Ayşe Polat

Ayşe Polat


Ayşe Polat is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies. She is a legal and social historian of the Ottoman Empire, specializing in law, migration, and race in the Middle East and North Africa. Her research interests lie at the intersections of maritime and urban history, histories of slavery and forced migration, humanitarianism, and human rights law. Her book manuscript, In the Pale of Humanity: Fugitivity and Carceral Humanitarianism in the Ottoman Mediterranean, 1860-1920, explores the politics of international migration in the Eastern Mediterranean. She has a BA in Political Science and Sociology from Boğaziçi University (2016) and has submitted her Ph.D. at the History Faculty, University of Cambridge (2023).


Project Description

Her current project, “The Fugitive Defendant: The Politics of Extradition and Asylum in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1860-1914” explores the maritime politics of humanitarian asylum and rescue in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ottoman Mediterranean. Juxtaposing the histories of fugitive slaves and political asylees, this project will discuss how race and class delineated the limits of political freedom.

This project will address a disciplinary lacuna in international history and the Turkish historiography of the free seas — Mare Liberum — by focusing on the Ottoman seascape as a domain of extraterritoriality, i.e., a state of exemption from local law. In doing so, it will pursue answers to such questions as: How did humanitarian norms and practices, like asylum and rescue, shape the sea as a legal space? Where lies the striations of race and class that contour the free seas? What are the legacies of extraterritoriality in today’s humanitarian and punitive responses to migrants crossing the Mediterranean?