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SOME NOTES ON STUDIES IN THE FIELD OF HISTORY OF OTTOMAN SCIENCE

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu

The history of Ottoman science is one of the least recognised and researched fields in the context of the history of science in the Islamic civilisation. This paper aims to draw the attention of historians of science to this wide and rich subject area which is relatively unexplored and is in need of their attention.

Ottoman science evokes the overall scientific activity carried out all through the Ottoman period which covers 600 years, from the end of the thirteenth century to the twentieth century and on the vast geography comprising Asia Minor, the Balkans and most of the Arabic lands on which the Ottoman Empire ruled for centuries. In the historical development of Ottoman science two main phases can be discerned. The first phase is the process through which the classical Islamic science developed during the Middle Ages, became predominant and whose influence continued until the last century, while the second phase is the process of modernisation under the influence of modern Western science.

In evaluating the scholarly research activity carried out in the vast subject area of Ottoman science, the following branches have been considered: astronomy, mathematics, medicine and related sciences, engineering, natural sciences and lastly scientific institutions. My purpose is not to provide a full bibliography of all research in this field but to give an idea about its main topics and orientation. In this summary, only the first and main studies and works on the subject will be mentioned and the reader is kindly asked to consult the article in Turkish for more details and subsequent research.

Among the works of general nature, the first and only comprehensive work covering Ottoman science in general is by Dr. Adnan Adıvar. The book La Science chez les Turcs Ottomans appeared in 1939 in Paris. Among bibliographical works on the history of Ottoman science, two works; namely Osmanlı Müellifleri (1915-25) by Bursalı Mehmet Tahir and Türk Bilim Tarihi Mbliyof>rafyası (1850-1981) (1981) by A. Kazancıgil can be mentioned. A bio-bihliographical study on Ottoman astronomy has recently been completed by the Center tor Islamic History, Art and Culture (1RCICA) and will soon be published as the first volume of the project covering many subjects of the Ottoman science.

Concerning the history of Ottoman astronomy, the first study is an unpublished 19th century work in Turkish titled On the Biographies of Astronomers in the Islamic World and the Ottoman State written by Süleyman Sudi Efendi. The second one is the work titled Asar-ı Bakiye by Salih Zeki published in 1911. S. Zeki's other important work is Kamus-u Riyaziyat in 12 volumes which is a dictionary of mathematical and astronomical terminology. Fatin Gökmen, the precursor of astronomical research based on observation and experiment in Turkey and founder of the Kandilli Observatory (Istanbul) has also written on the history of Ottoman astronomy. On the other hand Heinrich Suter's book, Die Mathematiker und Astronomen der Araber und Ihre Werke (1900, reprinted 1982), deals with many Ottoman scientists. We come now, to the works of well-known Turkish scholar and historian of science Aydın Sayılı (1913-1993), whose book, titled Observatory in Islam (1960, reprinted 1981), I shall cite in relation to astronomy. Sevim Tekeli from the Ankara University focused her studies mainly on the history of Ottoman astronomy, specially on the works of the famous Turkish astronomer Taqi al-Din.

David King's book on Islamic mathematical astronomy and astronomical instruments published successively in 1986 and 1987 and his article titled "Astronomical Timekeeping in Turkey" should also be mentioned here. Muammer Dizer (1924-1993), former Director of Kandilli Observatory, also published several works on the history of Ottoman astronomy as well as the catalogue of the astronomical manuscripts in the Kandilli Observatory Library. The author of the present article, in his article "Introduction of Western Science to the Ottoman World: A Case Study of Modern Astronomy (1660-1860)", studies the introduction of modern astronomy (the Copernican system) to the Ottoman state and its reception.

Coming to the history of mathematics, besides H. Suter's work, we should evoke Salih Murat Uzdilek's Tarih-i Riyaziyat published in 1909. Another more recent book is Hüseyin Tevfik Paşa and Linear Algebra by Kâzım Çeçen. The book is a biography and study of the works of H. Tevfik Paşa, an Ottoman scientist who made original contributions to mathematics. Currently, Remzi Demir from Ankara University and İhsan Fazlıoğlu from İstanbul University are working on-history of astronomy and mathematics in the Ottoman classical period respectively.

