College of Charleston

Yaron Ayalon

I am the Director of the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program and an Associate Professor of Jewish and Middle Eastern Studies. I am a historian of Sephardic Jews, the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East, and Israel; and the author of Natural Disasters in the Ottoman Empire: Plague, Famine and Other Misfortunes (Cambridge University Press, 2015), another forthcoming book on Jews in the Ottoman Empire, and other articles. Previously, I was an assistant professor of history at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where I also served as the Chairperson of the Faculty Council (aka faculty senate). Check out the menues below for more about me and what I do, or contact me directly via email at ayalony@cofc.edu.

I was born in Princeton, NJ and raised in Israel and the United States. I graduated from Tel Aviv University (TAU) in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in Education and Middle East History. I then enrolled in TAU’s teacher certificate program and the master’s program in history. Before completing my studies, however, I was accepted to the PhD program at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies. I moved back to Princeton in the summer of 2004.

At Princeton, I studied Jewish, Ottoman, Islamic, and European history. I improved my Arabic and French and learned Turkish and Ottoman Turkish. I spent two summers at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, participating in the Turkish Language and Culture Program. And I worked closely with mentors such as M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, Anthony Grafton, William Jordan, Michael Cook, and Mark Cohen.

My research interests are wide and diverse. They include social history (Judaism, Ottoman Empire, Europe), Sephardic history and Ottoman Jews, environmental history, history of medicine and infectious diseases, intellectual history, and modern political history of the Middle East. My initial work on natural disaters in the Ottoman Empire and later work on Jews in the Empire took me to archives and libraries in Istanbul (Prime Minister’s Archives and the Süleymaniye Library), London (The National Archives, formerly the PRO, and the British Library), Marseille (Archives départementales des Bouches-du-Rhône and Archives de la Chambre de Commerce), Jerusalem (Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, at the National Library), New York (Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary), and the Rare Books and Special Collections department of Firestone Library, at Princeton.

My first book was published in 2015 with Cambridge University Press (now also available in paperback and in Turkish translation). As of November 2021, my second book, a new history of Ottoman Jews, is a complete manuscript that I soon hope to find a publisher for (in fact, it would have been completed a long time ago if not for the Covid pandemic). The book covers the 16th to the early 19th centuries, an era I call the “middle period” – the time in Sephardic history scholars have thus far covered the least. For more on this project, see the Research section of this website. This work was funded primarily by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which allowed me to take a year off from teaching in the 2016-17 academic year.

Before teaching at Ball State University, I taught at the University of Oklahoma and Emory University. You may read more about the courses I have taught so far in the teaching section.

I am a historian of Sephardic Jews, the Ottoman Empire, the early modern and modern Middle East, and Israel. Broadly speaking, my research interests include social, environmental, and intellectual history; Jews under Islamic rule and their transition into Israel; and the history of reading and literacy.

My first book was published in 2015 with Cambridge University Press. The book explores how people in the eastern Mediterranean dealt with various calamities from medieval times to the twentieth century. Its most significant conclusion is that religious boundaries were far less significant in Ottoman society than we used to think. The book is only partly based on my doctoral dissertation from Princeton, and is the first of two studies, the second of which will be a new social history of Ottoman Jewry.

Many of the ideas for my second book were inspired by my work as an editor for the Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. They include a reevaluation of some of the existing scholarship on Ottoman Jewry (including even some basic historical “facts” that, so it appears, were not facts after all), which I believe requires an update; and discussions on such issues as leadership, reading and scholarship, poor relief, and inter-communal relations. As of November 2021, the manuscript is nearly complete and I'm in the process of looking for a publisher. My work has significantly slowed down due the Covid pandemic while serving as a program director.

I have presented my research at conferences in the U.S., Europe, and Israel, including regular appearances at the Association for Jewish Studies and the Middle East Studies Association annual meetings. My other publications include:

“Plague, psychology, and religious boundaries in Ottoman Anatolia,” Turkish Historical Review 9 (2018), 1-17

“Rethinking leadership in Ottoman Jewish communities,” Jewish Quarterly Review 107 (2017), 3:322-52

“Ottoman urban privacy in light of disaster recovery,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011), 3:513-528

“Revisiting Taha Husayn’s fi al-shi‘r al-jahili and its sequel,” Die Welt des Islams 49 (2009), 1:98-121

“Famines, earthquakes, plagues: Natural disasters in Ottoman Syria in the writings of visitors,” Journal of Ottoman Studies 32 (2008), 203-27

“Richelieu in Arabic: The Catholic printed message to the Orient in the seventeenth century,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 19 (2008), 2:151-65

For more on my publications and to access some of them, see my Academia.edu page.

I love teaching and am especially devoted to making my students better writers. I believe good writing is the best skill students can take with them from college, followed by unconventional/creative thinking, reading comprehension, and foreign languages. Take a look at my online writing guide for students [under construction – will be up and running again soon, please check back], and see more about my approach to writing in the Videos section.

Courses I’ve designed and taught:

College of Charleston:

Black Jews, Arab Jews: Diversity and Discrimination

Racism and Antisemitism in the Modern World

Jewish History: Ancient to Modern

History of Israel

Jews and Muslims: Coexistence and Conflict

The Arab-Israeli Conflict

Ball State:

Jewish History

The Arab-Israeli Conflict

History of the Middle East

The West in the World (world history)

The United States and the Middle East

Emory:

Israeli Society and Politics

Sephardi Jews in the Diaspora and Israel

Jews of Arab Lands