Leyla von Mende

Leyla von Mende’s research investigates inhowfar during the late Ottoman Empire and the early Republic, parts of Europe were perceived as a distant Other and as former parts of oneself. Ottoman political and intellectual elites that visited the Balkans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries viewed their former provinces with a mixture of condescending imperialism and admiration for their progress, trying to position themselves and the Balkans within a European-Ottoman network. What her research shows is that in the ways Ottoman travellers perceived of the results of the new independence of the Balkan states, there is no clear dichotomy of inside and outside or self and other. In this regard, she suggests, we should think about history much more explicitly as something fluidly shared by groups of certain individuals in certain moments of time rather than starting from seemingly established geographic or allegedly cultural divides. If an Ottoman traveller went to Sofia in the early twentieth century, should we speak about his experiences in Europe or in the former Ottoman Empire? And should we speak about him as an “Ottoman traveller” or as part of a wider group of international elite travellers? Put in a different way, what kind of referential hierarchy is at stake here? What does Sofia represent for whom at which moment?

For the ISOE exhibition, Leyla von Mende collaborated with the artist Esra Ersen.


Leyla von Mende graduated from the Freie Universität Berlin with a Master’s degree in Islamic Studies, Politics, and Law in December 2008. From March 2009 to July 2010, she worked as the Assistant to the Director at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. She is currently doing her Ph.D. as a member of the research group “In Search of Europe” at the Zentrum Moderner Orient. In her dissertation project, she analyzes representations of post-Ottoman Southeast Europe in Ottoman travel writing.