East vs. West: The Conquest of Constantinople

Instructor: David Selim Sayers

The narrative of East vs. West—also known as the Clash of Civilizations—is a muscular and aggressive force in shaping worldviews today. But this narrative wouldn’t exist, at least in its contemporary form, without a watershed moment in history: the conquest of Constantinople, the birthplace of Christianity as a world religion, by the Ottomans in 1453. With this conquest, the Ottoman Empire became the “Great Other” of Europe, a catalyst for European anxiety, development, and self-definition for centuries to come. But what were the cultural, social, and political realities surrounding the conquest? And do they truly justify the black-and-white narrative that emerged in its wake and continues to besiege our imaginations today?

In this course, we will work our way backwards from the conquest of Constantinople to the origins of the Ottoman state, circa 1300. We will examine historical facts and explore how these facts have been interpreted, and spun into narratives, by a number of historians. As we compare facts and narratives, we will find that Western interpretations of Ottoman history have varied significantly over time, and that the Clash of Civilizations is better understood as a narrative construct than as a historical reality. By the end of the course, we will have gained not only a nuanced understanding of early Ottoman history, but also an awareness of how the past itself is constantly rewritten to suit the ever-changing priorities of the present.

Maximum enrollment: 10


Saturday – Sunday, 14:00-17:30
18-19, 25-26 November 2023
2 weekends (14 hours)


75016, Paris

All PICT courses are held in person. Participants will be contacted by the course instructor with the relevant details (readings if any, exact address, etc.) via email during the week leading up to the course.

All PICT courses are exclusive for PICT Members. Become a member from 3 euros/month.


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