Monday, July 1, 2013

Finding a Home for Turkish Studies

by Brent Rosenstein

It is amazing how the academic studies of certain topics can become reflective of the topics themselves. For instance, it is not unknown for scholars studying particular writers to adopt distinctive elements from their subject’s style of prose. From my own experience, doing intensive research with Roman sources resulted in passive constructions (very common in Latin language works) creeping into my other writings. As Professor Ronald Linden, Director of the University of Pittsburgh's European Union Center of Excellence, pointed out at a talk he gave here on April 19th, Turkish Studies programs often have trouble finding a home in university settings, with no one really agreeing on what departments it should go along with. This is fitting, as a tremendously similar debate is ongoing as to where the country of Turkey really belongs: is it European, Middle Eastern, or something else?

Fortunately, even if only for scholars, the placement of Turkish Studies is likely an easier problem to solve than the placement of Turkey itself, although one might not think so looking at the state of the field currently. For example, searching for “Turkish Studies” in an article database yields content flagged as Middle Eastern Studies, African Studies, Jewish Studies, and Russian and East European Studies, amongst others.1 Similarly, the Turkish Studies Program here at the University of Illinois works with the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center; the European Union Center; the Center for Global Studies; and the Center for business Education and Research.2 Granted, while the areas covered by these centers are by no means mutually exclusive, it shows that Turkish Studies can fall into a variety of other fields.

Examining this phenomenon leads to the ever-present academic inquiry of “Why is this important?” That is, why is it so important to try to classify Turkish Studies into one of the other area studies groupings? It seems likely that there are plenty of arguments that one could make about the bureaucratic benefits of lumping it in with one of the other area studies, or that many universities may not be able to sustain an independent Turkish Studies Program. However, from the perspective of those in the field, maintaining that level of independence may not be such a bad thing. Take, for instance, the Turkish Studies Program at Illinois, and the list of centers that it regularly works with. Perhaps there is some benefit from being able to claim affiliation with all of these groups, and not just one of them. There is certainly the infrastructural benefit of being able to more readily share resources with all of these centers, but there could also be a more intellectual aspect to this. While saying that it does not really fit in to the other area studies groupings could have a somewhat negative connotation, maybe it should be held up as a point of pride instead. Perhaps it should be a meeting ground for studies of Eastern and Western Europe, as well as the Middle East. Maybe Turkish Studies should serve as the same type of crossroads that Turkey itself does.

Brent Rosenstein is a first year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program at the University of Illinois. His research interests include international security efforts and human rights issues within the EU.



1“Project MUSE,” accessed April 25, 2013, http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/results#limit_research_area=Area%20and%20Ethnic%20Studies.

2“About Turkish Studies,” accessed April 25, 2013, http://www.turkish.illinois.edu/about.html.

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