It is with real grief that we announce the death of Cornell Fleischer, the Kanuni Süleyman Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies in the Departments of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and History, who has passed away unexpectedly at his home in Chicago.
A distinguished historian of the Ottoman Empire, his book Bureaucrat and Intellectual in the Ottoman Empire: The Historian Mustafa Âli (1986) was widely acclaimed for its excellence and credited with revolutionizing the field, bringing a sensitive interpretation of manuscript and narrative sources to a field that had largely been dominated by attention to archival sources. Following the publication of this book he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1988. Cornell was known for the depth of cultural context he brought to the study of the Ottoman past, as well as for his exceptional command of the Ottoman language, modern Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. Over the years his scholarship touched on such issues as Ottoman claims to universal empire, chiliastic movements, confessionalization, the rise of a bureaucratic class in the Empire in the early modern period, and the issue of an Ottoman renaissance. A dedicated mentor to young scholars in the field, he trained several generations of historians of the Ottoman world and beyond with devotion and rigor, and it can be justly said that this legacy of his has significantly affected the shape of Ottoman studies in the United States, Europe, and Turkey.
He was born in 1950 and as the son of a U.S. diplomat, Cornell lived in many parts of the world as a young person and later as a graduate student, spending years in Cairo, Baghdad, and Istanbul. He developed a lifelong love for Cairo and Istanbul, and this love inflected all his work throughout his career. After attending Brown University for a year, Cornell transferred to Princeton as a “critical language” undergraduate student to study Arabic, and ultimately received his Ph.D. from Princeton’s Near Eastern Studies Department in 1982. He went on to hold positions at the Ohio State University and Washington University in St. Louis, joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1993. He will be sorely missed by his friends and colleagues and former students. His passing leaves a great emptiness where once there was friendship and fellowship. Our hearts go out to his daughter.