PhD topic

Inscribing Conquest. Trauma and Diaspora after the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453

supervised by Prof. Dr Andreas Bihrer and Prof. Dr Michael Grünbart

"Mourning nevers ends" – this is what Vamık Volkan has pointed out several times, namely on the basis of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 (Volkan 2011, 102). According to him, the members of a social group share mental representations of a traumatic event from their historical past, but cannot adequately communicate and process them themselves. Therefore, according to Volkan, they pass them on to their successor generations "as if they will be able to mourn the loss or reverse the humiliation. [...] Over generations, such historical events, [...] [such] chosen traumas become more than a memory or shared piece of the past." (Volkan 2001, 87)

The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople has, indeed, remained a controversial topic in European memory culture, reflected in a multitude of recursions, reflexes and argumentative instrumentalisations in very different social and political discourses (not only) of the modern successor states. This can already be seen in a multitude of contemporary sources which in turn testify to a collective shock: Many authors emphasise that they were initially unable to speak adequately about the recent events. At first glance, these findings may fit well with Volkan's thesis, as sources from the 'first generation' testify to their own inability to mourn the loss of people, land or prestige. However, this does not mean that these assertions can be dismissed as mere topical forms of (non-)narration: Even if Byzantines in particular, as those directly affected, had considerable difficulties in classifying the events in their established world view, the conquest of the city manifested itself not least in the explicit need to comprehend and adequately reflect what had happened. This also included dealing with experiences of loss, despair, confusion, physical and emotional pain, in short: with the trauma of the Ottoman conquest. But how can we speak from a historical perspective about events that can indeed be described as 'traumatic'? And how can such complex narrative concerns be reconciled with a processual understanding of historiography?

Based on this, the PhD project aims at the question how, in "moment[s] of far-reaching disorientation" ("Moment[en] der weitgehenden Desorientierung", Jussen 2005, 25) such as after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the mixed situation of disorientation and productive 'vacuum', forgetting and repressing as well as remembering and processing was dealt with. What strategies were developed to make sense of the upheaval caused by the change of rule? In what form did established narrative patterns find application and what meaning could be attributed to them in their new contexts? Finally, to what extent can the narratives generated in this way be understood as a discourse that thought of productively coping with the double conflict situation of experienced foreign domination on the one hand and the threat of the end of the world on the other?