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Lesson 5.6A: Man on a World Stage


Lesson 5.6A: Man on a World Stage


Topic 5: Sultan Abdulmecid I and Tanzimat Reforms


Topic Overview

This lesson introduces students to Sultan Abdulmecid I, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1839-1861, during the formative years of the Tanzimat Reforms.  Born in 1808, he inherited the throne from his father Mahmud II who had successfully staged a massacre of the janissary (1826), the elite military corps that had obstructed Ottoman reform efforts and challenged the power of the sultanate itself. It was also Mahmud II who introduced westernized dress codes, including adoption of the Fez in 1828. Abdulmecid I continued the reform efforts of his father, issuing the Gulhane Proclamation in 1839 (see Lesson 5.2.) and the Hatt-i Humayan or Imperial Edict in 1856, which further extended the Tanzimat reforms. When Abdulmecid died in 1861 of tuberculosis, he was succeeded by his brother Abdülaziz (r. 1861–1876).

Abdulmecid I spoke fluent Arabic, Persian and French. He was well versed in European literature and music, as well as in Ottoman calligraphy.  On assuming the throne Abdulmecid I was confronted by an international crisis.  Mehmet Ali (Muhammad Ali) of Egypt, then part of the Ottoman Empire, threatened to become a sovereign ruler and his powerful troops challenged Ottoman forces on a number of fronts.  Only with the intervention of European allies was the Sultan able to subdue Mehmet Ali (see Lesson 5.4).  By 1853 another international crisis loomed; Russia invaded the Ottoman Crimea and Abdulmecid once more had to look for European allies to ward off the threat. Abdulmecid found willing European allies who were eager to prevent Russia from gaining access to the Mediterranean. Thus the Crimean War features prominently in Lesson I. International crises did not stop Abdulmecid I and his enlightened vizier Mustafa Resit Pasha from instituting a vast array of reforms, the subject of Lesson 6B.

This lesson includes primary and secondary source materials that cover the development of Ottoman port cities and urban architecture, the effect of steam navigation and the telegraph, reform of the army, and the building of schools and hospitals.  In short it shows a dizzying array of reforms that are often not covered in standard texts.  It also demonstrates that the Ottoman Empire was interwoven – aside from war and peace – into the fabric of European life, while maintaining a distinct identity.

Lesson Overview

Students study images of Sultan Abdulmecid I produced in variety of nineteenth century media. The images and primary source documents help students visualize the man and the power he wielded, as well as the role he played in international relations across the Mediterranean. Historical portraits hold the potential to connect students to the human side of history, helping them to imagine what the actors looked like, as well as how they were seen by others. This lesson introduces students to Sultan Abdulmecid I through a series of images in a variety of media that emphasize his interaction with France and Great Britain, and his admiration of European art styles. Through a study of juxtaposed images students come to understand that a “mutual admiration society” existed in all directions across the Mediterranean that transcended fixed categories.

This lesson engages students in the Zoom In and Zoom Out methodology for analyzing historical artifacts. Please see the introductions to Lessons 4.1. on Mehmet Ali of Egypt and 5.1. on Tunisia’s Khayr al Din for a description of this methodology.

It is important for students to realize that, like real historians, they may not find answers to all of the questions raised by the artifacts in this lesson, even with additional research. Thus the subject of this lesson is not only Abdulmecid I himself, but also the process of making hypotheses based on evidence.


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 class period


National Council for the Social Studies (2010) Theme 6, Learners will be able to:

• Analyze and evaluate conditions, actions and motivations that contribute to conflict and cooperation among groups and nations. National Standards for History Era 7, 3A The student understands how the Ottoman Empire attempted to meet the challenge of Western military, political, and economic power


• Ability to work with different types of historical sources (visual, oral, written, etc)

• Ability to identify and utilise appropriately sources of information for a historical enquiry Common Core

• Ask questions about important details across multiple sources to determine points of agreement and disagreement.


• Students will compare Abdulmecid I with other reformers of the 19th century

• They will analyze the effect of his education and his position in the world of his time on his ideas and activities

• They will assess his role as a reformer and Muslim leader


• PowerPoint Presentation 5.6.1 Sultan Abdulmecid I: Man on a World Stage (either projected or printouts of the slides)

• Student Handout 5.6.2. Slide Text and Questions for Zoom In–Zoom Out

Optional: Article “The Crimean War” by naval historian Andrew Lambert at BBC on line

Optional: Territorial Evolution of the Ottoman Empire,

Lesson Plan Text

1. Activity 1: Zoom In and Zoom Out: In today’s world, students often “pose” for photographic self-portraits, presenting themselves in images they post on line. How do they “read” a snapshot-cum-portrait of a peer – his or her posture and costume, the photo’s social context and setting? For further information about teaching with portraits, see the Smithsonian Institution’s Website “Reading” Portraiture Guide for Educators

2. Hold a class discussion on the power of images in which you raise the following points:

a. How has technology changed the way we produce and view images? Remind students that until the latter decades of the twentieth century, photographs were produced using celluloid film had to printed from a negative for viewing. How are new technologies changing the way we view images (such as Instagram)? What technologies existed in the nineteenth century for viewing and sharing images? Remind students that early versions of photography (daguerreotypes) were available from the 1830s on. [Lesson 2 includes photographs.] Beginning in 1796 the invention of the lithograph meant that black and white images could be distributed on a mass scale. [One image in this lesson may be a lithograph.] How might these developments have changed the public’s ability to “see” their rulers for the first time? How could rulers use these techniques to propagate images of themselves to the public?

b. Tell students that they are going to learn about Sultan Abdulmecid I, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, first by studying an image that may have been mass produced. Introduce basic information about the sultan at this point to provide historical background. For example, read aloud the Overview to 5.6. Also consider showing maps of the empire from around 1850. How were its territories in the Balkans besieged in the west; how was Russia (angling for an outlet into the Mediterranean) besieging if from the east?

3. Option 1: Project the PowerPoint for this lesson for the entire class to see as you pose the questions from this lesson, slide by slide as per the suggested questions. Option 2: Break the class into small groups and assign each group to run through all the slide images on a computer, or print out images from the PowerPoint to distribute to groups. Alternatively assign certain groups to analyze only specific images and then to report back to the whole class. If students work in small groups you will need to print out the Zoom In and Zoom Out questions for each group’s images.

4. Debriefing: If students have analyzed the images in small groups, reconvene the whole class for the debriefing. (Note: If you have implemented all three Zoom In and Zoom Out portrait analysis in lessons 5.4. and 5.5., remind students to utilize everything they have learned about Ottoman dress reforms, the European portrait tradition, and the analysis of context to arrive at an interpretation of the image.)

a. How might the propagation of images of the Sultan increased the loyalty of the Ottoman population to the empire?

b. How do we know from these images that Abdulmecid I admired European art and technology?

c. From the evidence available in this lesson, can we say that the Sultan was in turn admired by Europeans? What is your evidence?

d. In what respects did Abdulmecid I guard aspects of his Muslim identity in the imagery he generated of his person?



Joan Brodsky Schur, “Lesson 5.6A: Man on a World Stage,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed November 23, 2017,

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