Stanford J. Shaw

Stanford Jay Shaw

Stanford J. Shaw
Born (1930-05-05)May 5, 1930
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Died December 16, 2006(2006-12-16) (aged 76)
Ankara, Turkey
Fields Ottoman history
Institutions UCLA, Bilkent University
Alma mater Princeton University
Known for Armenian Genocide denial

Stanford Jay Shaw (May 5, 1930 – December 16, 2006) was an American historian, best known for his works on the late Ottoman Empire, Turkish Jews, and the early Turkish Republic. Shaw was well known for his Denial of the Armenian Genocide.[1]


Stanford Jay Shaw was born to Belle and Albert Shaw, who had immigrated to St. Paul from England and Russia respectively in the early years of the twentieth century.[2] Stanford Shaw and his parents moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1933 because of his father's illness, and they lived there until 1939, first in Hollywood, where Stanford went to kindergarten, and then in Ocean Park, a community on the shore of the Pacific Ocean between Santa Monica and Venice, where his parents operated a photographic shop on the Ocean Park pier. The family returned to St. Paul in 1939, where Stanford went to the Webster Elementary School. After his parents divorced, Stanford went with his mother to Akron, Ohio during World War II, where he went to elementary school. Stanford and his mother remained there until she married Irving Jaffey and moved back to St. Paul. Stanford then attended Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul, where he graduated in 1947, one out of only five students from a student body of 500 who went to college.[2]

Education and early research

He went on to Stanford University, where he majored in British history under the direction of Professor Carl Brand, with a minor in Near Eastern history, under the direction of Professor Wayne Vucinich. He received his B.A. at Stanford in 1951 and M.A. in 1952, with a thesis on the foreign policy of the British Labour Party from 1920–1938, based on research in the Hoover Institution at Stanford.[2]

He then studied Middle Eastern history along with Arabic, Turkish and Persian as a graduate student at Princeton University starting in 1952, receiving his M.A. in 1955. Subsequently he went to England to study with Bernard Lewis and Paul Wittek at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and with Professor H. A. R. Gibb at Oxford University.

Following this, he went to Egypt to study with Shafiq Ghorbal and Adolph Grohmann at the University of Cairo and Shaikh Sayyid at the Azhar University, also doing research in the Ottoman archives of Egypt at the Citadel in Cairo for his Princeton Ph.D. dissertation concerning Ottoman rule in Egypt. Before leaving Egypt, he had a personal interview with President Gamal Abd al-Nasser, who arranged for him to take microfilms of Ottoman documents out of the country.[2]

Main research

In 1956-7 he studied at the University of Istanbul with Professors Omer Lutfi Barkan, Mukrimin Halil Yinanc, Halil Sahillioglu, and Zeki Velidi Togan, also completing research on his dissertation in the Ottoman archives of Istanbul, where he was helped by a number of staff members, including Ziya Esrefoglu, Turgut Isiksal, Rauf Tuncay, and Attila Cetin, and in the Topkapi Palace archives, where he was provided with valuable assistance and support by its director, Hayrullah Ors and studied with Professor Ismail Hakki Uzuncarsili.

He received his Ph.D. degree in 1958 from Princeton University. His dissertation was titled "The Financial and Administrative Organization and Development of Ottoman Egypt, 1517–1798," which was prepared under the direction of Professor Lewis Thomas and Professor Hamilton A.R. Gibb, and later published by the Princeton University Press in 1962.[2] Stanford Shaw served as Assistant and Associate Professor of Turkish Language and History, with tenure, in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and in the Department of History at Harvard University from 1958 until 1968, and as Professor of Turkish history at the University of California Los Angeles from 1968 until his retirement in 1992.

Last years

He was recalled to teach Turkish history at UCLA between 1992 and 1997. His final post was at Bilkent University, Ankara as professor of Ottoman and Turkish history from 1999 to 2006.[2]

The announcement of his death by his department at UCLA noted that his life was commemorated at Etz Ahayim Synagogue in Ortaköy, Istanbul, where his family accepted condolences from friends and colleagues and from Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül and numerous other dignitaries and that he was buried at the Ashkenazi Cemetery in Ulus.[3]


