Fellow Spotlight: Dr. Fatma Gül Karagöz

This interview is part of our Fellow Spotlight series. This series features interviews with current and previous PIL Fellows, highlighting their work with the Program, their path getting here, and the road going forward. For more information on our Fellows, visit our website

Can you tell us a little bit about your background – where are you from, where did you pursue your education? And why?

I was born and raised in Istanbul. I think I knew from the beginning that legal education would give me a solid foundation and a methodic way of argumentation and interpretation, but I never imagined myself as a lawyer. However, after completing my BA at the Faculty of Law at Galatasaray University in Istanbul, I wanted to give it a try and so I began an internship at the Istanbul Bar Association. The internship taught me a lot about practice, but it also showed me without a doubt that I wanted to follow a different path, albeit one not very far from law. I decided to pursue an MA in history at İhsan Doğramacı Bilkent University in Ankara to become a legal historian. Legal history was then for me the best option to combine the skills I acquired from my legal education and the pleasure I obtained from history and literature. It still is. I finished my PhD in law and legal history at Istanbul University in 2018. While studying, I also worked as a research assistant at Bahçeşehir University Faculty of Law between 2009-2013. Since 2013, I have been continuing my research and teaching at Galatasaray University Faculty of Law where I became appointed an assistant professor in 2020.

What was your doctoral dissertation about? And your current book project? 

The title of my thesis was “1700-1750 Yılları Arasında Osmanlı Devleti’nde Arazi Hukuku Uygulamaları: Vidin ve Antakya Örneği” (The Practice of Ottoman Land Law in 1700-1750: The Example of Vidin and Antakya). In this thesis, I surveyed the application of land law and the miri system by examining the qāḍī court registers of two places in the Ottoman Empire: Vidin in today’s Northwestern Bulgaria and Antioch/Antakya in South Turkey. In my PhD thesis, one of my concerns was to observe and discuss the “privatization of miri land ownership” among other things, like seeking justice in the qāḍī court. I am currently working on the status of women and property in Antakya in the second half of the long 18th century, a work that is tied to my previous research on land law. My book project will be based on the transformation of land law in the early modern Ottoman Empire.

What are your current research interests? How did you first get interested in this research?

I got into this research topic as early as my MA years. During my time at Bilkent University, I found the opportunity to complete my master’s thesis under the supervision of the late Professor of Ottoman History Halil İnalcık. He gave me in 2007 a manuscript of Kanunname-i Cedid, a compilation of decrees and fatwās on land law that were brought together in the 17th century. I made a critical edition by comparing different manuscript versions of this text, but I also compared this text with the codification of Bayezid II. My master’s thesis was based on what land law should be by the framework of the administration/the state. After finishing this thesis in 2010, I thought I should consider the practice of this code, thus deciding my PhD subject. I used the knowledge obtained from Kanunname-i Cedid in my PhD studies to analyze the differences between theory and practice and I am still using it. Recently I have also been working on Ottoman criminal law and waqf law.

Why did you apply to become a PIL fellow? 

I have been following the work done in PIL for a couple of years. For me, to be honest, this was “the place” to do research on Islamic Law/Legal History for a long time. This year I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in Turkey at first. After being nominated as a candidate for postdoctoral studies by the Turkish Fulbright Commission, I applied to PIL.

What project(s) are you focusing on as a part of your PIL fellowship? 

I am mainly working on two projects: an article about women and property in Antakya, and the book project on land law. In the article, I discuss the connection between local dynamics and the process of owning and managing property in the second half of the 18th century. The book project will focus on both theory and practice of land law.

What PIL resources (material or people/intellectual) have you found useful so far during your time at PIL in terms of your research? 

Apart from the amazing collections in the library of Harvard Law School, I think what I appreciate most is being able to interact with people who are working on completely different subjects of Islamic law and discuss with them. Also, participating in the meetings of the SHARIAsource Lab and observing how the use of digital sources can be further developed in our field is an amazing experience. One wonderful thing about PIL is how the program embraces the fellows, integrating them into the course of the program and expecting them to contribute to the academic life at Harvard in many ways.

Where do you think your research will take you after the fellowship?

Professionally, I will go back home, and continue my work at Galatasaray University. As for the research part, there are still many things I should explore about land law in the Ottoman Empire. This subject is, and it might be a strange metaphor, like an onion. It has many layers and the more you peel, the more you discover many new and fascinating things. I will never be “bored” of this subject. I might be over-assuming, but still. I have been working on early modern land law for 10 years, more than 10, if I count my MA studies.  However, I like to explore other periods and subjects of the Ottoman legal system as well. I believe as a first step, I will focus a bit on modern Ottoman land law after this process, I have already begun to work on that. Also, I know that to take a break from my “big question” and to deal with other questions/subjects is an obligation. At least for me, it works like that. I like to put a distance between me and my subject, and then go back. Another current project of mine that is “hibernating” this year and that I must return to is about Ottoman criminal law and women offenders in the 17th century.

Any overall principle or saying that you draw on for inspiration or drive?

I think what professionally inspires me, rather than sayings or principles, is to be able to play out the detective through my sources and to find out a story to tell via legal history, even though sometimes I know the story might be interesting just for me and a few others. What drives me is, ironically, to be patient, and to know there is no such thing as “being late” for any accomplishment in the academic or personal life. I am doing things I want to do in my time, which is the right time.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

A lot of things, like spending time with my friends, family, and two cats. I enjoy reading (19th-century English literature probably being my favorite, but I also enjoy fantasy), listening to classical music, and watching movies. I am an enthusiastic comic book reader (both American and European). I try to exercise as often as I can.

What is a fun fact about you?

Many people who meet me think that I look like Björk, but I cannot sing at all.

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