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Conversion and Convergence in the Venetian-Ottoman Borderlands

Rothman, E. Natalie

This study explores how Venetian and Ottoman elites rearticulated religious and linguistic boundaries in a process that spanned both metropoles and their Dalmatian borderlands. It focuses on the case of a teenage daughter of an Ottoman-Bosnian governor, who in 1622 left her hometown for nearby Venetian territory, converted to Catholicism, and ended up in the Casa delle Zitelle, a Venetian boarding school for elite girls in “moral danger.” Five years later, when her enraged father arrived in Venice alleging she had been led astray, he was taken on two carefully orchestrated tours of the Zitelle, at the end of which he declared his satisfaction at the excellent treatment his daughter had received there. Diplomatic correspondence — especially reports by the two official interpreters who mediated the Ottoman dignitary’s interactions with his Venetian hosts — demonstrates how a potentially grave diplomatic incident was averted; it also shows how the protagonists’ competing ideas about the nature of the boundaries between Venetian and Ottoman societies, and, indeed, about conversion, subjecthood, and female piety, were ultimately commensurated. The ongoing, and at times mundane, ways in which religious, social, and political boundaries were drawn and redrawn in what is now understood as a circum-Mediterranean “Age of Confessionalization” reveals the historical contingency of these boundaries themselves.

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