Divinely Guided Ambassadors - Ottoman and Moroccan Roots of Modern Diplomacy in the Eighteenth-Century Mediterranean

Dissertation, Princeton University, 2021

By Peter Kitlas in Dissertation

January 23, 2021


This is the front matter, abstract, TOC, and acknowledgements from my 2021 dissertation. It won the Princeton Near Eastern Studies Department's Bayard and Cleveland Dodge Memorial Prize for best Phd dissertation.


January 23, 2021


12:00 AM

Extended Abstract

During the eighteenth century the Sultanate of Morocco and the Ottoman Empire had active diplomatic agendas throughout the Mediterranean. Both frequently dispatched ambassadors to negotiate the terms of peace and trade treaties. Yet, previous scholarly assessments of these diplomatic systems have focused almost exclusively on the ways in which Moroccan and Ottoman ambassadors brought back knowledge from Europe and, as a result, began implementing modernizing reforms in their home states. This dissertation offers a revisionist history by analyzing the Ottoman and Moroccan roots of modern Mediterranean diplomacy. Placing into conversation Arabic and Ottoman Turkish correspondence, travelogues, biographical dictionaries, and letter writing manuals this dissertation reconstructs the intellectual genealogies and practices of eighteenth-century Moroccan and Ottoman diplomacy. In doing so, it demonstrates how non-European state actors crafted a diplomatic system based on the Islamic ideals of friendship and objectivity – notions commonly understood as pillars of a modern, secular international sphere.

To do so, part one asks: was Ibn ʿUthmān al-Miknāsī (d. 1799) an extraordinary Moroccan diplomat? Arguing against exceptionalism, this section demonstrates how al-Miknāsī was part of a growing cadre of Moroccan diplomatic actors. Combining quantitative network analysis with an in-depth examination of travelogues and correspondence, this section highlights the interactions and conversations between Moroccan diplomatic actors as they sought to justify their increasingly prominent court position. Through engagement with legal and cultural frameworks, part one demonstrates how al-Miknāsī and his peers crafted an Islamic interpretation of mutual friendship and just witnessing as the main pillars of Moroccan diplomacy. Part two interrogates the impetus for diplomatic reforms in the Ottoman Empire. Beginning with Ahmed Resmī Efendi’s (d. 1783) biographical dictionary of the reisülküttāb (chief scribe), this section argues for a distinctly Ottoman teleology of diplomatic developments with the reisülküttāb positioned as the ideal modern international mediator. Moving to practice, part two then highlights how Europeans engaged with Ottoman concepts of friendship in their discourse and how Ottoman diplomats emulated characteristics of objectivity in their travelogues. As the first study to interrogate Islamic conceptions of diplomacy in the eighteenth-century, this dissertation argues for a plural understanding of modern diplomatic thought and practice within a connected Mediterranean.

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January 23, 2021
2 minute read, 357 words
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