Imagining and Narrating Plague in the Ottoman World

Episode 396

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In this special episode, novelist Orhan Pamuk and historian Nükhet Varlık discuss how to write about plague and epidemics in Ottoman history. Orhan Pamuk is a Nobel Prize-winning novelist whose works such as My Name is Red drew masterfully on the literature and art of early modern Ottoman society. In an ongoing project, Pamuk is turning his attention towards the Ottoman experience of plague. Nükhet Varlık is a historian whose award-winning book Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600 was the first to systematically examine the history of the Black Death and subsequent plague outbreaks from the vantage point of the Ottoman state and its subjects. Varlık is currently involved in multidisciplinary collaborations with scientific researchers who are using new methods to solve longstanding mysteries about past plagues. In this wide-ranging conversation organized by Tunç Şen and the Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies at Columbia University and presented by Sam Dolbee, Pamuk, and Varlık discuss the Ottoman experience of plague from a variety of angles. Varlık describes how new research is overturning many misconceptions about the plague and its history, allowing writers of all varieties to re-imagine the Ottoman encounter with plague, and Pamuk discusses the challenges and opportunities presented by using fiction to address the very real experience of plague in past contexts. 

This podcast is based on a recording of a free public event entitled "Imagining & Narrating Plague in the Ottoman World: A Conversation with Orhan Pamuk & Nükhet Varlık" held on November 12, 2018 at Columbia University organized by A. Tunç Şen and The Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies. The event was sponsored by The Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies, The Columbia University School of the Arts, The Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, and The Department of History at Columbia University.

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Contributor Bios

Orhan Pamuk is an author who has published ten novels in Turkish. His critically acclaimed works such as The Black Book, My Name is Red, Snow, and Museum of Innocence have been translated into dozens of languages. In 2006, Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He resides in Istanbul.
Nükhet Varlık is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University–Newark. She is a historian of the Ottoman Empire interested in disease, medicine, and public health. Her first book, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600 received the Middle East Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Award, the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association’s M. Fuat Köprülü Book Prize, the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean’s Dionysius A. Agius Prize, and the American Association for the History of Medicine’s George Rosen Prize. She has authored several articles and book chapters addressing different aspects of plague epidemics in Ottoman society and is involved in multidisciplinary research projects that incorporate perspectives from molecular genetics bioarchaeology, disease ecology, and climate science into historical inquiry. She is also the Editor of the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association (2018-23).
A. Tunç Şen is assistant professor in the Department of History at Columbia University, where he studies and teaches early modern Ottoman world, with a particular interest in science and divination, perceptions of time, and manuscript culture. He is currently preparing a monograph tentatively titled Masters of Time: Astrologers at the Early Modern Ottoman Court.
Sam Dolbee is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Mahindra Humanities Center. He completed his PhD in 2017 at NYU in History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. He works on the environmental history of the Jazira region in the late Ottoman and post-Ottoman periods.


Episode No. 396
Release Date: 1 January 2019
Recording Location: Columbia University
Special thanks to The Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies, The Columbia University School of the Arts, The Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, and The Department of History at Columbia University. Audio editing and presentation by Sam Dolbee
Music: Zé Trigueiros
Bibliography courtesy of Nükhet Varlık


Tunç Şen, Orhan Pamuk, and Nüket Varlık (left to right) in "Imagining & Narrating Plague in the Ottoman World" at Columbia University on November 12, 2018

Select Bibliography

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