Intellectual Emigres and the Ottoman Empire: Rivalry, Exchange, and the Production of Knowledge in Istanbul, 1453–1732

AHA Session 15
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Room A707 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level)
Ahmet Tunç Şen, University of Chicago
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel investigates the interactions of foreign scholars and Ottoman intellectual circles in Istanbul in the early modern period. The Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453 initiated a resurgence of the city as an imperial center for southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East. While the city was transfigured by the political power of the Ottoman sultans and their intense program of architectural patronage, Istanbul also became a center of intellectual activity that attracted scholars and statesmen from diverse lands: Iran to the east, Syria and Egypt to the south, and Europe to the north and west. Concurrent with the arrival of these intellectual émigrés from established centers of learning, the Ottomans developed an indigenous tradition of scholarship that, while indebted to its Islamic and Greek antecedents, gradually developed a distinctly Ottoman outlook, which occasionally excluded these new arrivals from full participation in the scholarly and professional life of the city. The panel will investigate the mutual perceptions of Ottoman scholars and their foreign counterparts between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries by exploring the following questions: What was the function of court patronage and migration in the transmission of knowledge and the establishment of learned culture? How did scholarly preoccupations in the early modern world evolve between the late fifteenth and early eighteenth centuries? How did interpersonal relationships and networks of scholarly affiliation mediate intellectual discourses and affect the integration of foreigners into Ottoman scholarly and professional milieus?

The four presentations of this panel explore these questions through analysis of foreign intellectuals with astrological, literary, religious, and scientific interests who arrived in Istanbul during the period in question from diverse lands. First, Tunç Şen examines the Ottoman court as a major site for the patronage of astral knowledge and the impact of such knowledge upon the ideological dimensions of the dynasty. Next, Christopher Markiewicz assesses the efforts of Persian secretaries and statesmen to enter the Ottoman chancery and leave their mark upon the nascent Ottoman historiographical tradition in the early sixteenth century. With the conquests of Syria and Egypt in 1516-1517, the Ottoman Empire absorbed preeminent centers of Islamic learning, namely Damascus and Cairo. To explore the integration of Arab scholars into an Ottoman professional learned hierarchy, Helen Pfeifer examines the evolving fortunes of scholars from Arab lands in Istanbul over the course of the sixteenth century by analyzing the role of etiquette and language as exclusionary mechanisms in the polite gatherings of elites. The last presentation demonstrates that Ottoman scholarly networks, especially in the eighteenth century, were not simply oriented toward the traditional disciplines, languages, and geographies of Islamic learning. To this end, Harun Küçük considers Ottoman scholarship in the age of Enlightenment by exploring the relationship of one eighteenth-century European visitor, Johann Friedrich Bachstrom, with Ottoman cultures of empiricism, especially medicine and navigation. 

Taken together, the presentations provide a new account of the changing orientations and emphases of Ottoman thought in the early modern period.

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