Miri Shefer-Mossensohn


I am a Senior Lecturer and Vice-Chair in Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University. I combine three fields of historical research:  the Ottoman Empire, Muslim medicines, and environmental history. So far I have worked on madness,military medicine, hospitals, court medicine, medical modernization and urban public health in the pre-modern Middle East, among other aspects of medicine as a body of knowledge and clinical reality. My final goal is to unravel social and cultural realities as seen through the medical prism in the Turkish and Arabic speaking worlds. After all, following Susan Sontag, we all hold dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick; sooner or later we are obliged, at least for a spell, to be citizens of that “other” place. More recently I started to study environmental issues pertaining to the early modern Middle East, such as the useage of wood and timber and horticulure. I maintain that Ottomans had “green” world-view in that they appreciated the reciprocal relationship between nature and human beings. Furthermore, to some extent they looked at nature as an extension of humanity rather than as species apart.

I started my B.A. studies in the early 1990s as an Arabist. My main interest laid with contemporaries realities in the Middle East. However, after I finished a mandatory course in Ottoman history I was enamored with the sultans (yes, I was thrilled with court intrigues). I then added the relevant languages, Turkish and Osmanlı (Ottoman Turkish). The “conversion” was final with no returning back: I ended the B.A. as a convinced Ottomanist. Studying in Boğaziçi Üniversitesi in Istanbul in 1995 sealed also the culinary aspect: I became addict to Turkish cuisine.

For my Ph.D. dissertation on Ottoman hospitals in the early modern period (2001) I carried out research in Turkey (Ankara and Istanbul). I was also affiliated with the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London. After research fellowships at the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies in Cambridge and the Princeton University Library I joined the Middle Eastern & African History Department at TAU as an Alon Fellow.

For 15 years I focussed on medicine and health in the Ottoman world. I am now beginning a new long project on the myriad links and junctions between ecology, environment, and health in the Ottoman context (the Middle East was far “greener” than we appreciate today).

I am also a very proud mother of two princesses, Ella and Daphna. I share with them and with my husband my love of kebap meat and Turkish music.