04 June 2007
(December 24, 2006) I was deeply saddened to have learned of the death of Professor Stanford J. Shaw at the age of 76. Professor Shaw was an Ottomanist, a world renowned expert on Jewish life in Turkey during and after the era of the sultan. Although I had never met the professor in person, we had struck up an Internet friendship that had lasted many years. As a Turkish Jew and a lover of Ottoman Jewish history, I found a deep appreciation for this man that spent nearly his whole life researching, writing about and focusing on my people. Professor Shaw contributed such a tremendous wealth of knowledge to the body of history on the Jews of Turkey, that the debt of gratitude that is owed him can never be repaid. His academic work strengthened our understanding of what Jewish life was life under the sultan, from as early as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain to as late as the development of Ataturk's modern Republic.
"A Tremendous Loss for the Jewish, Turkish and Academic World"
A unique soul, he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on May 5, 1930 to Jewish parents that had immigrated from England and Russia. His formal education started at Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul, where he graduated in 1947, one out of only five students from a student body of 500 who went to college. He went on to Stanford University, where he majored in British History, with a minor in Near Eastern History. He received his B.A. at Stanford in 1951. He then studied Middle Eastern history along with Arabic, Turkish and Persian as a Graduate Student at Princeton University starting in 1952, receiving an M.A. in 1955. Afterward, he went to England to study with Bernard Lewis and Paul Wittek at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and also at Oxford University. Following this, he went to Egypt to study at the University of Cairo and Shaikh Sayyid at the Azhar University, also doing research in the Ottoman archives of Egypt in Cairo. Professor Shaw received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1958; his dissertation was titled, "The Financial and Administrative Organization and Development of Ottoman Egypt, 1517-1798," a paper which told much about Sephardic Jewry in the Ottoman Empire.
Professor Stanford Shaw was not afraid to challenge the Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the Ottomans. Shaw stood by his position, one shared by many others, that the wars that the Ottoman Empire faced were brutal to people of all races and various ethnic groups. After studying in the Turkish archives, he took the position that there was no directly intended genocidal attempt and that all parties were liable for the high numbers of deaths due to the vicious warfare that occurred. Professor Shaw realized that the people of the Christian West (i.e. the United States) had been so poisoned against Muslims by wartime propaganda that it was easy for the Americans to jump on the 'blame the Turks' bandwagon. Because of his opinions, Shaw's house in California was bombed in 1977 by Armenian extremists.
Professor Shaw is best remembered for the near 30 years he served at UCLA in the department of history as professor of Turkish History and Judeo-Turkish History and even before that he spent a decade at Harvard University from 1958 until 1968. His final post was at Bilkent University as professor of Ottoman and Turkish history from 1999 to 2006.
Professor Shaw's death is a tremendous loss for the Jewish, Turkish and academic world. He is one of those greats which come along once in a generation. The professor will be remembered among the ranks of other great Jewish historians such as Yitzhak Baer (1888-1980), Cecil Roth (1899-1970) and Salo Wittmayer Baron (1895-1989).
The awards and recognition Professor Shaw received worldwide are too numerous to mention and range from honorary degrees from Harvard University to honorary membership in multiple organizations. He was the author of numerous books on Turkey and Ottoman history. Among his major works on Turkey are "Between Old and New: The Ottoman Empire under Sultan Selim III, 1789-1807;" "History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey;" "The Jews of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic;" "Turkey and the Holocaust: Turkey's Role in Rescuing Turkish and European Jewry from Nazi Persecution, 1933-1945;" and "Studies in Ottoman and Turkish History: A Life with the Ottomans."
Professor Shaw was one of the first people to email me to congratulate me on my Website "Home of the Ottoman Sepharadim" which went online in 1997, one of the very first Sephardic Websites. From that, we developed an Internet friendship which I have treasured over the years. The professor advised me on the status of archives in Turkey, and was always helpful on any questions I had relating to Turkish and Ottoman Jewry. One of the greatest acknowledgments I received was a congratulatory note by Professor Shaw upon the founding of the International Sephardic Journal that I launched in 2005. Although I didn't attend UCLA, I consider myself a student of Professor Stanford Shaw, and will continue to learn from him through the numerous brilliant volumes he has left the world to treasure.
© Shelomo Alfassa
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