Panel 4: Gendering Neighborliness: The Neighbor as a Woman

Chair: Mara Albrecht (Orient-Institut Beirut)

Betül Argit (Marmara University):
Neighborly Relations Between Manumitted Former Ladies of the Harem and their New Neighbors

Following their manumission, female palace slaves who belonged to the various ranks of the harem hierarchy, left the Imperial Palaces and settled in various neighborhoods of Istanbul either as married or as single with their “palace identity”. These women who established a new life following their transfer from the imperial palace thus readily became members of Ottoman society. An examination of court registers reinforces the notion that even though these women continued their relation with the Imperial Court, they did not isolate themselves spatially or socially from the wider urban population, and they established versatile relationships with members of society, mainly with the residents of the neighborhoods in which they lived.


The structure of Ottoman neighborhoods functioned as a collective identity, and this too played an important role in regulating social relationships between neighbors. Being a member of a certain neighborhood fostered a relationship among its inhabitants by way of shared interests, familiarity, and common obligations. Additionally, the structure of Ottoman neighborhoods enabled their inhabitants to inform each other about their life styles and permitted the exchange of experiences of every kind. These characteristics of the Ottoman neighborhood structure are noteworthy in terms of not only integration of palace women within society, but also of their impact on society.
The present study aims to explore the extent of relationship between manumitted female place slaves and their neighbors in the eighteenth century Ottoman Istanbul. Using Sharia court records, this paper demonstrates the variety of different ways in which palace women interacted with people in the society around them especially with residents of the neighborhoods in which they lived. These women established social and communal relationships with the surrounding neighborhood residents through various ways such as commercial transactions, such as lending and borrowing; their acting as witnesses, proxies or trustees; and through exchange of bequests. Neighborhood residents appeared as witnesses, trustees, and sometimes as defendants or plaintiffs in legal issues related to palace women in the law courts held in the Imperial Palaces either the Old Palace or the New Palace.
Based on this, this paper argues that manumitted female palace slaves were instrumental in introducing the court culture and the courtly way of life to the inhabitants of their neighborhood. As a result of social and communal relationships with palace women, members of the neighborhood had access to the imperial palaces and became acquainted with the imperial court’s environment and culture.

Jane Freeland (German Historical Institute London):
“If you hear a woman screaming, don’t leave her alone!” The Role of Neighbors in Addressing Domestic Violence in Divided Berlin

In divided Germany, neighbors, family members, co-workers and friends often played key roles for women attempting to leave a violent spouse. Not only did women seek help from such people, but ‘others’ were also encouraged to get involved in the lives of women experiencing abuse. Instead of ignoring cries for help, they were told to get involved – introduce themselves, call the police, or refer them to a support service. In West Berlin, these appeals were particularly targeted at women and they were a key part of feminist activism against domestic violence. Indeed, the principle of “women helping women” fundamentally shaped feminist approaches to violence against women: domestic violence shelters were women-only spaces, and women were encouraged to support one another against male violence. Curiously though, similar approaches were also developed in East Berlin. Socialist authorities there encouraged people to intervene in the private lives of their neighbors as a way of building socialism from the ground up.
This paper examines the role of others (neighbors, friends, co-workers), in aiding women to take the first step in leaving an abusive partner in divided Berlin. It explores the similarities in approach across the Berlin Wall, looking at why and how neighbors and friends were used to help prevent domestic violence. It also looks at how the concept of “neighbor” is gendered; despite different ideological and political systems, in both halves of Berlin, responsibility for addressing domestic violence was passed to women. Sometimes this was practical, sometimes it was political and sometimes it was officially mandated. In doing so, forging gender equality and women’s rights have become a part of women’s duties as citizens. This paper then argues that such similarities suggest that challenging patriarchal structures is about more than just ideology, access to an open public sphere or a free market. Instead, these parallels point to a far more fundamental issue with the extension and protection of women’s rights across the Cold War divide.


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