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Lesson 5.3: Two Revolutionary Documents: A Comparison of the Proclamation of Gulhane (1839) to The Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789)


Lesson 5.3: Two Revolutionary Documents: A Comparison of the Proclamation of Gulhane (1839) to The Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789)


Topic 2: The Case for Reform from within the Ottoman Empire


This lesson answers the question: To what extent was the Declaration of Gulhane influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution and how were they adapted by Ottoman reformers? Students are provided with statements excerpted from the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) which was issued by the French National Assembly during the French Revolution. It laid the groundwork for a written constitution based on the rights of man. Students are also given excerpts from the Proclamation of Gulhane (1829) without knowing which statements belong to the French Declaration or the Ottoman Proclamation. Through a variety of matching and categorizing activities of the statements students emerge with a clearer picture of what reform did and did not encompass in the Ottoman Empire during this first phase of Tanzimat.


Joan Brodsky Schur


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


One to two class periods


National Standards for World History, Standard 3A: The student understands how the Ottoman Empire attempted to meet the challenge of Western military, political, and economic power.


• Students will assess the influence of French political thought on reformers in the Ottoman Empire.

• They will compare documents for the restructuring of governmental institutions across the Mediterranean.

• They will identify some of the administrative problems in the Ottoman Empire.


• Student Handout 5.3.1 The Preamble to the Gulhane Proclamation (1839)

• Student Handout 5.3.2 Statements from the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Proclamation of Gulhane

• Student Handout 5.3.3 Categorizing Reforms

• Student Handout 5.3.4. Making Inferences about Problems within the Empire

• Student Handout 5.3.5 (optional) The Gulhane Proclamation (1839) and the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789)

Lesson Plan Text

1. Activity 1: Distribute Student Handout 5.3.1 which include only the first two introductory paragraphs of the Gulhane Proclamation (the preamble). Ask students to read it or read it out loud. Help students to contextualize the time period in which it was issued: How many years after the American and French revolutions was it written? How many years before the American Civil War or the European revolutions of 1848?

2. If you implemented Module 5 Lesson 1, review the implications of what students learned about why the Ottoman Empire needed to reform. On what basis does the preamble justify the need for change in the Ottoman Empire? Compare its language to the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, which also attempts to justify the need for political change. What type of change is the Gulhane Proclamation seeking to institute?

3. Ask students who they believe is the intended audience of this proclamation? Is it limited to Ottoman provincial governors? Is it a public statement for all people of the empire? Is it intended for an international as well as Ottoman audience?

4. According to the document, what role does Islam play in the empire? Does the preamble attempt to change that? (After students read the entire document, see if they still agree with their initial answer.)

5. Activity 2: To prepare, cut up the statements below in Student Handout 5.3.2 Column 1 (the quotations), without providing information in Column 2 (source of the quotations). Note: You can keep these slips of paper in envelopes and re-distribute them to your next class.

6. Implementation: Pose this question: How revolutionary were the changes proposed by the Gulhane Proclamation (1839)?

7. Arrange students into small groups. Tell students that they will receive envelopes with statements that come from both the Declaration of the Rights of Man (French) and from the body of the Gulhane Proclamation. (You can give student groups all of the quotations, or just a few to work with.) Working in their groups, ask students to sort quotations into two piles: Statements they believe come from the Gulhane Proclamation and statements they believe are part of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

8. Explain that it is acceptable to place more statements in one pile than the other. Students should be able to justify their choices based on prior knowledge and their analysis of the meaning and wording of the statements. Note: If they find this frustrating, or are unable to decide the source of many of these statements, use this a teachable moment to point out that there are many similarities between the two documents.

9. Next disclose the source of each statement. Students should then write a “G” or a “D” on each of the quotations. Alternatively give them a new set of the statements with the sources included.

10. Now ask students to make two columns in which they try to match similar statements from each document in the following categories. Distribute Student Handout 5.3.3 Categorizing Reforms. In which categories do students find the greatest similarities? What rights are guaranteed to French citizens that are not given to residents of the Ottoman Empire? Are there any rights to which Ottoman residents are entitled that are not mentioned in the Declaration of Rights?

• Property rights

• Taxation

• Public service (role of bureaucracy)

• Military service (conscription)

• Equality before the law

• Freedom of expression

• Rights to a trial

• Legislative power

5. Debriefing Discussion/Research: After students summarize their findings ask them what if anything surprised them about the similarities they found in the two documents.

6. What were the most important differences that they found? (The Gulhane Proclamation does not give any power to representatives of the people, for example). Ask: Did the Proclamation of Gulhane strengthen or weaken the central administration of the empire? Why do you think so?

7. For further research: The Gulhane Proclamation officially began the period in Ottoman history known as Tanzimat (restructuring). How long did it last and why did it end? Which of the goals of the Gulhane Proclamation were met (and where in the empire) and which were left unaccomplished?

8. In this activity the ideals of the French Revolution are looked at as a source for the Tanzimat reforms. Compare this interpretation of Turkish reform to that posited by Halide Edib Adivar (1884-1964). See the document she wrote in Student Handout 5.2.3.

9. Compare the rhetoric and/or reformers in South America to that of the Ottoman Empire.

10. Activity 3 (Optional): Ask students to infer what problems the Ottoman Empire hoped to address by the statements from the Proclamation of Gulhane from the statements themselves. Distribute Student Handout 5.3.4. Making Inferences about Problems with the Empire and let students work in pairs or in small groups.

11. Extension: See also text of the Gulhane Proclamation and the Ottoman Bill of Rights and a podcast discussing these documents by Ottoman historian Dina Khoury, from World History Sources, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University at



Joan Brodsky Schur, “Lesson 5.3: Two Revolutionary Documents: A Comparison of the Proclamation of Gulhane (1839) to The Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789),” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed January 19, 2018,

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