Sep 25, 2013

History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise

with Nir Shafir

hosted by Sam Dolbee, Chris Gratien, and Arianne Urus

Nir Shafir and Arianne Urus
Kurtuluş, July 2013
While science was once understood by historians "on its own terms," i.e. as a rational means of arriving at objective truths about the natural world, over the past decades, historians of science have illustrated the numerous ways in which scientific production is rooted in social and material contexts. In part one of this two-part series on the history of science, Nir Shafir leads us in an exploration of some of the main shifts in views of science and its history. In part two, we discuss the nascent field of history of science in the Ottoman Empire and Muslim world and explore the state of current historiography and where it is headed.

Part One: Science and Its Contexts

Part Two: An Ottoman History of Science

Nir Shafir is a doctoral candidate at UCLA studying Ottoman intellectual history (see
Sam Dolbee is a doctoral candidate in the department of Middle East Studies at New York University.
Arianne Urus is a doctoral candidate at New York University studying environmental history and international order in early modern Europe and the Atlantic world.
Chris Gratien is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University researching the social environmental history of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East (see

Citation: "History of Science, Ottoman and Otherwise," Nir Shafir, Samuel Dolbee, Arianne Urus, and Chris Gratien, Ottoman History Podcast, no. 124 (September 28, 2013) 

Note for the listener: This podcast is based on primary source research, but it is also a synthesis of publicly available information and draws extensively from the following works below, which are also mentioned during the course of the episode. For the purposes of academic citation, we encourage you to consult these works. 


Ottoman/Islamic History of Science

Adıvar, Abdülhak Adnan. Osmanlı türklerinde ilim. İstanbul: Maarif matbaası, 1943.
Sayılı, Aydın. The Observatory in Islam. New York: Arno Press, 1981.
İhsanoğlu, Ekmeleddin. Transfer of Modern Science & Technology to the Muslim World: Proceedings of the International Symposium on "Modern Sciences and the Muslim World" (Istanbul 2-4 September 1987). İstanbul: Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, 1991.
Fazlıoğlu, İhsan. Türk bilim tarihi. İstanbul: Bilim ve Sanat Vakfı, 2004.
Yılmaz, Coşkun, and Necdet Yılmaz. Osmanlılarda sağlik. Istanbul: Biofarma, 2006.

History of Science, General

Shapin, Steven, Simon Schaffer, and Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.
Latour, Bruno. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987.
Golinski, Jan. Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Smith, Pamela H. The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Cook, Harold John. Matters of Exchange Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press, 2007.
Dear, Peter. Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions, 1500-1700. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.
Elshakry, Marwa. Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950. 2013.
Sivasundaram, Sujit. 2010. "A Global History of Science and Religion". Science and Religion. 177-197.
Raj, Kapil. Relocating Modern Science. New York (N.Y.): Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Sep 17, 2013

Sultan ve Musahipleri | Günhan Börekçi

123.    Yönetici Elitler ve Osmanlı Siyaset Dünyası

Erken modern Osmanlılar'ın küçük bir beylikten cihanşümül bir imparatorluğa dönüşmesi esnasında karşılaşılan zorluklar ve ihtiyaçlar Devlet-i Al-i Osman'ın yönetici elitleri arasındaki ilişkilerin ve dengelerin sürekli bir şekilde yeniden düzenlenmesini gerekli kıldı. Teorik siyaset felsefesi ile pratik günlük siyasetin arasındaki farklılıkları tartıştığımız bu podcastımızda, Günhan Börekçi ile "musahib" kavramı üzerinde durduk. Padisah'ın bu "refik" ve "nedim"lerinin dışarıdan eklemlendikleri Osmanlı siyasetinde oynadıkları etkin rolü mercek altına aldık.
Yeniçağ Osmanlı Tarihi üzerine uzmanlaşan Dr. Günhan Börekçi İstanbul Şehir Üniversitesi'nde öğretim üyeliği yapmaktadır. (see
Yeniçağ Akdeniz ve Osmanlı İmparatorluğu üzerine uzmanlaşan Dr. Emrah Safa Gürkan İstanbul 29 Mayıs Üniversitesi'nde öğretim üyeliği yapmaktadır. (see

Citation: "Sultan ve Musahipleri," Günhan Börekçi, Emrah Safa Gürkan, and Chris Gratien, Ottoman History Podcast, No. 123 (September 19, 2013)


Günhan Börekçi, “Factions and Favorites at the Courts of Sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603-1617) and His Immediate Predecessors,” basılmamış doktora tezi, Ohio State University, 2011.
Tülün Değirmenci, İktidar Oyunları ve Resimli Kitaplar: II. Osman Devrinde Değişen Güç Sembolleri (İstanbul: Kitap Yayınevi, 2012).
Antonio Feros, Kingship and Favoritism in the Spain of Philip III, 1598-1621 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Baki Tezcan, The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
Ebru Turan, The Sultan's Favorite: Ibrahim Pasha and the Making of the Ottoman Universal Sovereignty in the Reign of Sultan Suleyman (1516-1526), basılmamış doktora tezi, University of Chicago, 2007.

