Faculty Spotlight: Melis Hafez
Melis Hafez, Ph.D., is a historian of the nineteenth century with a focus on the Ottoman Empire, a Muslim-ruled, multiethnic, polyglot and multiconfessional empire that stretched over what is today called the Middle East and the Balkans. Her research is focused on the cultural history of the Ottomans during the nineteenth century when the empire experienced land losses, social and economic upheavals, and extensive, transformative reforms. Her current book project examines the historical development of deontological morality as a form of social intervention in the late Ottoman Empire between the 1870s and 1920s.
“I am working on a group of Ottoman moralists, largely based in Istanbul, the imperial capital. They came from diverse ethno-confessional origins (Greek Orthodox, Turkish-speaking Muslim and Armenian Ottomans) and subscribed to different, yet fluid ideological and moral positions.”
The Humanities Research Center has supported Hafez's work on many levels—through travel and research grants, intangible resources like intellectual exchange with peers and collaborative research groups as well as an HRC residential fellowship in spring 2020.
“I have received several external fellowships in recent years, including two NEH fellowships, but my own institution’s appreciation of my research is invaluable to me. This is not something that translates into numbers in ledgers, perhaps, but it certainly contributes to the sense of intellectual belonging to one’s institution, being a member of an academic home. The Humanities Research Center has supported my travels to overseas that allowed me to conduct research at the dusty, salty archives of Istanbul, Turkey. Just like my first book "Inventing Laziness: The Culture of Productivity in Late Ottoman Society" did in the past, my current book project, "Ottoman Moral Entrepreneurs: Cultural Politics and Moral Citizenship in the Ottoman Empire," benefits from the Center’s support, both monetarily and intellectually.”
Additionally, the Humanities Research Center provides a forum for faculty like Hafez to cross disciplines, collaborate and find connection. “The Humanities Research Center offers many options for collaboration—reading groups, workshops, panels and more structured collaboration projects, like the residential fellowship.”
Her fellowship in spring 2020 coalesced a group of academics whose regions of focus range from India, Iran, Peru and Turkey to examine the topic Indigenizing Reform: Cultural and Political Transformations in the Global South. “Together, we are looking at specific changes and reform movements in four different localities of the Global South. We focus on diverse parts of the world and come from different disciplines, including history, religious studies and international studies. This diversity allows our collaboration to take place not only on a comparative level, but also on a connective one. Personally, I leave each meeting with a new set of perspectives, questions and a renewed sense of what I am doing.”
The mission of the Humanities Research Center is centered on providing an intellectual space for collaboration and exchange for promising faculty like Melis. Research like hers on the cultural history of the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire benefits greatly from formal and informal support that the Center provides.
“I am very fond of the edge effect concept: When the edges of two different ecosystems meet, a zone of transition and exchange is created. I find it very useful in explaining the importance of collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange in scholarly pursuits. The edge effect is what happens when academics and students emerge out of their own disciplines and collaborate across fields.”