Scholars have long thought that, following the Muslim Golden Age of the medieval era, the Ottoman Empire grew culturally and technologically isolated, losing interest in innovation and placing the empire on a path toward stagnation and decline. Science among the Ottomans challenges this widely accepted Western image of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Ottomans as backward and impoverished.
In the first book on this topic in English in over sixty years, Miri Shefer-Mossensohn contends that Ottoman society and culture created a fertile environment that fostered diverse scientific activity. She demonstrates that the Ottomans excelled in adapting the inventions of others to their own needs and improving them. For example, in 1877, the Ottoman Empire boasted the seventh-longest electric telegraph system in the world; indeed, the Ottomans were among the era’s most advanced nations with regard to modern communication infrastructure. To substantiate her claims about science in the empire, Shefer-Mossensohn studies patterns of learning; state involvement in technological activities; and Turkish- and Arabic-speaking Ottomans who produced, consumed, and altered scientific practices. The results reveal Ottoman participation in science to have been a dynamic force that helped sustain the six-hundred-year empire.
MIRI SHEFER-MOSSENSOHN is an associate professor of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University. She is an Ottomanist, working on both the Arabic- and Turkish-speaking domains of the empire. Her interests lie with medicine and science as a social encounter between scholars and laypersons, patrons and clients, readers and artisans, and the state apparatus and the individual.
"The main argument of Science among the Ottomans is actually quite simple—there was such a thing as ‘Ottoman Science.’ This statement entails a major task. In order to establish the historicality of Ottoman science, one must differentiate it from Western science and discuss it on its own terms. This requires a discussion on the broader aspects of the history of science as a field and a discussion of the concept of ‘science’ itself. In addition, one should engage the question of non-western scientific traditions and, above all, present and discuss the subject of Islamic science and its history. Shefer-Mossensohn does all the above, and more, admirably."
~Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Professor of History, Middle Eastern, and Islamic Studies, New York University; author of The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History and The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China; and editor of Modern Middle E
"Science among the Ottomans will fill what has been a major lacuna in the history of science—namely, the lack of a comprehensive study of the role of science and learning in Ottoman culture. Science among the Ottomans is not just a significant contribution to the field but a major and unique one. No other study has attempted to place scientific learning during the Ottoman period within the wider cultural frame. Miri Shefer-Mossensohn reflects the best of the current trends in modern historiography, applying them to the sphere of Ottoman scientific and technological activity. The conclusions drawn are significant."
~Emilie Savage-Smith, Emeritus Professor of the History of Islamic Science, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford; editor of Magic and Divination in Early Islam and The Year 1000: Medical Practice at the End of the First Millennium; and coauthor of Medi
"Timely...Shefer-Mossensohn consistently avoids the emphasis on technical development that long characterized the literature on science in Islamic contexts, limiting its readership to specialists...Science among the Ottomans opens an important conversation."
"By offering us a new synthesis that represents the current state of the field, Shefer-Mossensohn’s book addresses the perennial question of what happened to Islamic science and medicine after the Middle Ages. It offers a starting point for further discussions."
~Early Science & Medicine
"Science among the Ottomans is a remarkable achievement…Shefer-Mossensohn has produced a landmark study with which many of us will train the next generation of historians of science."
~Turkish Historical Review
A Note on Transliteration
Introduction: What Is the History of Science?
The History of Science and Technology
The History of Islamic Science and Technology
The History of Ottoman Science and Technology History
Toward a History of Ottoman Scientific Experiences
On Inventiveness: An Ottoman Lesson
Chapter 1. Framing “Knowledge” in the Ottoman Empire
A Eurasian Matrix: The Multiple Cultural Sources of Knowledge in the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Concept and Epistemology of Knowledge: The Term cIlm
Classification of Knowledge in Muslim Societies
Amalgamation of Bodies of Knowledge in Muslim Societies
Tensions due to Fusion of Bodies of Knowledge: The Dispute regarding the Status of Pre-Islamic Sciences
Mediating Mechanisms of Reception
Chapter 2. Where and How Does Learning Take Place?
New Educational Institutions and a New Type of Education in the Long Nineteenth Century
Chapter 3. Transfer of Knowledge to, from, and within the Ottoman Empire
Translations and Translators among the Ottoman Elite
Marginal Groups as Agents of Knowledge
The Passage of Travelers and Knowledge to and from the Empire
Chapter 4. State in Science: On Empire, Power, Infrastructures, and Finance
The Patron and the Scholar: Intisap and Waqf/Vakıf
Science and Technology and the Ottoman State Infrastructure
Science, State, and the State above It: The (Semi)Colonial Connection
Conclusion: Ottoman Science
A Teacher and a Student: Murtaḍá al-Zabīdī and cAbd al-Raḥmān al-Jabartī as Ottoman Scientists
Ottoman Patterns of Scientific Activity
Stay connected for our latest books and special offers.
We live in an information-rich world. As a publisher of international scope, the University of Texas Press serves the University of Texas at Austin community, the people of Texas, and knowledge seekers around the globe by identifying the most valuable and relevant information and publishing it in books, journals, and digital media that educate students; advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences; and deepen humanity’s understanding of history, current events, contemporary culture, and the natural environment.