He was an honorary member of the Turkish Historical Society (Ankara), recipient of honorary degrees from Harvard University and the Bogazici University (Istanbul), and a member of the Middle East Studies Association, the American Historical Society, and the Tarih Vakfi (Istanbul). He also has received a Medal of Honor from the President of Turkey and medals for lifetime achievement from the Turkish-American Association and from the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) at the Yildiz Palace, Istanbul. He received two major research awards from the United States National Endowment from the Humanities as well as fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Fulbright-Hayes Committee. He was also a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Turkish Studies.[4]


History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey

One of Shaw's most prominent works was a two-volume history on the Ottoman Empire, titled History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. The first volume, subtitled Empire of the Gazis: the Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire, 1280-1808, published in 1976, was met with generally mixed to negative reviews. Many faulted him for producing a work embellished with numerous historical errors and distortions. Colin Imber, a scholar on Ottoman history, noted in his review that both volumes were "so full of errors, half-truths, oversimplifications and inexactitudes that a non-specialist will find them positively misleading....When almost every page is a minefield of misinformation, a detailed review is impossible."[5] Another reviewer, Victor L. Ménage, Professor of Turkish at the University of London, counted over 70 errors in the work and concluded, "One 'prejudice' that has vanished in the process is the respect for accuracy, clarity, and reasoned judgment."[6]

In his extensive review of the first volume, Speros Vryonis, a specialist in Byzantine and Early Ottoman Studies at UCLA, listed a litany of problems he encountered in the work, such as Shaw's assertion that Sultan Mehmed II's forces did not subject Constantinople to a full scale sack and massacre upon its capture and his account of the treatment of the Greeks of Cyprus following the Ottoman conquest in 1571.[7] Vryonis also charged Shaw for largely failing to consult the proper primary sources of the period and therefore presenting a distorted picture of the formation of the Armenian and Greek/Eastern Orthodox millets.[8] More troubling allegations were put forward by Vryonis, when he accused the Shaw of wholesale plagiarism, claiming that as much as 90% of the first volume had been lifted from the works of two Turkish historians and a Turkish-language encyclopedia.[9] Vryonis presented his findings to the administration at UCLA, but the university declined to carry out any further investigation into the matter.[9]

In the second volume of the History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, which Shaw co-authored with his wife, Ezel Kural Shaw, and which was published in 1977 with the subtitle Reform, Revolution, and Republic: the Rise of Modern Turkey, 1808-1975, the Shaws denied the Armenian Genocide. Unlike the majority of historians who hold that the deportations constituted an act of systematic genocide,[10] the Shaws claim that the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were justifiably removed and that Ottoman authorities did their utmost to protect the deportees and characterize the Armenians, in the words of Richard G. Hovannisian, a professor of Armenian and Near Eastern History at UCLA, as "the victimizers rather than the victims, as the privileged rather than the oppressed, and the fabricators of unfounded tales of massacre."[11] The book also downplays the severity of the conditions of the deportation marches and instead presents them in a much more benign and pleasant light.[12] Hovannisian criticized the book for gross historical inaccuracies on the Armenian Question. He accused Shaw of misquoting his own works and deliberately ignoring the massive body of evidence supporting the factuality of the genocide, concluding, "What could have been what should have been a valuable text is instead an unfortunate example of nonscholarly selectivity and deceptive presentation."[13][14] In the bibliography of his general study on modern Turkey, Turkologist Eric J. Zürcher of the University of Leiden describes the second volume as "a mine of data," though the information not necessarily being accurate. He highlighted the Shaws' treatment of the reigns of Selim III and Abdülhamit II as the book's strongest parts, but observed that the last one hundred years it covers suffers from a "Turkish-nationalist bias."[15]

The second volume caused a stir among Armenian students attending UCLA and the Armenian community of Los Angeles at large. Matters came to a head when on the night of October 3, 1977, a bomb, placed by unknown assailants, exploded at the doorstep of Shaw's home at 3:50 a.m., although no one was hurt. A phone call placed several hours later by a man claimed that the Iranian Group of 28 was responsible for the bombing. Turkey's permanent ambassador to the UN disputed this, however, and alleged that Armenians were behind the attack.[16][17] Shaw made light of the situation and attributed the bombing to the fact that he had probably assigned too many F's. But he claimed that Armenian and Greek students had threatened him over the previous two years and canceled the rest of his classes for the remainder of the quarter.[18] With the controversy unabated ten years later, Shaw would claim Armenians were persecuting him not because of his scholarly views but for anti-Semitism, a charge that was refuted by Jewish organizations, including the UCLA chapter of Hillel, on campus, as well as a number of Jewish public figures and scholars.[19]

