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Posts tagged ‘graduate school’

This Is How I Spent the Summer

Instead of exploring more lost civilizations and sampling the foods and drinks of offbeat destinations, I spent the summer, here, in my home office, writing my Master’s thesis.   Of course, I occasionally made trips to the library and to meet with my advisor, but it was all for the thesis.  Although I didn’t leave the city of Ankara, Turkey, I did learn a whole lot about the predecessors of this country, the Ottomans, the old-fashioned way – reading.

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where I spent my summer

My thesis attempts to answer this question: Why did the Ottoman Navy wait more than a hundred years to develop and implement advanced technology, like sailing ships, during the sixteenth century age of exploration? Unfortunately the thesis is written in Turkish, and this blog is in English, so I won’t just paste the 100 pages in here – consider yourselves lucky! If anybody wants to read it in Turkish, please contact me, and I’ll happily forward it to you. For the rest of you, here’s a quick summary.

Basically, the Ottomans didn’t need to develop sailing ships or the accompanying technology.  The major development impetus for the Atlantic fleets was their desire to bypass Ottoman lands on the spice route.  Exploration came later, after they bumped into the “New World” on their quest to find a better way to India and realized the world of wealth it offered.  For the Ottomans, India and its spices could easily be reached via the ancient caravan routes – they weren’t trying to bypass themselves, obviously.  Furthermore, in terms of expansion of the empire, the Ottomans were always more concerned with gaining more land territory, while their major European competitors worked toward maritime domination.  In terms of military competition, the Ottoman Army almost always got priority over the Navy, including allocation of resources and attention.  And in their primary waters, the Mediterranean Sea, the Ottoman’s enemies were also using oar-powered vessels, so there was no drive for technology improvements fueled by competition there.  In the frontier, the Indian Ocean region, the Ottomans managed to compete with the Portuguese by controlling the routes close to the land while the Portuguese stayed in the open oceans.  Although they had several skirmishes and port attacks, neither ever gained much ground from the other during the sixteenth century.

Somewhere in these reasons fits the Ottoman practice of hiring corsairs to run the Navy, which can be considered either encouraging technological innovation or retarding it, depending on the individual and the day.  Even when they were running the fleet, the corsairs continued to operate like pirates on their off-time, and possibly even when they were on the Ottoman’s clock.  I didn’t delve too deeply into the Ottoman psychology as I think it would take way more than six month’s study to apply any understanding of it to an argument like mine.  So, although the Ottomans didn’t need to adapt to sailing ships in the sixteenth century, eventually they did, and by the time they realized it, it was too late, as England and Holland had already established their Indian trading companies and gradually dominated the entire trade.

If you find any of this interesting, I recommend reading The Ottoman Age of Exploration, by Giancarlo Casale. Although it doesn’t answer the question I researched, the book explains how the Ottomans managed to hold their own against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean for the better part of the sixteenth century while relying on older, out-dated technology, and tells great stories of the palace intrigue and political manipulations by every side while trying to gain or hold on to positions.


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Earlier this week I defended my thesis. It was mostly successful, although I have to make a few additions and revisions in order for my university to finally accept it.  Like me, the professors were all impressed with the fact that I wrote it in Turkish!  I have to admit, however, that it wasn’t my first choice to write it in Turkish, as I thought that a thesis in English would be more helpful if I chose to pursue an academic career in the future.  When I picked up the bound work at the print shop and held a fat 110 page document in my hands, I almost couldn’t believe that I had made this thing. I was so proud that I temporarily forgot about all of the run-on sentences and not-quite complete arguments that I knew it contained.  Still, I’m happy with the final results, and making the required corrections won’t be a major effort.
So, this Olmsted project of learning a new language and then completing a graduate program in that language is nearly complete. I started learning Turkish in November of 2011, and here I am in September of 2014, weeks away from getting my degree!  Honestly, when I started the program I wasn’t really sure I could get to this point.

Of course, now that I’m almost done, this traveling girl is aching to get back on the road.  We have a huge trip planned for next month, and I’m thinking we may take some short trips around Turkey between now and then.  In the meantime, I plan on writing about observations of daily life in Turkey and catching up on some of the trips that didn’t make it into the blog.  Stay tuned!

Grad School in Turkey, Take 2

Last week I finally started my second semester of grad school in Turkey.  I’ve been on break for almost two months, so it’s nice to get back to work.

In the process of registering, I found out that I’m a solid C student here.  Although I’m relieved that I passed, these aren’t the grades I’m used to and I hope that I can improve to at least a B average.  I don’t think blaming my grades on the second language will work for the duration of an entire degree.

Registering was much easier this semester.  My university is moving to doing everything online.  Last semester, we had to go to the department, pick our classes, and get various people to sign some forms before our classes were confirmed.  This time, we just had to log on to our student accounts, take an EU survey about last semester’s classes, pick the ones for this semester, send it to an advisor for approval, and show up.

Of course, I had never logged onto my student account, so I had to go to school to get my password.  Every time I go there, I run into other classmates, and wonder what they’re doing there.  The actual university campus is outside of town, in an area on the way to Eskisehir with all the other universities.  Graduate classes are held at the institute, located inside the city.  The professors’ offices are all at the university, so if registration is all online, why is everyone always at school?  I kept thinking I was missing something, something that was obvious to every Turk but somehow unclear to a foreigner like me.  Is my email confirmation not enough?  Am I really registered for classes? It turned out some guys were contesting the university’s requirement for a 3.0  GPA in order to write a thesis, and others were just nervous about the online process and wanted to make sure they got their classes.

