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Malissa Taylor

Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program and Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies

Taylor headshot


(413) 545-6780

742 Herter Hall

Professor Taylor specializes in the history of the Middle East in the early modern period (1400-1800). She has recently finished her first book, Land and Legal Texts in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire: Harmonization, Property Rights and Sovereignty which argues that the issuing of property rights to the Ottoman peasantry in the sixteenth century birthed an indigenous form of property that over time became increasingly widespread and integral to Ottoman economic, political and social life. Over the following centuries, this property formation was extended to a wider variety of social groups, was adopted in a broader geographic range of imperial provinces and ultimately remained intact in the 1858 Land Code, when it was bestowed upon all Ottoman subjects. Moreover, the legal institutionalization of this property formation over three hundred years helped to pave the way for the wider legislative authority that the Ottoman state would increasingly assert in the Tanzimat period of reform.

Professor Taylor’s research interests include the political and social relations of agrarian empires, the evolution of the Arab world in the Ottoman era, and the configurations of religious and political authority in the Muslim world during the early modern period. Articles have investigated the authority vested in villagers to collect agricultural taxes and their difficulty in collecting from elites resident in their villages (2018); the changing position of Damascene Muslim scholars on the question of women inheriting the treasury-owned land of their deceased male relatives (2012); the growth of population in the oasis areas of rural Damascus that challenges the reigning perception of a demographic decline in the Syrian countryside (2010); the similarities and differences in the anxieties expressed by scholars and political authorities in the Middle East and Christian Europe about the adoption of the printing press (2010). Two finished articles awaiting publication challenge conventional wisdom about property law in the history of the Middle East. The first demonstrates that Ottoman law does not treat treasury-owned land as something closer to private property over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (‘When he is grown…’). The second critiques social theory positing that security of property and its legal institutionalization depends on the relationship between an elite class and a ruler rather than the relationship between the peasant cultivator class and a ruler (“The Peasant is Lord of the Nation)”.

Professor Taylor has received fellowships from the Fulbright-Hays Commission, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers and the Woodrow Wilson foundation. In 2020-21, she was a Lilly Fellow.

Research Areas

Early Modern Period, Ottoman Empire, Middle East, Agrarian Empires


Book and Articles

2023. Land and Legal Texts in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire: Harmonization, Property Rights and SovereigntyLondon: IB Tauris.

2018. “Forcing the wealthy to pay their fair share? The politics of rural taxes in 17th Century Ottoman Damascus.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 62 (1): 35-66.

2012. “Keeping Usufruct in the Family: Popular and Juridical interpretations of Ottoman land tenure law in Damascus.” Bulletin d'Études Orientales 61: 429-446.

2010. “Some Figures for the Urban and Rural Populations of Damascus Province in the Late Seventeenth Century.” Osmanlı Araştırmaları/The Journal of Ottoman Studies 35: 211-232.

2010. “The Anxiety of Sanctity: Censorship and Sacred Texts.” In Osmanlı ve Avrupa: Seyahat, Karşılaşma ve Etkileşim (18. Yüzyıl Sonuna Kadar)/ Ottomans and Europe: Travel, Encounter and Interaction (Until the End of the 18th Century), edited by Seyfi Kenan, 301-322. İstanbul: İSAM Yayınları.

Pending Publication

“The Peasant is Lord of the Nation: Peasant Cultivators and the Birth of Property Rights in the Ottoman Empire.” In Decolonial Reconstellations: Towards an Ethical Global Studies vol. three: Reconceiving Identities and Intersectionalities in Political Economy, edited by Laura Doyle and Mwangi wa Githinji, 232-255.

“‘When he is grown...’ Rethinking Property Rights on Land through the status of orphans and minors in the Ottoman Empire.”

Courses Recently Taught

The Middle East and the World: 1400-1800

Sufism: Islamic Mystical Traditions and Legacies

Environmental History of the Middle East

Sex, Bodies, and Gender in the Middle East from the Rise of Islam to the Present

Religion and Politics in the Early Modern Middle East

Islam in the Middle East, 600-1800 CE: Religion? Civilization? Culture...or what?