Among the scientific disciplines, medicine and related sciences such as pharmacology, dentistry and veterinary are those the developments of which have been studied most extensively. Scholarly interest in the history of medicine and related sciences started towards the end of the last century and grew conti-nously. As it will not be possible to cover all of these studies here, I will content myself by bringing to your notice the pioneering figures. One of them is certainly A. Süheyl Ünver who published about 600 articles. Feridun Nafiz Uzluk, among his other articles, published two monographies about prominent Ottoman physicians Şanizade and Mustafa Behçet Efendi. E. Kadri Unat studied the history of bacteriology and virology and compiled a bibliography of medical parasitology in Turkey (1959). Bedii N. Şehsuvaroğlu, who published nearly 200 articles on history of Ottoman science and pharmacology, besides various aspects of this subject area, studied the history of quarantine. A number of works by Arslan Terzioğlu were published on the history of hospitals as well as on German-Austrian-Turkish relations in the field of medicine. The history of pharmacology benefited from the studies of Naşid Baylav (Eczacılık Tarihi, 1968) and Turhan Baytop (Türk Eczacılık Tarihi, 1985). Nihal Erk's and Ferruh Dinçer's studies on veterinary education should also be mentioned here. Lastly I would like to inform you about the Catalogue of Islamic Medical Manuscripts in the Libraries of Turkey published by IRCICA in 1984.

Few resarches exist on the history of engineering. Prof. Kâzım Çeçen published important books on the Ottoman water supply sytems in which those systems are studied in great detail. Feza Günergun, from the Istanbul University History of Science Department, works currently on metrology, specifically on the introduction of the metric system to the Ottoman State. Recently, IRCICA published the proceedings of the Symposium on the Transport and Communication Techniques in the Ottoman State (Istanbul 1989) which includes articles on engineering.

There are few articles published on the history of chemistry. Aziz İdris included an elaborate introduction on the history of chemistry to his book on medical chemistry Kimya-yı Tıbbi (1869). The second work is the Annotated Bibliography of Turkish Chemical Literature (Printed Works 1830-1928) published in 1986 by the present author.

Lastly we come to the Ottoman scientific institutions as a subject study. The work titled Mirat-ı Mühendishane-i Berri-i Hümayun by Mehmed Esad presents the 102 year history of the Imperial School of Engineering from 1794 to 1896. A doctorate study by Mustafa Kaçar will, when completed, shed more light on the history of this institution. My work titled İshak Efendi, a Pioneer of Modern Science in Turkey focuses on the contributions of İshak Efendi who was the chief instructor of the Imperial School of Engineering. A study by Rıza Tahsin titled Mirat-ı Mekteb-i Tıbbiye (The History of the Imperial School of Medicine) relates the development of modern medical education established in the Ottoman State at the beginning of the 19th century. I shall mention lastly a book on Ottoman scientific and professional associations published in 1987 which comprises articles on the establishment and development of Ottoman professional associations in the field of medicine, pharmacy, engineering, architecture as well as on some Ottoman learned societies. As to the science education in Ottoman medreses the classic institutions of learning- the PhD thesis of late Cevad İzgi should be mentioned. This young scholar studied the teaching of astronomy, mathematics, and natural sciences in the Ottoman medreses. Before concluding I wish to mention the activities (publications, symposia) carried out by the Turkish Society for History of Science in cooperation with IRCICA and the Istanbul University History of Science Department. This collaboration aims to throw more light on the history of Ottoman science and promote scholarly activity in this area from the viewpoint of different disciplines.

Up to the present, research in history of Ottoman science has mostly been of bio-bibliographical nature and focused mostly on the history of scientific institutions. Among all disciplines, the history of medicine and astronomy attracted the greatest scholarly interest. Another observation is that studies in the form of critical editions and analysis of the scientific texts in various disciplines are few and inadequate in comparison to the wealth of material on the subject found in different libraries. In sum, a two fold conclusion may be derived from my study towards an assessment of research activity on the history of Ottoman science. It transpires, on the one hand, that the subject has been approached by historians of science from different angles but the quality and quantity of existing studies vary from one discipline to the other; which shows that there remains a lot to be explored about Ottoman science. On the other hand, the subject offers a whole gamut of interesting issues to the benefit of scholarly research and therefore deserves to be considered as a distinct field of study.

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Son güncelleme: 18.06.2014

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