My classes this semester are more interesting: Political Theory II (required, and the least-exciting), Politics in the Balkans and Caucasus, and Turkey’s Accession Negotiations with the EU.  Last semester I only took required classes, and since I’m not a big fan of discussing either theory or ideology, this term’s focus on less esoteric political science topics is a relief!

In a curious shift from last semester, two of the classes are in English.  I didn’t realize this when I signed up for them, but since I picked classes based on interest level, I’m sticking with them.   So far one class is entirely in English, probably because I am the only student, and the other is a hodgepodge of both languages.  It’s interesting and a good challenge for me to flip back and forth.

My schedule doesn’t quite lend itself to travel as well as last semester either – no more five-day weekends! Obviously that wasn’t going to last, so I’m glad I got all that crazy travelling in while I had the chance.  Now that I’m down to normal weekends like everybody else, I plan to take some day trips around Ankara and the middle Anatolia region on days off.  Last semester I found all the time stuck on planes and trains while traveling was excellent for reading and studying for class.  Now I’ll have to be a bit more disciplined.  Wish me luck!

Rainbows and Grad School in Turkey

I’m taking a break from reading Aristotle’s Politika to write this blog entry and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, which is one of the things I really miss from the States.  As I typed, I heard a small, rustling sound.  I immediately grabbed the broom and started hunting for the small animal or large insect that must have invaded my apartment.  When I crossed into the dining room, I happened to look out the window, and realized that instead of a rodent in my flat, hail was falling from the sky while the sun was still shining!  Unfortunately I couldn’t find my phone to take video before the hail became rain, but when I finally found my real camera, there was a rainbow! In Ankara!

I love rainbows.  My brother, who lives in Hawaii, used to joke that I came to visit the rainbows and saw my family on the side.   I assure you this isn’t the case, but now whenever I do see a rainbow, I’m reminded of all the great times with family in Hawaii.

Ankara is much prettier in the rain, at least from the elevated vista of my flat.  On the street, instead of getting dusty you get muddy, and the rate of car and pedestrian accidents goes up.  As I look out my window, though, all of the ugly concrete buildings look almost golden, and I almost let myself believe that a shiny wet road in the distance was a river lined with trees.   I opened the window to get a pleasant whiff of rain but can’t drown out the horns, brakes, sirens and shouts – it’s no idyllic paradise.

 

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I really meant to write this post about graduate school in Turkey.  Now that I’ve got a few classes under my belt, here’s my take so far.:

After about seven months of formal Turkish lessons and another few months of fitful self-study, I am taking two graduate classes at Cankaya University.  The Master’s is in Political Science with a focus on International Relations.  My first two classes are required courses, however, so right now I’m taking Political Theory and the Modern Political State.

This means that I read a lot of boring old stuff. So far, I’ve been reading mostly in English, since we have yet to encounter any Turkish writers and I figure a translation is a translation.  For instance, we read Plato’s Apology and are in the middle of his State in the Political Theory Class.  The Modern State professor is a huge fan of Terry Eagleton, who writes about the lost art of literary theory.  I absolutely hated literary theory in high school and college, and talking about it in Turkish doesn’t make it any more interesting.  I’m really looking forward to next semester when I can take classes that hold a little more interest for me.

Instead of a classroom, we sit around a conference table.  The professor talks/teaches about half the time and the rest is mostly discussion.  I’m amazed that I can understand as much as I do – I’d say about 80% right now.  My weakness is during the discussion, especially when students talk over each other.  I have an advantage in that I studied all this stuff my freshman year of college, and usually I can manage to remember the key points that a professor is trying to lead the discussion to; unfortunately my Turkish speaking isn’t as good as my listening, and sometimes I feel like a 10 year old explaining Plato’s problems with democracy.

We have no syllabus.  At some point in the class the professors give our reading assignments for the next class.  Throughout the week, one of the professors emails additional books or articles that he wants us to read and it really piles us.  I’ve spent a lot of time at the kindle store and elsewhere online looking for pdfs, and visited several used book stores looking for obscure titles.  I’m not sure how the guys who work full-time are going to read everything.

One professor gave us the point breakdown for a grade.  We have a final paper due at the end of the semester and a presentation due sometime in December, topics TBD.  I have no idea how we’ll be graded in the other class.

Despite my bitching about the all the dry reading, I’m actually enjoying the classes.  Both professors are dynamic and engaging, and my classmates are all pretty interesting.  The one other girl has a major crush on our professor and isn’t shy about flirting – this provides for lots of laughter.  We also have a kid who got into a lot of trouble for internet piracy and has pretty much taken the role of the class criminal.  He’s always willing to copy books or find assigned movies online and share them with everybody.  The other night while we were discussing Kafka’s father complex, this kid’s dad showed up to make sure his son was actually going to class every night!

Besides a Russian in one class, I’m the only other foreigner.  I am now the expert on American politics, history, and culture although I can’t vouch for the truthiness of my information.  When they asked me where Shirley Temple Black served as an ambassador, I assumed France.  I was corrected by google on somebody’s phone; she was ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.  Who knew?

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