The Middle East Studies Association has chosen Choon Hwee Koh’s “The Sublime Post: A History of Empire and Power through the Ottoman Post Station System, 1600-1839” for its 2020 Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award in Social Sciences. Her dissertation was completed at Yale University’s Department of History under the supervision of Professor Alan Mikhail.
Commendation of the Award
Dr. Koh’s dissertation carefully excavates previously ignored archives of the postal station system to revolutionize our understanding of the Ottoman Empire and other centralized states in the Middle East and the wider world. Through her use of Ottoman fiscal registers, imperial decrees, provincial, and judicial records, Koh deftly shows how the Empire’s postal station system, which has been overlooked in the scholarly literature, was essential to the Empire’s administration between 1600 and 1839. Although that system exclusively served Ottoman elites, Koh demonstrates that it reflected a set of interesting relationships among disparate groups across the empire: bookkeepers, couriers, judges, postmasters, sultans, and ordinary villagers. Overall, her dissertation demonstrates that studying logistical networks and the people who maintain them provides essential new insights into social change, politics, and the networks that link the most isolated communities to centers of power—from early-modern Ottoman Empire to contemporary Iran.