Turkey and the Holocaust

In 1991, Shaw's study on the role of Turkey in providing refuge to the Jews of Europe in the years leading to and during the Holocaust was published.[20] Shaw claimed that the Republic of Turkey, as a neutral during the greater part of World War II, exerted its diplomatic efforts to the best of its abilities to save Jews of Turkish origins from extermination. The work was particularly receptive among Turkish government circles. It was, however, severely criticized by Bernard Wasserstein in The Times Literary Supplement for factual and methodological errors.[21] Shaw's points have been challenged in a more recent study by Corry Guttstadt, who contests that his work has contributed to "an ossified, self-perpetuating myth [of Turkish utilitarianism] which is frequently propagated in international publications,"[22] and that Turkey, in fact, passed laws that prevented Jewish immigration and threatened to expel refugee academics if they lacked proper documentation (after their citizenship had been revoked by Nazi Germany).[23]


In addition to the above, Shaw was founder and first editor of the International Journal of Middle East Studies, published by the Cambridge University Press for the Middle East Studies Association, from 1970 until 1980.


  1. Balakian, Peter. The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. New York: HarperCollins, 2003, p. 382. ISBN 0-06-055870-9.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Profile of Prof. Shaw. Bilkent University. Accessed June 9, 2011.
  3. Wolf Leslau and Stanford J. Shaw: CNES mourns the passing of Professors Leslau and Shaw, UCLA Center for Near East Studies.
  4. "Stanford J. Shaw: Biography." The Guardian. Accessed June 9, 2011.
  5. Imber, Colin. "Review of History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey." The English Historical Review 93 (Apr., 1978): pp. 393-395.
  6. Ménage, Victor L. "Review of History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 41 (1978): pp. 160-162.
  7. Vryonis, Speros. Stanford J. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume I: A Critical Analysis. Thessaloniki: Institute for Balkan Studies, 1983.
  8. Vryonis. A Critical Analysis, pp. 88-112.
  9. 1 2 Lecture delivered by Robert Hewsen. "Genocide Denial: Evolution of a Process" on YouTube, part of the 2007 Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series at Sonoma State University (27:24 mark). April 17, 2007. Accessed May 17, 2011.
  10. Why scholars say Armenian Genocide was genocide but Obama won't, Newsweek
  11. Hovannisian, Richard G. "The Armenian Genocide and Patterns of Denial" in The Armenian Genocide in Perspective, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Brunswick, NJ: Transactions Publishers, 1986, p. 125.
  12. Shaw, Stanford J. and Ezel Kural Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume 2. Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey 1808-1975. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977, pp. 200-205, 311-317, 322-324. ISBN 0-521-29166-6.
  13. Hovannisian, Richard G. "The Critic's View: Beyond Revisionism." International Journal of Middle East Studies 9 (October 1978): pp. 379-388. Retrieved March 6, 2009.
  14. For the Shaws' response, see Stanford J. Shaw and Ezel Kural Shaw, "The Authors Respond." International Journal of Middle East Studies 9 (October 1978): pp. 388-400.
  15. Zürcher, Eric J. Turkey: A Modern History, 3rd. Ed. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004, p. 360.
  16. Manoukian, Socrates Peter; Kurugian, John O. (1977-10-04). "Crude Bomb Explodes at UCLA Professor's Home" (PDF). Los Angeles Times. pp. D1 (Part II). Retrieved 2008-07-10.
  17. Manoukian, Socrates Peter; Kurugian, John O. (1977-10-18). "Shaw Bomb" (PDF). Los Angeles Times. pp. C6 (Part II). Retrieved 2008-07-10.
  18. Daily Bruin. October 4, 1977, p. 1.
  19. Arkun, Aram. "Stanford Jay Shaw, 1930-2006: An academic who denied the Armenian Genocide." The Armenian Reporter. December 23, 2006. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  20. Shaw, Stanford. Turkey and the Holocaust: Turkey's Role in Rescuing Turkish and European Jewry from Nazi Persecution, 1933-1945. New York: New York University Press, 1993.
  21. Wasserstein, Bernard (January 7, 1994). "Their Own Fault - Attempts to shift the blame for the Holocaust". The Times Literary Supplement: 4–6.
  22. Guttstadt, Corry. Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, p.1.
  23. Von Bieberstein, Alice. "‘Turkey, the Jews, and the Holocaust,’ By Corry Guttstadt." Turkish Review. January 2, 2014.
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