SOAS University of London

Caroline Finkel

For my generation, a PhD in Ottoman history hardly equipped one to make a living - those were the years of the Thatcherite cuts, and posts in my field were among the first to be dispensed with. However, I was lucky to have been able to put my skills to use as a researcher, and perhaps better suited to such work than to teaching.

What do you do for a living now?
For my generation, a PhD in Ottoman history hardly equipped one to make a living - those were the years of the Thatcherite cuts, and posts in my field were among the first to be dispensed with. However, I was lucky to have been able to put my skills to use as a researcher, and perhaps better suited to such work than to teaching.

At present I am scratching a living, but not from what occupies me most, the two projects of which I am an unremunerated co-director. One is the Akkerman Fortress Project, an historical-archaeological project investigating an Ottoman fortress in Ukraine (www.akkermanfortress.org), and the other a re-enactment project The Evliya Çelebi Ride - celebrating the life and work of the great Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, the 400th anniversary of whose birth is in 2011. Last autumn we completed the first leg of the latter project - riding the first stages of Evliya Çelebi's route to Mecca in 1671, and in 2011 we will ride again in his tracks, from Gaziantep to Aleppo to Urfa (www.kent.ac.uk/english/evliya/index.html [new website pending]; www.hoofprinting.blogspot.com).  

Do you think your time at SOAS helped you to pursue this? If yes, how?
These projects are all-consuming, and I can think of no more satisfying outlet for my experience as a historian. If I did not possess a PhD in Ottoman history, I certainly would not have the qualifications nor credibility to be doing what I am doing. Nor, indeed, without my SOAS training, could I have written what is now the standard one-volume history of the Ottoman Empire-Osman's Dream. The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923 (John Murray, 2005; various languages).

Did you ever envisage doing this while you were at SOAS?
Certainly not! These projects are self-generated, and presented themselves as I entered middle age.

Where do you live now?
I have lived in Istanbul for the past more than 20 years-another fortuitous circumstance that has helped the Evliya Çelebi project come together.

Where did you live when you were a student?
Earl's Court, but mostly Istanbul.

Did you enjoy your time at SOAS?
The little time I was on campus, yes. Being enrolled there allowed me to do a year of Arabic and a year of Hungarian, not to mention the riches of the library and the satisfaction of the student life.

What were SOAS students campaigning for when you were a student?
Every sort of burning issue that was vital pre-9/11.  

Are you still friends with anybody you met at SOAS?
Yes, of course. Many colleagues and a number of retired faculty.

Would you send your children to SOAS?
If there were courses that promised to give what they were looking for their further studies.

Do you still believe in the same principles as you did when you were a student?
No, I am happy to say I have become greatly more engaged and active than I ever was in those days.