Cover of The Order and Disorder of Communication by Nir Shafir
The Order and Disorder of Communication
Pamphlets and Polemics in the Seventeenth-Century Ottoman Empire
Nir Shafir

October 2024
436 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638952



The seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire was rife with polemical debate, around worshipping at saints' graves, medical procedures, smoking tobacco, and other everyday practices. Fueling these debates was a new form of writing—the pamphlet, a cheap, short, and mobile text that provided readers with simplified legal arguments. These pamphlets were more than simply a novel way to disseminate texts, they made a consequential shift in the way Ottoman subjects communicated. This book offers the first comprehensive look at a new communication order that flourished in seventeenth-century manuscript culture.

Through the example of the pamphlet, Nir Shafir investigates the political and cultural institutions used to navigate, regulate, and encourage the circulation of information in a society in which all books were copied by hand. He sketches an ecology of books, examining how books were produced, the movement of texts regulated, education administered, reading conducted, and publics cultivated. Pamphlets invited both the well and poorly educated to participate in public debates, thus expanding the Ottoman body politic. They also spurred an epidemic of fake authors and popular forms of reading. Thus, pamphlets became both the forum and the fuel for the polarization of Ottoman society. Based on years of research in Islamic manuscript libraries worldwide, this book illuminates a vibrant and evolving premodern manuscript culture.

About the author

Nir Shafir is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego.

"Rich in ideas and lucid in argument, Nir Shafir's book has manifold implications for understanding the early modern Muslim world. By comparing thousands of manuscripts from Southeast Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, Shafir shows how the Ottoman 'communication order' enabled polemics to spread polarization, misinformation, and, paradoxically, disorder among the reading public."

—Nile Green, author of How Asia Found Herself: A Story of Intercultural Understanding

"Nir Shafir presents a highly original, deeply researched explanation for the polemics, sometimes shading into violence, of the seventeenth century. Uncovering a world of cheap pamphlets and changing reading habits, he gives us not only a fresh take on the period, but opens up entirely new conversations in Ottoman history."

—Molly Greene, author of The Edinburgh History of the Greeks, 1453 to 1768: The Ottoman Empire