Sep 11, 2013

Hidden Histories at the French Archives | Sandrine Mansour-Mérien

122.    Researching Middle East History in Nantes

L'histoire occultée des Palestiniens
by Sandrine
Mansour-Mérien (click for amazon)
It is an unfortunate legacy of colonialism that to write the history of the Middle East, historians must inevitably utilize archives and libraries in Europe and the United States. However, the location of these archives and the biases of the governments that produced their records do not necessarily undermine the historian's attempt to find the voices of local actors. In this episode, Sandrine Mansour-Mérien, a researcher with over ten years of experience at the French Diplomatic Archives in Nantes, explains how French archives can be used by Middle East historians and discusses some of her own work on the history of Palestine in writing her recent publication L'histoire occultée des Palestiniens (1947-1953).

Sandrine Mansour-Mérien is an affiliated researcher at the University of Nantes. Her work focuses on Palestinian history and in particular, the period of the Nakba (see
Chris Gratien is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University researching the social environmental history of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East (see


Ministry of Foreign Affairs Diplomatic Archives

French Colonial Archives in Aix en Provence

Catalog of French Military Archives

Sep 5, 2013

Feeding an Elephant in Eighteenth-Century Istanbul

Ottoman illustration of an elephant, 1717
Gifts were an absolutely crucial part of Ottoman society, and previous posts involving Van cats, guinea pigs, and lynx pelts among other things, can attest to this fact. As today's document shows, gifts played a particularly important role in diplomatic practice. But they also shed light on the bureaucratic processes that made the empire itself work. Following the signing of a peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and Afsharid Iran in 1736, Nader Shah dispatched an ambassador with gifts for Sultan Mahmud I. And, to make a truly great impression, the gifts were carried on a 1,700-mile (2,700-kilometre) journey across Anatolia by an elephant.

Having undertaken such a long and trying voyage, Nader Shah's ambassador 'Abd al-Kerim Beg stayed for some time in the Ottoman capital following his arrival in the middle of Rebiülevvel 1150 (July 1737). This also meant that his retinue, including their pachyderm companion, required continued sustenance. By long-established custom, the Ottoman government financed and supported foreign ambassadors on these sorts of missions, and so 'Abd al-Kerim Beg received a fixed daily allowance (ta'yîn) from the imperial treasury.

At some point in the first half of the month of Zilkade 1150 (February/March 1738), the Ottoman government received a petition from Muhammad 'Ali the elephant-driver (filbân). In the document, Muhammad 'Ali noted that his elephant had carried gifts from the shah of Iran. His request was that that an order be made to the Istanbul customs office to pay his and the elephant's sustenance allowance (nafaka-bahâ) of 510 akçes per day for the month of Zilkade.  This totalled 15,300 akçes (127 ½ guruş) for the month, a substantial sum, but necessary considering the amount of food and water that an elephant needs to consume. The cold weather in Istanbul may also have meant that the elephant needed a warm place to stay. Getting financial support from the Ottoman government was therefore a matter of life and death for the elephant-driver and his charge.

Filbân Muhammad 'Ali's petition was written for him in the formulaic style to which all petitions conformed, but the document contains more than just his request, which can be seen on the left-hand side of the page. This small piece of paper displays the bureaucratic process that got things done in the Sublime State.

First, on 17 Zilkade, a clerk of the defterdarlık presented calculations in the distinctive siyakat accounting script showing that fil and filbân had received 55 guruşand 10 paras in allowance between 17 and 30 Şevval. This proved the validity of Muhammad 'Ali's claim for the month of Zilkade. The sums were checked and confirmed by the clerk, who signed off his workings and passed the petition up the bureaucratic chain. The next step up, written underneath the calculations, recommended that the elephant-driver be paid, pending approval of defterdar.

The more senior and important the official, the larger and scruffier their handwriting tended to be, and this was certainly the case with the senior official who scrawled the summary of and judgement on Muhammad 'Ali's case underneath the petition. Happily for the elephant-driver, it was resolved that a message would be sent to the gümrük emîni of Istanbul, İshak Ağa, permitting Muhammad 'Ali to draw (ahz ü kabz) his allowance. The document became a sort of promissory note (tahvîl), and was signed off by the defterdar on 18 Zilkade in the largest and most illegible writing on the page. Consequently, Muhammad 'Ali received the allowance that would keep him and his elephant fed and sheltered for another month.

Documents such as Filbân Muhammad 'Ali's petition are very helpful in showing the bureaucratic and decision-making process in the early modern Ottoman state. But they are also important in showing the mundane processes that drove even the most novel and grand events. It is through such documents that we can understand how foreign embassies functioned in the Ottoman context away from abstract notions of personified states. Although the elephant came as a showy part of a glittering embassy carrying rich gifts from a shah to a sultan, behind the pomp and ceremony were everyday logistical concerns of food and shelter for man and beast. 

Source: BOA, C.ML 392/16038 (17 Za 1150)