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Dr Fred Anscombe

  • Overview



    I came to Birkbeck in 2003, having previously worked at the American University in Bulgaria from 1994.


    • BA (History), Yale
    • MA, PhD (Near Eastern Studies), Princeton

    Web profiles

  • Research


    Research interests

    • Ottoman Empire
    • Early Modern, Modern and Contemporary Middle East
    • Early Modern and Modern Balkans
    • Rise of the modern state
    • Religion and society
    • Social dynamics of local communities
    • Senses of identity
    • Relationship between community and environment

    Research overview

    My research interests lie in the history of the Ottoman empire and post-Ottoman territories, ranging from the late seventeenth to twentieth centuries and from the Middle East to the Balkans. While I have strong interest in Ottoman imperial history, I have found it helpful to break away from the traditional focus upon the centre, looking instead at social and political orders in European and Asian provinces.  Provincial history offers a useful way to gauge what it meant to be 'Ottoman', to see if and how the sultan's subjects were affected by, and reacted to, politics and policies of the centre.  Partly as a result of my interest in local, provincial and imperial identities, I have developed an increasing interest in Islam, not only as a religion but as a force in daily life that is too often discounted or misread by scholars today. In line with this perception of current depictions of the past, I am also interested in Ottoman historiography and its subservience to nation-building and other modern agendas.

    I have several substantial projects on which I am working.  The first is a history of the Middle East since 1900, which traces the historical paths by which the region has reached its turbulent condition today.  It stresses three interrelated themes that recur across the entirety of the period covered: intervention by external powers, the curse of autocratic government, and the constraints imposed by natural environment.  These problems have made the popular search for justice and dignity one of the continuing stories of the modern era in the Middle East.

    My second long-standing interest is in the history of Albania and Albanians from the late seventeenth century to the early post-Ottoman period.  'Albanian' was one of the most commonly-used ethnic terms of the Ottoman early modern and modern eras, but such catch-all labels can obscure as much as they illuminate.  'Albanians' were influential across the Balkans and indeed the entirety of the Empire, and by examining what it meant to be Albanian and exploring the roles they played, the project should give an unusual view on fundamental characteristics of Ottoman social, political and economic orders.

    Research projects

    In search of justice and dignity: The Middle East since 1900.

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    Current doctoral researchers



    I teach the following BA and MA modules:

    Political and social change in the Middle East since 1918 (level 5)

    The Ottoman Empire (level 5)

    Empires: conquest and decolonisation, from 1700 to Brexit (with Hilary Sapire and Chandak Sengoopta) (level 5)

    Failed States? Category and critique, AD0 to the present (with Rebecca Darley, Jessica Reinisch and Hilary Sapire) (level 6)

    The imperial gaze: Western perceptions of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 1600-1960 (with Julia Lovell and Hilary Sapire) (level 6)

    Politics and Islam (level 7)

    The Arab-Israeli question (level 7)

    After the Ottoman Empire (level 7)

    Venice and Istanbul, 1453-1797 (with Filippo de Vivo) (level 7)

    Teaching modules

    • Politics and Islam (HICL097S7)
    • Mastering Historical Research: Birkbeck Approaches (SSHC247S7)
    • The Colonial Gaze: Western Perceptions of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 1600-1960 (SSHC393S6)
  • Publications




    Book Section