Title: The Ottoman Imperial Harem
Biography: Ejona Bakalli is a senior Philosophy and Islamic Civilizations and Societies major. She is from New York and originally from Tirana, Albania. She became interested in the topic of the Ottoman Imperial Harem when she encountered different forms of separation between male and female spaces in her Albanian community after revisiting it with an American perspective. Her thesis concerns the most elaborate form of harem, or separation, found in the Ottoman imperial model.
Project: The Ottoman Imperial Harem was a secluded part of the sultan’s palace where the sultan’s female servants, concubines, extended family, and mother resided. The space was historically divided into three sections, one belonging to the Valide sultan (mother of the sultan), the one closest to the entrance belonged to the guarding eunuchs, and the rest of the space belonged to the women of the palace. However, like the Empire, the harem changed over time in both its physical manifestation and its significance and power. Ejona’s thesis looks at the different roles of women in the harem over time, and in its later parts focuses on the firsthand accounts of their experiences between 1875 and 1920. Her time in Istanbul, Turkey focused on visiting the cites of the harem, interviewing scholars, and attempting to assess how harem culture has changed yet continued in the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Below is a brief interview that ICS conducted with Ejona:
What is your major and minor and what made you choose them?
I declared my Islamic Civilizations and Societies Major at the end of my freshmen year after taking a class on conversion to Islam in the Balkans with Professor Mariela Dakova and meeting with Professor Kathleen Bailey, who made me feel immensely supported in my interests. I declared Philosophy the fall of my sophomore year after taking two outstanding classes with Professor Jean-Luc Solere on Medieval and Modern Philosophy. Throughout my BC experience I have been very lucky to have such great professors and mentors.
Where did you travel with your Mizna funds and how long were you there? What was the most memorable part of your trip?
I spent three weeks in Istanbul, Tukey. The most memorable part of my trip was visiting Topkapi Palace. I read so much about the palace over the course of the semester while working on my thesis. It was surreal to see it on my own and be able to imagine the women I read about living within the harem quarters. I went back to the harem quarters three times during my visit and felt equally fascinated with them each time.
What languages do you speak?
My first language is Albanian. I speak Albanian and English with my family and am equally comfortable with both. I studied Spanish while in Granada, Spain. Spanish is my favorite language and I love listening and dancing to Spanish music. I understand Italian but struggle to speak it because I have not used it as an adult. I am now taking Persian and hoping to be able to hold a conversation with a native speaker one day!
Where else would you like to travel/study?
I want to continue studying Islamic Civilizations and Societies. I am hoping to travel back to Turkey after graduation to focus on women’s studies. I am currently taking Persian and would love to travel to Tajikistan at some point in the future.