How Sick was the Sick Man of Europe?

Students will read and analyze two primary sources from the mid-19th century Ottoman Empire. From these documents, they will be able to assess the effectiveness of Ottoman reforms in the Tanzimat Era.

AP World History Curriculum Framework:
Historical Thinking Skill Type III, Skill 7: Appropriate Use of Historical Evidence
Students will analyze features of historical evidence such as audience, purpose, point of view, format, argument, limitations, and context germane to the evidence considered.
Based on analysis and evaluation of historical evidence, make supportable inferences and draw appropriate conclusions.

Key Concept 5.3: Nationalism, Revolution, Reform
II. Beginning in the 18th century, peoples around the world developed a new sense of commonality based on language, religion, social customs, and territory. These newly imagined national communities linked this identity with the borders of the state, while governments used this idea to unite diverse populations. [CUL-2,3,4,7 | SB-4 | SOC-3,7]
III. Increasing discontent with imperial rule propelled reformist and revolutionary movements. [CUL-2,4, | SB-1,2,4,7,9, | ECON-7 | SOC-3,7]

Anticipatory Set:
Begin with the 9 mi video clip from Adam Garfinkle’s presentation. He discusses many issues regarding the Ottoman Empire and collapse of empires in general. He posits that the Ottoman Empire was not as sick as is often mentioned and that especially events of the 19th century made them stronger in 1900 than they were in 1800. After the video, I will ask kids to speculate in the form of a quick write activity, what might have happened in the 19th century to make the Ottomans stronger.

Body of Lesson:
Half of the class will receive a document that outlines Ottoman reforms of the Tanzimat Era under Sultan Abdulmejid, the Islahat Fermani of 1856. Here is the text:
The other half of the class will receive a document outlining Tanzimat’s failures from an Arab nationalist perspective. Here is the text of this document:
All students will complete a SOAPStone Primary Source Analysis sheet for their assigned reading. Here is a template for this analysis sheet:

Wrap up/Closure:
I will conduct a TWEDYAWTS activity. This is an acronym for “To What Extent Do You Agree With This Statement?” In my classroom, I have permanent signs in opposing corners of the room saying “Agree” and “Disagree.” Kids stand up and move to the side of the room, or somewhere in the middle depending upon their point of view on the subject. We pause after each statement for a brief discussion on why students chose to stand in their particular location. Here are some statements that would work well with these particular documents:

“The Ottoman Empire Embraced Diversity”
“Nationalism was a divisive issue in the Ottoman Empire”
“Reforms were democratic”
“The Ottoman Empire was Sick”
“The Ottoman Reforms Were Satisfying”

Kids will then return to their original seats and we will add two questions to the introductory quick write. The first will be, “Did the Ottoman Empire sufficiently correct its own problems?” The second will be, “Why might this answer be different depending upon who you ask?” Because the documents present two contradictory sides to the Tanzimat reforms, we will likely not end with a nice, neat consensus. This, however, is the effectiveness of such a lesson because it emphasizes the nuances of the study of history, including the importance of analyzing an author’s point of view on any subject.

This lesson will utilize 9 minutes of Adam Garfinkle’s presentation, The Fall of Empires and the Formation of the Modern Middle East. (5:00-14:00) From the History Institute, “Understanding the Modern Middle East: History, Identity, Politics

  • Leonore Heino
  • Centennial High School
Grade Level
  • High School: 9, 10, 11, 12
Time Frame
  • One 55-minute lesson

If you have any questions about this lesson plan, or if you wish to contact the author, please email us at [email protected]