Dr Helen Pfeifer

University Associate Professor in Early Ottoman History
Helen Pfeifer

I am a historian of the Ottoman Empire, with an interest in understanding the empire within larger Islamic, European, and global contexts. I received my Ph.D. from Princeton University before joining the University of Cambridge in 2014. My research focuses on issues of empire, culture, and nature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with a focus on today's Syria and Turkey.

My first book, Empire of Salons: Conquest and Community in Early Modern Ottoman Lands (2022) studied the social and cultural consequences of the Ottoman incorporation of Arab lands in 1516-7. Based on Arabic and Turkish sources, it showed how gentlemanly salons eased communication across the diverse and sprawling empire. It was awarded the Albert Hourani Book Award Honorable Mention. You can listen to a conversation about the book here.

My current project focuses on human-animal relations in the Ottoman Empire. 

My research has been supported by the American Historical Association, the Beinecke Scholarship, the Fulbright Association, the German Orient-Institut in Istanbul, and the American Research Institute in Turkey.

I am happy to supervise students in all aspects of Ottoman history from 1300-1800. At the undergraduate level, I also welcome projects examining European relations with the Ottoman Empire.

In Part I of the Tripos, I lecture and supervise primarily for Paper 16 (‘Early Modern Europe, 1450-1760’) and Paper 21 (‘Empires in World History’). At Part II, I teach the special subject ‘The Palace and the Coffeehouse: The Power of Place in the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1800’. I also contribute to paper 14, ‘Material Culture in the Early Modern World’.

At the MPhil level, I teach a course entitled, ‘Global Early Modernity?’ exploring the early modern period from a global perspective. Every other year, I also offer ‘Historians as Writers’, a graduate-level workshop allowing students to reflect on and develop their writing.


Tags & Themes


Christ's College
St Andrew's St
Cambridge CB2 3BU



Key Publications

Empire of Salons: Conquest and Community in Early Modern Ottoman Lands (Princeton University Press, 2022).

"A New Hadith Culture? Arab Scholars and Ottoman Sunnitization in the Sixteenth Century," in Tijana Krstić and Derin Terzioğlu (eds.), Historicizing Sunni Islam in the Ottoman Empire, c. 1450-c.1750 (Brill, 2020).

"The Gulper and the Slurper: A Lexicon of Mistakes to Avoid While Eating with Ottoman Gentlemen," The Journal of Early Modern History no. 24:1 (2020).

"Encounter after the Conquest: Literary Salons in Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Damascus," International Journal of Middle East Studies, no. 47 (2015).

WITH A. Bevilacqua, "TurquerieCulture in Motion, 1650–1750," Past and Present, no. 221 (November 2013).