I was selected to be the OVPIA’s candidate for the Fall 2015 Semester at Boğaziçi University. As part of the exchange program, I was allowed to enroll in graduate level courses that would help to facilitate my own research on Ottoman urban and social history. I was particularly excited about taking classes with some of renowned faculty of Boğaziçi’s History Department. Moreover, as a urban historian concerned primarily with changes in the urban fabric of Istanbul, the OVPIA program enabled me to experience the city firsthand.
During the course of my studies at Boğaziçi, I shared an apartment with a colleague in the Şişli Merkez neighborhood, north of the Golden Horn neighborhood of Beyoğlu. The university’s main campus is located in the Bebek neighborhood of Beşiktaş, at the ridge of the Rumeli Hisarı (Rumelian Castle). I was thus fortunate a metro line happened to run all the way from Vezneciler neighborhood, and through Beyoğlu and Şişli Merkez before connecting to a route going straight to Boğaziçi. This enabled me to go from classes in which we discussed the architectural and urban history of Istanbul, to actually viewing certain elements of that architectural legacy in the breadth of a single day.
But aside from my own particular academic interests, living in Şişli Merkezenabled me to experience a small slice of contemporary Istanbul urban life, and innumerable opportunities to practice my spoken Turkish in conversations with business and restaurant owners (more often the latter), while going about my daily routine. In particular, I happened to live up the street from a bookshop named Gezgin Kıtapçı, whose owner was kind enough to share his time with me and just chat about the neighborhood, the city, and the dizzying array of books in his shop.
One of my fondest memories was being shown a collection of photographs of life in Istanbul in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One particularly memorable photograph depicted the ŞişliMosque near apartment around the late nineteenth century. What seemed particularly striking about the photograph, was the extent to which the city had grown vertically around this neighborhood mosque and how the development was no doubt shaped in part by the presence of that structure. That relationship between continuity and change or development in the urban fabric of certain parts of the city was always interesting to observe, particularly regarding the status of older historic buildings and new development projects.