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Lesson 5.5A: The Man and the Image: Groomed for Reform


Lesson 5.5A: The Man and the Image: Groomed for Reform


Topic 4: Khayr al-Din and Reform in Tunisia


Topic Overview

 Khayr al-Din was born (c.1822) in the Caucasus, then part of the Ottoman Empire. When his father died fighting for the Ottomans, Khayr al-Din was sold into slavery, first to a prominent family in Istanbul.  His rise was remarkable; by the end of his life he was appointed (briefly) as Grand Vizier of the empire.   But he spent most of his life in Tunisia, his adopted homeland, which he served in many capacities: as head of the Military School, Minister of the Marine, and member of the commission charged with writing the first (and brief) constitution of Tunisia (1861). In his role of Prime Minister (1873-1877) of Tunisia he carried out scores of reforms (the subject of Lesson 2).  Khayr al-Din’s education encompassed Classical Arabic as well as French.  His trips to France in the service of Ahmad Bey I (r. 1837-1855) of Tunisia were formative in his thinking about how Muslim countries should modernize. This was the subject of his masterpiece, The Surest Path. His extensive journeys to many countries north of the Mediterranean gave him first-hand knowledge of how modernization was transforming many countries in Europe. He was aware that France, with her imperial ambitions already realized in the colonization of Algeria, posed a potential threat to Tunisia’s independence.  For this reason he continued to believe that Tunisia needed the protection of the Ottoman Empire, while at the same time supporting the Husaynid claim to the hereditary right to govern Tunisia.

Lesson Overview

Historical portraits hold the potential to connect students to the human side of history, helping them to imagine what the actors looked like, as well as how they were seen by others. This lesson introduces students to Khayr al-Din, statesman of the Ottoman Empire and his adopted homeland of Tunisia, through analysis of his equestrian portrait that appears on Tunisian 20 dinar bill of today. The lesson introduces students to the reforms that swept across Ottoman Empire, with an emphasis on the clothing reforms of the Tanzimat period (1839-1876). Through a study of juxtaposed images students come to understand that a “mutual admiration society” existed in all directions across the Mediterranean that transcended fixed categories.

First, students Zoom In* to look closely at the equestrian portrait of Khayr al-Din. As they study only one third of the painting at a time, they are asked to form hypotheses about what they see and what it signifies. Afterwards, students Zoom Out to acquire greater historical context through analyzing related primary source images, and primary and secondary texts. It is important for students to realize that, like real historians, they may not find answers to all of the questions they have about the portrait, even with additional research. Thus the subject of this lesson is not only Khayr al-Din’s reform measures in Tunisia, but also the process of making hypotheses based on evidence.

* The Zoom In concept for this activity is an adaption of the methodology introduced at the Clarice Smith National Teacher Institute 2011 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and is based on Ron Ritchart’s book Making Thinking Visible. The term Zoom Out as used here is the author’s term.


Joan Brodsky Schur


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


One class period


Standards: National Council for the Social Studies (2010) Theme 4, Learners will understand:

• That complex and varied interactions among individuals, groups, cultures, and nations contribute to the the dynamic nature of personal identity.

• That each individual has personal connections to time and place.

• Individual Development and Identity: How are individual development and identity influenced by time and space?

• How do social, cultural, and national norms influence identity?

National Council for the Social Studies (2010) Theme 6, Learners will be able to:

• Analyze and evaluate conditions, actions and motivations that contribute to conflict and cooperation among groups and nations.

National Standards for History Era 7, 3A The student understands how the Ottoman Empire attempted to meet the challenge of Western military, political, and economic power; 4B Analyze connections between reform movements and industrialization, democratization, and nationalism. National Standards for Historical Thinking Skills


• Students will identify the gaps in the available records, marshal contextual knowledge and perspectives of the time and place, and construct a sound historical interpretation.

• They will explain how interactions among individuals, groups, cultures, and nations contribute to the the dynamic nature of personal identity.

• They will demonstrate that each individual has personal connections to time and place.

• They will analyze how individual development and Identity are individual  influenced by time and space, and how social, cultural, and national norms influence identity.


