EKMELEDDIN IHSANOĞLU: A BIOGRAPHY, AND OUTLINE OF HIS SCHOLARLY CONTRIBUTIONS TO HISTORY OF SCIENCE
Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu was born in Cairo in 1943. He graduated from the Faculty of Science of Ain Shams University, Cairo in 1966. Still a university student, he worked in the National Library in Cairo for the cataloguing of Ottoman manuscript and printed works. From 1066-70, he served as a research assistant in the Department of Chemistry of the faculties of Engineering and Science newly established at the famous old Al-Azhar University where he obtained his M.Sc. degree. Meanwhile, he taught Turkish language and literature at the Faculty of Arts of Ain Shams University
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu came to Turkey in 1970. He served as an assistant at Ankara University Faculty of Science for five years. In 1974, he completed his Ph D studies at the chair of organic chemistry under the direction of Prof.Dr. Celal Tüzün. Together, they established the Organic Chemistry Research Institute. İhsanoğlu was a research fellow at Exeter University, England, from 1975 to77. In 1978, he became assistant professor in organic chemistry at Ankara University .He continued to teach and do research as a faculty member of Ankara University and Malatya University until 1980.
In 1980, İhsanoğlu was appointed Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (1RCICA), a subsidiary organ of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Assigned the task of establishing the Centre and rendering it operational, İhsanoğlu initiated research projects on various aspects of the Islamic culture and civilisation falling within the fields of the Centre's objectives, including history of science. He launched IRCICA's Series of Studies and Sources on History of Science and was the editor of the first book in the series titled Catalogue of Islamic Medical Manuscripts (in Arabic, Turkish and Persian) in the Libraries of Turkey published in 1984. Other reference books and research works that he edited were published under the same series in the following years. One of the projects he initiated at IRCICA in the same field is a bio-bibliographic research on the history of Ottoman scientific literature. The research, which started in 1985, covers the scientific works and authors in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, zoology, botanies, military techniques, etc., from the foundation of the Ottoman State until the proclamation of the Turkish Republic. The first outcome of this project was a bio-bibliographic compendium on the History of Ottoman Literature on Astronomy.
Meanwhile, in 1984, E. İhsanoğlu established the Department of History ; of Science at the Faculty of Letters of Istanbul University. The Department gave undergraduate courses from 1985-86 onwards and also offered master and PhD programs. A few years later, in 1989, İhsanoğlu established the Turkish Society of History of Science (TBTK) which brought historians of science from all around Turkey together. The society is the unique institution of its kind in Turkey and represents the country in the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS). İhsanoğlu took another step by establishing the Museum and Documentation Centre on History of Science (BIMDOK) at Istanbul University in 1993, for the purpose of collecting and studying artifacts and documents concerning the history of science in Turkey.
Hence, within a short period of thirteen years from 1980 to 1993, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu established four institutions active in research, publicati-¦i on, teaching and training in history of science, not including the Ankara University , Faculty of Science, Organic Chemistry Research Institute and other ... institutions working on Islamic culture of which he was among the founders. This is a manifestation of the importance he has always given to institutionalisa-tion in academic and cultural activities. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, started to publish works on Turkish culture and literature as early as the 1960s. It can be seen in t-he list of his publications on history of Science (pi. see the original article in Turkish) that his works deal primarily with Ottoman science. Some of the conferences organised by the institutions he chairs and some postgraduate theses he directs also focus on this theme. His aim is to contribute to an accurate assessment of the scientific activities of the Ottoman period, draw the attention of the researchers around the world to Ottoman science, and open a debate on the hypothesis that the Golden Age of Islamic science had ended in the eleventh century. Within the framework of these activities, İhsanoğlu coined the term "Ottoman science" referring to scientific activities realized throughout the Ottoman period on Ottoman territory, and convincingly argued for the general usage of this term in international academic circles.
In his publications on Ottoman science, he focuses on topics such as the introduction of modern science and technology to the Ottoman world, Ottomans contacts with Western science, scientific activities and education in the nineteenth century, institutions of science and scientific education, the relationship between science and religion, Ottoman scientific and professional associations, scholars and scientists, language of science and science education, and history of chemistry. In these works, he observed that Ottomans transferred European science and technology with a selective attitude, and that the theories of Basalla and Pyenson formulated in recent years to explain the processus of transfer of science from Europe to other regions of the world do not apply to the Ottoman case. İhsanoğlu pointed out that the ulema's attitude towards modern science was not a negative one and that it would be incorrect to link the regression of Ottoman state and society solely to this factor.
Prof. İhsanoğlu is also interested in such topics as the promotion of scientific mentality in society, scientific development policies, and statistical assessment of the state of scientific activities in Turkey and the Muslim world, which are all related to the study of history of science. He dealt with these issues in several conference papers, as well as within the framework of a research project he undertook at IRCICA on the Cultural Dimensions of Development in OIC Member States which resulted in a book published under his editorship. Furthermore, he wrote articles on various subjects ranging from studies on medieval Islamic science to necrologic articles about Ord. Prof. Dr. Süheyl Ünver, Turkish historian of medicine, and Ord. Prof. Dr. Aydın Sayılı, founder of the first history of science chair in Turkey.
İhsanoğlu is on the Editorial Board of periodicals specialized in history of science such as the Newsletter of the Turkish Society for History of Science (Istanbul) and Acta Turcica Historiae Medicinae (Istanbul) as well as academic journals such as Arts and the Islamic World (London), Journal of Islamic Studies (Oxford), The American Journal of Islamic Studies (Herndon, VA), Al-Usur (London, Riyadth). At the same time, he is a member of the following organisations and institutions: Turkish Society for History of Science, Turkey; Society for History of Medicine, Turkey; Society of Chemistry, Turkey; Institute of Islamic Research, Turkey; Foundation for Middle East and Balkan Studies, Turkey; Atatürk Supreme Council for Culture, Language and History /Atatürk Culture Center, Turkey; Global Forum, U.S.A.; Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), U.S.A.; Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), U.S.A.; Advisory Board of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, U.S.A.; Royal Academy of Islamic Civilisation Research, Jordan; Academy of Arab Languages, Jordan and. Syria; National Council for Translation of Studies and Research, Tunisia; Society Internationale de la Philosophic et des Sciences Arabes et Islamiques, France; Egyptian History Society, Egypt; Societe Internationale d'Histoire de la Medecine, France; Academie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences, France; International Advisory Board and Experts Board of Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, U.K.
İhsanoğlu's contributions to scholarship in the fields of Turkish and Islamic culture, history and art brought him international awards and distinctions. He was decorated with the medal of "Distinction of the First Order" of the Arab Republic of Egypt in 1990 for service in the field of Islamic civilisation. He received the title Dr.h.c. from Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul, in 1994, for fostering relations among Islamic countries and Turkey in the fields of culture and arts, and the scroll of honour of Türk Petrol Foundation, İstanbul, the same year, for his services in the field of culture.
Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu continues to fulfill his functions in these fields as Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA); Secretary of the International Commission for the Preservation of Islamic Cultural Heritage (ICPICH), Organisation of the Islamic Conference; Head of the Department of History of Science, Faculty of Arts, Istanbul University; and, Chairman of the Turkish Society of History of Science (TBTK); Vice-president of the International Commission on Islamic Science and Technology of the International Union for the History and Philosoph of Science (IUHPS).
In this brief account of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu's scholarly activities, the emphasis was on his research and publications in the field of history of science. Still, I think the importance of his activities in this field would be better understood if they are considered within the framework of his entire work on various cultural, scientific, and literary topics which fully reflect the profile of a multi-disciplinary scholar.