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Imperial Subjects and Beneficence

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Comparing Endowment Cultures from the 17th to the Early 20th Century

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This introduction describes the challenge of comparing beneficence practices in the Ottoman Empire and in the Habsburg Empire, which led to the workshop behind the Special Issue. Lenses proposed by histoire comparée and micro-history, this text argues, may supplement each other in this task. The editors’ research on Greek Orthodox merchants, who migrated from the Ottoman Empire into the Habsburg Lands and left rich archival sources connected to their beneficence, illustrates the possibility of not only micro-historically reconstructing their endowments (or other beneficiary practices), but to relate them to the entangled history of the Ottoman and the Habsburg Empire – two imperial spaces that both shaped the cultural horizon and the administrative and legal options of the founders and overseers of endowments. The contributions of the invited workshop guests introduce questions of changing moral views on philanthropy in Central Europe, confessional parallels and differences in beneficent attitudes of small migrant communities and on generational patterns in creating and administrating endowments. Continuity and change in the relationship between traditions of philanthropy and changing political and socio-economical environments are addressed particularly as regards the transition from the Byzantine to the Ottoman system, the importance of state-organized philanthropy for the Ottoman economy of the 17th century and finally the contesting models of private and ecclesiastical beneficence among the Greek Orthodox after the Tanzimat reforms.

Affiliations: 1: University of Vienna, Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Postgasse 7/1/3, 1010 Vienna,;;


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