• PowerPoint 5.2 Khayr al-Din: The Man and His Image Groomed for Reform

• Student Handout 5.5.1 Zoom In and Zoom Out Questions for the PowerPoint

Lesson Plan Text

1. Activity 1: Zoom In and Zoom Out: In today’s world, students often “pose” for photographic self-portraits, presenting themselves in images they post on line. How do they “read” a snapshot-cum-portrait of a peer – his or her posture and costume, the photo’s social context and setting? For further information about teaching with portraits, see the Smithsonian Institution’s Website “Reading” Portraiture Guide for Educators

2. Hold a class discussion on the power of images in which you raise the following points:

a. Why do class members prefer one photograph of themselves to another?? Why do you think people keep changing their Facebook photos, for example? What is the difference between a formal yearbook photograph and an informal one taken by a friend? Does it matter who took the photograph and when in terms of how the subject is presented?

b. What can paintings tell us about how rulers wielded power, how they viewed themselves, or were seen in the gaze of those who painted them? Tell students that they are going to learn about Khayr al-Din an Ottoman and Tunisian statesman and author, first by studying a portrait that was painted of him. Introduce basic information about Khayr al-Din at this point to provide historical background information about the Ottoman Empire and Tunisia’s role as a semi-autonomous part of the empire.

c. In our society, how do clothing styles reflect cultural exchange, or reflect styles of past decades or centuries? How does what we wear reflect whom we admire?

3. Option 1: Project the PowerPoint for this lesson (5.5.2) for the entire class to see as you pose the questions from this lesson (5.5.1), slide by slide as per the suggested questions.

4. Option 2: Break the class into small groups and assign each group to run through all the slide images on a computer, or print out images from the PowerPoint to distribute to groups. Alternatively assign certain groups to analyze only specific images and then to report back to the whole class. If students work in small groups you will need to print out the Zoom In and Zoom Out questions for each group’s images.

5. Debriefing and Extension Activities: Return to the painting of Khayr al-Din to “unpack” every aspect of his image as painted by Mahmoud ben Mahmoud. Students can write essays, or create podcasts about the painting. What kind of man was he, as viewed by the artist? What do his pose, and each item of his clothing convey about his role, personality, and the period in which he lived? Alternatively, wait until students have learned more about the man through documents in Lesson 2 of 5.4. to implement this assignment.

6. Fashion and politics: Investigate another place and time in history where what one wore demonstrated one’s political affiliation and/or social attitudes such as the “sans culottes” of the French Revolution, bobbed hair of the 1920s, the mandatory male queue or pony tail of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China, or headscarf controversies in Europe today. Compare one of these moments in “fashion time” to Ottoman dress reforms of the Tanzimat period (1839-1876).

7. Ask students to illustrate a fashion plate for a magazine like Godey’s Lady’s Book, La Mode Illustrée, or on Egyptian magazine, etc. along with commentary about the fashion and what makes it “fashionable” or à la mode. Men’s fashion should be included.

8. Alternatively: Ask students to mount a “fashion show” on the theme of the cross-pollination of dress styles among the Ottoman Empire, Europe, and beyond (the United States, South America, for example). Assign students to work in pairs. Each partner finds an image they want to use (hopefully a primary source) and dresses up in the same fashion as that image. The partner can give the walkway commentary about the outfit; afterwards student pairs can reverse roles. Example of commentary: “The so-called Turkish-trousers, also known as bloomers, are being worn by adventurous young ladies in New England. They are designed to give American women greater mobility by freeing them of their cumbersome hoop skirts. Turkish trousers free each let to move separately. They are made from muslin imported from India, inspired by the costume of Turkish ladies in Istanbul.” (See, for example, Gayle V. Fischer. Pantaloons and Power: Nineteenth-century Dress Reform in the United States. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2001 for a discussion of how Turkish women’s trousers became part of American women’s 19th century dress reform.)



Joan Brodsky Schur, “Lesson 5.5A: The Man and the Image: Groomed for Reform,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed August 11, 2020,

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