Journal article Open Access
Rothman, E. Natalie
Theories of cultural and linguistic mediation have tended to posit intermediaries as conduits through which one culture/language either enters another unproblematically, or gets “distorted” due to intermediaries’ incompetence or self-interest. Both these perspectives presuppose stable, well-bounded, and coherent cultures/languages as what intermediaries purportedly mediate. Instead, this paper proposes an understanding of cultural and linguistic mediation as a process that constitutes its objects, that is, as an essential dimension of all acts of cultural and linguistic boundary-making. It focuses on dragomans (diplomatic interpreters) who operated at the interface between the Ottoman government and foreign diplomats to the Porte throughout the early modern period. The paper suggests how dragomans’ practices of knowledge production were profoundly collaborative, involving a range of Ottoman and Venetian interlocutors. Such practices thus belie any facile distinction between “local” and “foreign,” but rather challenge us to consider the emergence of “Oriental” studies as a dialogical project that necessitated ongoing recalibrations of prior knowledge through a multiplicity of perspective, where diplomatic institutions and epistemologies played a key role.