Gemma Norman

Gemma Norman

Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

Title of thesis: Who made the Janissaries frown? "Corruption" vs. Adaptation in Ottoman Istanbul, 1730-1770

Supervisor: Dr Rhoads Murphey


  • BA (Hons) History (University of Portsmouth)
  • MA History of War, Culture and Society (University of Portsmouth)


My career in higher education did not begin in Turkish studies. My interest in the Ottoman Empire occurred while I was taking my MA degree at the University of Portsmouth. Fortunately the freedom of choice afforded in this degree course allowed me to pursue both an Independent Research project on relations between the Ottoman Navy and the Barbary Coast 1450-1550 (which was subsequently presented to and assessed by other graduate students and teachers) and also a Dissertation project 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 my MA research I was deeply interested in directing my research towards Turkish studies and spent some time considering my PhD plans during which I carried out my own private research and reading into both the topics which specifically interested me and more general Turkish history and culture in order to educate myself in this field. Also during this period I took my first and to date only trip to Turkey which only served to confirm me in my interest in Turkish studies and encouraged me to pursue my current project.

Doctoral research

PhD title Who made the Janissaries frown?: "Corruption" vs. Adaptation in Ottoman Istanbul, 1730-1770.
Supervisor Dr Rhoads Murphey
Course Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)


My thesis aims to offer a revisionist perspective on allegations of janissary corruption in Ottoman Istanbul over the period 1730-1770. Allegations of janissary corruption in modern historiography have been used practically unquestioningly as fact as opposed to interpretation and have been legitimised by their constant repetition by historians in their work. I aim to find the roots of the common 'corruption' thesis and trace back the histories written about it to their sources assessing both sources and secondary literature for ulterior motive or preconceived bias.

Other activities

  • 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier: Some Different "Hats" of the Eighteenth Century Janissary.' Research paper presented to 14th Annual Postgraduate Colloquium, CBOMGS, UoB, 25th May 2013
  • 'Something Borrowed: Material Values and the Ottoman Military'. Research paper presented in the GEM forum at UoB, 6th March 2013
  • President of GEM - Gate to the Eastern Mediterranean from July 2013.  I have contributed to the Ottoman Studies sections of the newsletter, website and have helped the President with the weekly seminar forum. 
  • Reaching Out From Higher Education. Started March 2013. This Arts and Humanities Research Council funded scheme run by the College of Arts and Law Graduate School, University of Birmingham is administered by the university's Cultural Engagement staff and is still in its very early stages. My participation in this 18 month scheme will involve general training in Presentation, Inspiring Young People, Design and Delivery and several other methods of public engagement. The project aims to place students with several partner organisations in Birmingham where we will then co-create and deliver with the partners a public engagement project resulting in a written report and presentation at the end of the project period.
  • İstanbul Bilimler Akademisi Ottoman History and Culture Summer School. 12th - 31st August 2013. This summer school programme 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 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. I was granted a scholarship from the Turkish Government to attend a summer school run by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The programme ran from 29th June - 8th July 2013 and includes 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 universities and think tanks in Istanbul and Ankara. Following the visit, I was required to provide an evaluation paper on the programme to the Ministry of Culture.
  • Interpretations of Egypt. March 2013. Widening Participation Residential Summer School at University College London and The British Museum in collaboration with The Sutton Trust.