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What Makes a State Sovereign? Competing Conceptions of Sovereignty in 19th-Century France and the Ottoman Empire

October 14, 12:15 pm - 1:15 pm

In 1830, French troops conquered Ottoman Algiers. Five years later, partly in reaction to the French conquest, the Ottoman Empire established direct rule over Tripolitania. Cornered between these two newly-occupied territories, Tunis became the object of a longstanding imperial rivalry opposing Paris and Istanbul. Seeking to extend its imperial influence in North Africa, France began treating the Tunisian state as a sovereign kingdom. For the Ottomans, however, Tunis was a province of the empire, and its autonomous status within the Ottoman system of governance was not to be equated with sovereignty or independence.

Was Tunis a sovereign kingdom or an Ottoman province? Throughout the nineteenth century, statesmen in Paris and Istanbul frequently argued about the sovereign status of the Tunisian state. Unfolding on many fronts, their legal dispute produced numerous arguments about the nature of state sovereignty, its markers, and its attributes. Crucially, these arguments were formulated across the boundaries of empires rooted in different legal traditions. The frequent conflicts over the status of Tunis in the nineteenth century, then, constituted sites of encounter between the Ottoman and French conceptions of state sovereignty. This talk considers three such encounters and examines what they reveal about the global history of sovereignty.

Attendance at SOF/Heyman events will follow Columbia-issued guidelines as they continue to develop. Given the current recommendations, we plan to allow in-person attendance for COLUMBIA AFFILIATES who have conformed with the on-campus guidelines. For everyone else, we’re planning to livestream this event, allowing for virtual attendance.

This event also will be recorded. By being electronically present, you consent to the SOF/Heyman using such video for promotional purposes.

Please email disability@columbia.edu to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.


  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
  • Each TLS event will have its own Zoom registration. If you wish to attend all events, please register for each lecture individually.