 and 2), and then gradually shifting to the Ottoman Empire to follow diplomats, missionaries, and merchants (Chapters 3, 4, and 5). I emphasize the movement of people, object, and texts across the early modern Mediterranean, and highlight the broad spectrum of approaches which Della Valle's community took in their encounter with the Ottoman Empire and greater ISlamic world. I argue that failed efforts to evangelize the Ottoman Empire can be best understood in conversation with contemporaneous efforts to initiate diplomatic and commercial contact with the Ottoman Empire. Studying orientalism and evangelization will thus illuminate broader patterns of European thought and behavior in the early modern Ottoman Empire.