Alchemy in the Ottoman World

with Tuna Artun

hosted by Nir Shafir

This episode is part of an ongoing series entitled History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise.
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Alchemy has traditionally been understood as a pseudoscience or protoscience that eventually gave way to modern chemistry. Less often have the writings of alchemists been studied on their own terms. Yet, given the endurance and prolific nature of the alchemical traditions and the involvement of important figures of "modern science" such as Isaac Newton in the field of alchemy, a teleological understanding of the transition from alchemy to chemistry seems inadequate for discussing how science was practiced in the past. This may be particularly true for the Ottoman context, where a longstanding tradition of alchemy becomes subsumed under a larger narrative of the triumph of Western science during the nineteenth century. In this podcast, Tuna Artun explores the world of alchemy and discusses its transformation during the Ottoman period.

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Tuna Artun is Assistant Professor of History at Rutgers University (see
Nir Shafir is a doctoral candidate at UCLA studying Ottoman intellectual history (see

Episode No. 132
Release date: 1 December 2013
Location: Istanbul
Editing and Production by Chris Gratien
Bibliography courtesy of Tuna Artun

Citation: "Alchemy and the Ottoman World," Tuna Artun, Nir Shafir, and Chris Gratien, Ottoman History Podcast, No. 132 (December 1, 2013)


Adıvar, Abdülhak Adnan. La science chez les Turcs ottomans. Paris: Maisonneuve, 1939.

Corbin, Henri. Alchimie comme art hieratique. Paris: L'Herne, 1986.

Hill, Donald R. "The literature of Arabic alchemy" in Religion, Learning and Science in the 'Abbasid Period, ed. M.J.L. Young, J.D. Latham, and R.B. Serjeant (Cambridge: Camridge University Press, 1990), pp. 328-43.

Lory, Pierre. Alchimie et mystique en terre d’Islam. Paris: Verdier, 1989.

Nummedal, Tara. Alchemy and Authority in the Holy Roman Empire. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2007.

Nomanul Haq. Syed, Names, Natures and Things: The Alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan and his Kitab al-Ahjar. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1994.