Gemma Masson

Gemma Masson

Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

Title of thesis: Janissary “Corruption” vs. Janissary Adaptation in Eighteenth Century Istanbul

Supervisor: Dr Marios Hadjianastasis and Dr Arezou Azad


  • BA (Hons) History (University of Portsmouth)
  • MA History of War, Culture and Society (University of Portsmouth)
  • T.C. Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı   National Diploma in Turkish Language (Sept 2014 - June 2015)


After becoming interested in the Ottoman Empire in the course of studying my MA at the University of Portsmouth I initially persued an Independent Research project on relations between the Ottoman Navy and the Barbary Coast 1450-1550 followed by an MA thesis in which I examined Ottoman-European interactions 1600-1800 assessing how far religious factors affected interactions such as warfare, diplomacy and trade. By the end of this research I was deeply committed to my desire to work in Turkish studies and from this came to Birmingham to persue my PhD research.  

Doctoral research

PhD title Janissary “Corruption” vs. Janissary Adaptation in Eighteenth Century Istanbul
Supervisors Dr Marios Hadjianastasis and Dr Arezou Azad
Course Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)


My thesis is aiming to look at allegations of janissary corruption specifically in 18th century Istanbul. This is partly due to the fact that the 18th century is very understudied as a period and also because I am interested in applying regional case study methodology to an imperial capital, as it was where all the most important action was allegedly happening. Also I wish to address the issue of historian referring to something 'in the Ottoman empire' when what they really mean is 'in Istanbul'. Also the alleged actions of the eighteenth century have often been used to justify the negative perspectives of the janissaries in later years but without any serious analysis of the primary documentation of the time with a very prevalent tendency accept the accepted thesis of the janissaries en masse being a rebellious and subversive institution.  I hope to form a conclusion based on what the surviving documentary evidence can reveal about this issue.

Other activities

Awards & Scholarships:

Tübitak (Scientific and Technological Research Council for Turkey )(Sept 2014 – Sept 201)

My studies in Turkey were funded by the Research Fellowship for International Researchers from which I won 12 months of funding. During this time I pursued language studies in Turkey for Modern Turkish and Ottoman as well as working through archive collections gathering and collating material for my PhD research. In addition I presented in both English and Turkish in several academic institutions and attended conferences being held in Turkey pertaining to my research.

Reaching Out From Higher Education: (Mar 2013 - July 2014)

This Arts and Humanities Research Council funded scheme run by the College of Arts and Law Graduate School, University of Birmingham was administered by the university's Cultural Engagement staff. My participation in this eighteen month scheme involved general training in Presentation, Inspiring Young People, Design and Delivery, Media Training, Fund-raising in the Arts, Putting on an Event and several other methods of public engagement.

Myself and a colleague from the programme were placed with Town Hall Symphony Hall in Birmingham where we co-created and delivered a public engagement project resulting in a written report and presentation at the end of the project period.

I was also invited to become a member of the project management board in the capacity of a Participant Representative. The board met quarterly to discuss project progress and outputs.

İstanbul Bilimler Akademisi   (12th - 31st August 201)

Ottoman History and Culture Summer School

I was awarded a scholarship from İBA to attend this programme. This summer school featured a combination of academic study and heritage visits to major historical sites under the guidance of expert academics in each field. Classes included an intensive programme of Ottoman Turkish which brought complete beginners to a competent standard of sight reading for printed texts in the Ottoman language while the history lectures covered the wide history of the empire across the centuries giving overviews of the key themes in Ottoman Social, Economic, Political and Art History as well as the History of Thought in the Empire. The programme also facilitated information for researchers on how to conduct research on Ottoman studies in Turkey explaining the resources available both in various collections and the training courses available as well as the procedures required to take advantage of these opportunities. Additionally along with several other participants I was invited to give a speech of thanks at the certificate presentation ceremony for this course.

Ministry of Culture Summer School (June - July 2013)

I was granted a scholarship from the Turkish Government to attend a summer school run by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The programme included visits to major Turkish heritage sites in Istanbul, Çannakale, Bursa and Ankara as well as trips to the Prime Ministry Ottoman archives and lectures at the Turkish Cultural Foundation in Istanbul and The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara Palace. Following the visit, I was required to submit an evaluation paper on the programme to the Ministry of Culture.

Projects Participated In:

Barber Institute of the Arts (30 February 2014)

I made a visit to the coin room at the Barber after being told that there was a small collection of unexamined Ottoman coins there. The result was that I assisted a colleague in numismatics with the cataloguing of the Ottoman collection including photographing, weighing measuring and recording of data on the coins.

Postgraduate Student Workshops (Dec 2013 - Present)

I am currently registered with the University of Birmingham to facilitate interactive workshops promoting my subject area of Ottoman studies to groups of young people of varying ages. These workshops are due to be delivered, subject to availability, at university open days or special events as well as in schools requesting 'taster' sessions of university life for their students. Training for these sessions is currently ongoing and focussed on engaging young people in the subject in an interactive and fun way as well as promoting higher education to students considering university applications.  

GEM - Gate to the Eastern Mediterranean:

Society President  (June 2013 - June 2014)
Student Society for the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, (CBOMGS) at the University of Birmingham.

I have been involved with this society since its creation, chairing weekly presentations and personally presenting papers. I have also contributed to the Ottoman Studies sections of the society website, newsletter Facebook group and Twitter account as well as promoting the society and its events to both the university community and a wider more general audience.         

Current projects and future plans for the society include outreach to undergraduates in related fields and interdisciplinary projects and events with other fields of study and student societies. We will also be working closely with the annual CBOMGS postgraduate colloquium for future years. Additionally we shall continue with the forum which allows postgraduate students to present research papers to other students and academics in a friendly environment and get feedback on their work as well as improving presentation and lecturing skills.

We have expanded the content of forum sessions to include round-table debates and workshop sessions. chaired by postgraduates with pre-assigned optional readings and these have been well received by both staff and students with many students being eager to devise and chair sessions.



Papers Presented:

  • ''Istanbul for Researchers' GEM forum University of Birmingham, 28th October 2015
  • 'Bir cacık olmaz': Ottoman Archives & Eighteenth Century Janissaries in Istanbul. Guest lecture given by invitation at the Intensive Summer School in Ottoman Paleography, Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul, 24 June 2015.
  • "Issues surrounding history in popular culture: The case of Muhteşem Yüzyıl"A Celebration of Ottoman History at Birmingham: a retirement event for Rhoads Murphey, 11th June 2014
  • 'What's in a name?: The Etymology of İstanbul through the Ages.' 15th Annual Postgraduate Colloquium: Language as Culture in the Eastern Mediterranean, CBOMGS, University of Birmingham, 24th May 2014
  •  'Lost in Translation: misinterpretations of janissary 'slave' identity.' Birmingham & Warwick 18th Century Centres Annual Workshop: Global Humanity, 14th May 2014
  • 'Using PG Student Forums to Enhance University Experience'. Think Graduate School Fridays (TGS Fridays) seminar session at University of Birmingham, 14th March 2014.
  • 'Stranger than Fiction: Medieval Monsters'. EMREM Forum at University of Birmingham, 12th March 2014
  • 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier: Some Different "Hats" of the Eighteenth Century Janissary.'  14th Annual Postgraduate Colloquium: The Individual and Society, CBOMGS, University of Birmingham, 25th May 2013
  • 'Something Borrowed: Material Values and the Ottoman Military'. Research paper presented in the GEM forum at University of Birmingham, 6th March 2013