Flows and Frictions: The Camondo Family as Cultural Translators between the Ottoman Empire and Europe in the Eighteenth Century
My research project examines the translation activities of the Jewish Ottoman Camondo family from the time of their arrival in Istanbul at the beginning of the eighteenth century until the establishment of one of the first banks in the Ottoman Empire, the Isaac Camondo & Cie bank, in 1802. During this period the family members rose to prominence by acting as cultural and financial brokers between the Ottoman Empire and Europe. My research project seeks to shed light onto the family's success and to uncover the multiple practices of cultural translations employed by Ottoman Jews. Thereby, it aims to reconstruct the details of the Camondos' cultural translations for European embassies in Istanbul, for various Ottoman ambassadors to Europe and among Jewish communities.
The project will explore the history of the Camondo family and offer new methodological perspectives on intercultural brokers. Inspired by translational and cultural studies as well as post- colonial approaches, my research links questions of transculturality, hybridity, and entanglement to the Ottoman modernization process. The examination of the Ottoman Jewish Camondos in comparison to the other cultural brokers in the Ottoman-European context is crucial for the understanding of the practice of cultural translations. The project will further investigate the significance of cultural translators and intermediaries for the exchange of information and knowledge beyond linguistics. In light of current debates on globalization processes, my project intends to explore the flows and frictions entailed in early modern transcultural practices.
Ottoman Jewish families such as Camondos fulfilled a range of translation services. The Camondos' international connections enabled them to act as sarrafs (moneylenders), merchants, and dragomans alongside their roles as cultural mediators and Jewish community leaders. First traces of the Camondos come from the early eighteenth century Istanbul and show strong commercial ties of the family to Vienna and Trieste. Besides their commercial activities, some family members even appear as influential factors at the Ottoman court and within the Ottoman elite circles. Since the mid-eighteenth century, the Camondos worked for the British embassy in Istanbul and assisted Ottoman ambassadors to Prussia (1763) and Vienna (1791/2). They were further mediators between the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire and Jewish commercial networks in Europe. Combining various identities, the Camondos negotiated across religious, ethnic, imperial and linguistic lines - more so than other prominent Jewish families such as the Rothschilds.
The project is part of the German Research Foundation (DFG) priority programme "Übersetzungskulturen der Frühen Neuzeit (1450–1800)" (SPP 2130), which started its work in October 2018. The programme coordinator is Prof. Dr. Regina Toepfer (Technische Universität Braunschweig) in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Jörg Wesche (Universität Duisburg-Essen) and Prof. Dr. Peter Burschel (Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel and Universität Göttingen). My research relates in particular to the programme's section "Cultural Belonging and Society", headed by Prof. Burschel.