Spotlight on Michael Talbot


Visiting Ottoman ruins in the Negev Desert.

Born and raised in London, Michael Talbot has been obsessed with history from the moment he could read. He is fascinated by the Middle East and the Islamic World, and by the Ottoman Empire and Turkey in particular. After finishing school, he embarked on a mini gap year, exploring and generally yomping around Turkey, followed by adventures in Greece, Italy, and Spain, arriving in Portugal just in time to support England in their doomed attempt to win Euro 2004.

On his return to the UK, he studied history at Jesus College, Cambridge where he gained his first experience of research in the Middle East, setting off in the summer of 2006 to Israel and Palestine to examine Arab political participation in the early state of Israel for his undergraduate dissertation. The outbreak of war between Israel and Hezbollah in the middle of the trip made things rather more complicated than he had imagined. Moreover, being caught in a warzone, and meeting his wife-to-be in a bar in downtown Haifa, gave him a rather distorted impression of the thrills and spills of archival research.

A petition of an Iranian ambassador's elephant handler to the Ottoman government.

A petition of an Iranian ambassador’s elephant handler to the Ottoman government.

After Cambridge, Michael went back to London to take a Masters programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (SOAS). He remained at SOAS to pursue doctoral research into British-Ottoman relations in the “long” eighteenth century. Unlike the majority of previous studies on the subject, in his thesis Michael tried to show a more complex and less state-centred narrative of British-Ottoman relations and used sources from the Ottoman archives to provide the Ottoman perspective as well. He focused on the relationships between commerce, finance, culture, and diplomatic practice, examining documents (in Arabic, English, French, Italian, Latin, and Ottoman Turkish), commercial data, and artefacts in London and Istanbul.  He is earnestly working on a book and a number of articles stemming from this project.

Michael’s current research projects and interests include early modern Ottoman diplomacy, mercantile communities, diplomatic gift giving, the Ottoman press, and Ottoman Palestine.  He is in the process of organising an international roundtable on the practice of early modern Ottoman-European diplomacy to be held at St Andrews in June 2014. For future projects, he hopes to look at a social history of the British mercantile community in the Ottoman Empire, and a labour history of one of the early modern Istanbul dockyards. He is an active contributor to a number of projects on the exciting and expanding MENAlab network, particularly to the primary source blog Tozsuz Evrak (Dust-Free Documents).

In St Andrews as a Teaching Fellow for the academic year 2013/14, Michael contributed lectures to MO1007 The Early Modern Western World, and seminars for the M.Litt in Middle Eastern History and Culture in semester 1, and in semester 2 will be giving lectures for MH2002 Introduction to Middle Eastern History, and convening a module on the early modern Ottomans, MO3081 The Classical Ottoman Empire.

European ambassadors, Ottoman miniature painting in the Surname-i Hümayun (Imperial Festival Book, 1720).

European ambassadors, Ottoman miniature painting in the Surname-i Hümayun (Imperial Festival Book, 1720).

When not teaching or researching, Michael likes to relax by watching television, the cheesier the better, from Turkish soap operas to Strictly Come Dancing, although he does often find himself watching (and sometimes shouting at) historical documentaries. Somewhat more productively, he enjoys cooking, particularly South Asian and Middle Eastern concoctions. His culinary aspirations and misadventures peak during seasons of Masterchef when his head fills with delusions of grandeur. Although not able to visit Turkey as often as he would like, Michael spends as much time as he can with his better half and her family in Israel, often going on wonderful hiking adventures exploring Ottoman monuments and ruins.

You can follow Michael’s research on his page, read about the Negev Desert ruins pictures above left at Stambouline, and read an analysis of the petition shown above right at Toszuz Evrak.


About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

One Response to Spotlight on Michael Talbot

  1. Pingback: Introducing Postgraduate Spotlights | St Andrews School of History

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