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Why Did Ümmü Gülsüm Go to Court? Ottoman Legal Practice between History and Anthropology

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This article offers a critical assessment of the existing literature on Ottoman courts of law, which characterizes the court's operations as single-mindedly legalistic and socially disinterested. There is a conceptual discrepancy between this literature and recent legal and anthropological studies of modern Islamic courts, which highlight the influence on the court's actions of communal considerations, such as the desire to make peace among disputants. With reference to a specific rape incident in eighteenth-century Anatolia, I propose in this article a characterization of Ottoman legal practice that acknowledges the contextual and socially-bounded nature of the court's actions.

Affiliations: 1: History Department, University of Vermont, 133 South Prospect Street, Bington, VT 05405;, Email:


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