Helen Pfeifer

Helen Pfeifer teaches Ottoman history at Cambridge. Empire of Salons is out now; she is working on a book about humans and animals.

Searching for the Bee: Rarities and Marvels

Helen Pfeifer, 30 November 2023

On one page,​ a bee, meticulously painted, down to the individual hairs; on another page, a diagram of planetary motion, glittering with gold leaf; on another, the soft-legged men of Zanzibar, who live in trees and propel themselves forwards by dropping onto the shoulders of passing travellers. These disparate images confront readers of one of the most successful natural histories of...

Babies Rubbed with Garlic: Ottoman Nights

Helen Pfeifer, 15 December 2022

For​ most of the Ottoman Empire’s existence, the crossing from day into night was unmistakeable, as it was in much of the world. In cities and towns, the process began with the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, which echoed through the streets just as the sun disappeared on the horizon. Markets and inns closed. Neighbourhood and courtyard gates were shut. Noise died down as people and...

Global Morality Play: Selimgate

Helen Pfeifer, 1 July 2021

Thedefeat of the Mamluk Empire in 1516-17 is the most significant conquest most people have never heard of. In the space of six months, Ottoman armies marched from Aleppo to Cairo, routed the Muslim Mamluk dynasty and seized territory that is now Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and (parts of) Saudi Arabia. One moment the Ottomans were a regional power, the next they had an empire...

Good to Think With

Helen Pfeifer, 4 June 2020

Injune 1599, with just six months to go until the apocalypse, the Dominican friar Tommaso Campanella and his friends plotted a revolt against Spanish rule in southern Italy. Their plan depended on an agreement with the grand admiral of the Ottoman navy, Ciğalazade Yusuf Sinan Pasha, a convert to Islam who was himself of Italian origin (he had last been seen about a year earlier, visiting...

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