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Lesson 5.6B: Modern Institutions and Infrastructure: From Schools to Steamships


Lesson 5.6B: Modern Institutions and Infrastructure: From Schools to Steamships


Topic 5: Sultan Abdulmecid I and Tanzimat Reforms


In this lesson students investigate primary and secondary visual and written sources about Ottoman reforms in the second half of the nineteenth century. Extension and Assessment activities include writing an excerpt from a nineteenth century travel guide to Istanbul/Constantinople, or essays in which students assess the “sick man of Europe” trope for this time period.


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 or two class periods, depending on use of collective learning techniques, with more time allotted if you choose to implement Extension assignments.


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 describe modernization efforts in the Ottoman Empire, with emphasis on education, infrastructure and urban life and analyze their impact.

• They will assess the validity of common terms like “sick man of Europe” used to portray the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries.


• Student Handout 5.6.3. Document Sets with questions divided as follows:

  • The Development of Ottoman Port Cities Document A
  • Urban Reforms Document A
  • Architecture for a Modern Empire Documents A and B
  • The Telegraph and Its Effect on the State Documents A and B
  • Reform of the Army Documents A, B, and C o Effect of Steam Navigation on the Empire Documents A and B
  • Schools and Hospitals, Documents A, B, C, D and E.

• Student Handout 5.6.4. Graphic Organizer for the Debriefing Phase

Lesson Plan Text

1. This lesson provides a wealth of visual and written resources about Ottoman Reform. If you want to cover all of the topics in this lesson, consider assigning pairs or small groups to just one set of documents, and then asking them to report back to the whole class with their assessments.

2. Begin by asking students to share what they know about industrialization and reform in the United States in Antebellum America. Was the development of steam power and the railroads, for example, initiated in the United States? Which technologies were imported, which invented here? Were all parts of the nation industrializing at the same rate? What was needed on the part of entrepreneurs and the government to put industrial reforms into effect? What other types of reforms were taking place at the same time?

3. Explain to students that they are going to study reforms taking place in the still-vast Ottoman Empire roughly around mid-century – under the aegis of Sultan Abdulmecid I and Mustahpa Resit Pasha who served as his Grand Vizier from 1848 to 1852.

4. Distribute Student Handout 5.6.1 to all students. If you teach in a “laptop school” consider having students access Handout 5.6.3 via the Internet instead of hard copy.

5. If you want to cover all of the topics in this lesson, consider assigning pairs or small groups to just one set of documents, and then asking them to report back to the whole class with their assessments. If you would like to implement this activity as a Jigsaw, follow instructions in 5.5. Lesson 5. 6. If you prefer a narrower focus consider the following”

a. Document Set 6.6.3 on reform of the army uses two primary sources that contradict one another in their assessment of Ottoman military preparedness. They could be assigned as a “stand alone” lesson on how to interpret point of view.

b. Document Set 7 on schools and hospitals shows images of Ottoman girls and women. It could used and integrated with the Lesson 7 on Women’s Salons and with further investigation of Halide Edib Adivar whose work appears in 5.2. The Case for Reform.

7. Debriefing: Ask students, from the many descriptions of reform efforts in this lesson, how involved was Sultan Abdulmecid himself in the reform effort? What is your evidence? How would you measure the success of these reforms? What further evidence would you want to make such an assessment?

8. Using Student Handout 5.6.4 Graphic Organizer, fill in (in pairs, groups or as a class) and discuss how the following set of reforms reinforced one another:

  • Port Cities, Steamships, Urban Reforms.
  • Steamships, Telegraphs and the Army
  • Architecture, Schools and Hospitals
  • Hospitals and the Army

9. In how many of these reform efforts did the Ottomans draw on expertise from Europe? To what European efforts did they contribute their own expertise? Give examples.

10. Extension/Assessment: Write an essay in which you evaluate the “sick man of Europe” trope for the Ottoman Empire in the mid-nineteenth century. Is it an appropriate way to describe the empire in comparison to the rest of Europe? Marshall evidence in support of your view.

11. Extension/Assessment: Write an essay comparing Ottoman reforms to the reforms of another empire, such as the Russian Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What problems did all of these large-scale empires face and how did they or did they not implement reforms?

12. Extension/Assessment: Write an extract from a travel guide, advising fellow travelers about the logistics of travel to Istanbul/Constantinople and some of the highlights of what to see. It was in this era that travel-as-tourism developed on a major scale, facilitated by the famous Baedecker Guides written in German, begun by Karl Baedecker (1801-1859) . His British counterpart was Thomas Cook whose guides facilitated large-scale tourism.

  • For a travel guide model to follow view Cook’s Tourist Handbook for Palestine and Syria published in 1876 at
  • Describe steam travel to the port city of Istanbul, where to find telegraph and postal offices to communicate back home, where to go if you get sick (new hospitals), some examples of recent architectural additions to the city, and a few highlights of historic sights to see.

13. Extension/Assessment: Write an extract from an imaginary account of your journey in the Ottoman Empire in which you compare Ottoman reforms to reforms in your “home country.” Choose a “home country” you want to research concerning its own efforts at reform during this time period –– such as a Mediterranean country (e.g. Spain, Greece, Morocco), or a country in the Americas (e.g. Brazil or the United States.)

  • Find an array of Ottoman officials and institutions to visit. Assess the reform effort not only from the point of view of how they look “on the books” but “in action.”
  • Try to find historical images online to accompany your account.
  • Write with a “point of view” about you see. Are you impressed by what you see or depressed? Why?
  • For more reforms to investigate consider some of the following: “Other state innovations during Abdülmecid's reign spanned the administrative, legal, economic, financial, and educational fields. In 1840 the Ottoman Postal Ministry was founded, followed in 1857 by the Education Ministry. The Modern Municipality Organization was established in Istanbul in 1855, while the Penal Code (1840), Law of Commerce (1850), and Land Law (1858) were imported from the West. Sultan Abdülmecid established schools of teaching (1847), agriculture (1847), forestry (1859), and political science (1859). The first privately owned Turkish newspaper in the empire, Ceride-i Havadis (Journal of News), began publishing in 1840 during Abdülmecid's reign. The Ottoman economy also saw significant change during this period with the empire issuing its first banknotes being issued in 1839 and incurring its first external debt in 1854.” (Source: Çakır, Coşkun. "Abdülmecid I." In Ágoston, Gábor, and Bruce Masters, eds. Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. Modern World History Online, Facts On File, Inc. at



Joan Brodsky Schur, “Lesson 5.6B: Modern Institutions and Infrastructure: From Schools to Steamships,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed November 23, 2017,

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