About Ottoman and Turkish Studies
at Harvard

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History of Ottoman and Turkish Studies at Harvard
Resources for Ottoman and Turkish Studies Available at Harvard University
  • Faculty and Curricular Resources
  • Research and Art Collections

    History of Ottoman and Turkish Studies at Harvard University

    Harvard University has a long tradition of teaching and research in the fields of Turkish and Ottoman studies. As early as the nineteenth century, courses on Ottoman history were taught at the University. However, during the past three decades, Turkish and Ottoman studies have been expanded and integrated more thoroughly into the curriculum. The program has grown stronger most recently with the addition of area studies faculty and the enhancement of the Turkish language program. These developments have resulted in greater student interest and the establishment of new research projects.

    Faculty and Curriculum Resources

    Harvard has been fortunate to have a history of excellence in teaching and research in Turkish and Ottoman related disciplines. Most notably, during the early part of this century, the prominent diplomatic historian, Archibald Coolidge, came to Harvard where he taught Ottoman history for many years. In particular, he left to Harvard and future scholars his valuable collection of European books on the Ottomans, including a large number of books published before 1700. Under his supervision, Albert Howe Lybyer published a book in 1913 on Süleyman the Magnificent; the book's basic premise is still discussed among historians and is called the "Lybyer thesis." During the 1930s, two well-known Harvard professors, William Langer and R.P. Blake, continued the tradition of teaching Ottoman history at Harvard and published a celebrated article on the rise of the Ottomans which is still considered a classic piece of scholarship.

    After World War II, Turkish and Ottoman studies burgeoned at Harvard under the guidance of numerous scholars and professors. Sir Hamilton Gibb, the famous Islamist, came to Harvard in 1955; he was the co-author with Harold Bowen of a major work on the history of the Ottoman Empire during the eighteenth century. He was joined by Stanford Shaw several years later, who taught Ottoman history, language, and paleography. During the early 1960s, Turkish language studies was boosted by the addition of Zekiye Eglar and Omeljan Pritsak to the faculty. Eglar taught modern Turkish, and Pritsak taught ancient, as well as modern, Turkish along with the comparative grammar of Turkic languages. Another important appointment in the area of language studies was Sinasi Tekin in 1965. Initially he taught modern Turkish but subsequently has expanded his offerings to include Ottoman paleography and several textual studies. After Pritsak retired, Tekin took over the teaching of several Turkic languages, including Old Uyghur, Kokturk, and Uzbek. Dr. Tekin also for years has been editing and publishing the Journal of Turkish Studies., one of the most important western journals in the field of Turkish studies

    Turkish and Ottoman studies expanded into other disciplines at the University with several important appointments during the 1960s and 1970s. Among these were: Annemarie Schimmel, who taught courses on Turkish literature, including Mysticism, Mevlana, and Yunus Emre; and Nur Yalman, whose specialty is Middle Eastern social anthropology. In the 1980s, Tosun Aricanli joined the faculty and taught courses on the economy and social history of the Ottoman empire and Republican Turkey. Subsequently, Gülru Necipoglu, an art historian working on the history of Ottoman art and architecture, was appointed professor in the Fine Arts Department.

    In 1997, a generous grant by the Koc family of Turkey made it possible to establish the first endowed professorship at Harvard, and one of the very few in the USA, devoted to Turkish studies.

    Today, Harvard continues to attract eminent scholars and teachers in a wide range of disciplines related to Turkish and Ottoman studies. The most important recent development was the appointment of Cemal Kafadar, a member of the History Department since 1990, as the Vehbi Koç Professor of Turkish Studies in 1998. Professor Kafadar has reintroduced regular courses in Ottoman history at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Also, in recent years, the directors of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), Professors Roy Mottahedeh, Edward Keenan, William Graham and Roger Owen have been emphasizing the central position of Ottoman studies in a complete and balanced program of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Harvard's resources in Turkish Studies now cover a wide range of disciplines, including those already mentioned, and the following: Turkic linguistics and language; Muscovite-Tatar relations and Tatar diplomacy; sociology of Turkish immigrants in Europe; and medical anthropology relating to this region.

    With support from the Mellon Foundation, Harvard has taken the lead in creating innovative programs for teaching Turkish in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. For example, Engin Sezer has developed the draft of an elementary text book for Turkish, which is used by his first-year classes. Other projects in progress include a graded exercise book, a booklet of Turkish poems arranged in order of increasing grammatical complexity with a glossary, audio-visual materials, and collections of selected readings for upper-intermediate and advanced-level courses. Professor Sinasi Tekin has also developed a summer school for Ottoman language instruction in Ayvalik, Turkey. In addition, Wheeler Thackston, a professor of Persian, also offers a course on Chagatay prose at Harvard.

    The Islamic Legal Studies Program (ILSP), established at the Harvard Law School in 1991, offers courses in the fields of Islamic law and the laws of Muslim countries. The Program, directed by Professor Frank E. Vogel, sponsors a number of research fellows annually and undertakes speaker series, conferences and research projects involving faculty, fellows and students. Its courses are open by cross-registration to students from throughout the University. While the Program does not offer any specialized degree or certificate in Islamic law, it assists students wishing to concentrate their studies in Islamic law and related fields to achieve their goals through coursework. The Program works closely with other parts of the University, and welcomes the participation of students and scholars from throughout the University and the local academic community.

    A measure of the progress of Turkish studies at Harvard since Albert Howe Lybyer wrote his famous doctoral dissertation on Süleyman the Magnificent in 1909 is the number of graduate students now following in his footsteps and concentrating in these fields. During the past few years, the number of Ph.D. candidates researching Ottoman and Turkish history, art and culture has increased, and fully a third of the graduate students entering the M.A. program in regional studies at CMES focus on the area as well. In addition, a number of graduate students in other parts of the University who have an unofficial affiliation with the Center are also studying Turkish language, culture, and history. Equally important is the steady increase in undergraduate enrollments in Turkish language and area studies courses (including enrollments of over 100 in one of Professor Necipoglu's courses)-a sure sign that Turkish Studies is becoming a more significant component of Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard.

    Research and Art Collections

    Turkish and Ottoman art and manuscripts figure prominently in the collections of the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard University Libraries. Harvard's small but magnificent collection of Islamic and later Indian art is housed at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum. It comprises a broad range of works, from Samanid pottery and Mamluk calligraphy to Qajar lacquers and Ottoman textiles. The Harvard Art Museums are fortunate to hold part of the Edwin Binney III collection, the largest private collection of Ottoman/Turkish art in North America. (The remainder of the collection is housed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts.) Included in the collection at the Sackler Museum are works from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries: miniature paintings and calligraphies; portraits of Ottoman sultans; an illuminated ferman (decree); illustrations from Persian classics; elaborately decorated book-bindings and illustrated manuscripts; and Ottoman textiles (pieces of cut velvet and colored embroidery), metalwork, and ceramics (brilliantly-colored tiles and dishes). The collection is displayed in thematically-oriented exhibitions in the Islamic Gallery on the second floor of the Sackler Museum. For further information about the Department of Islamic and Later Indian Art, please call (617) 495-3345.

    The Harvard College Library, particularly the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, also has a large collection of books and manuscripts in Ottoman and Turkish languages, ancient and modern, and related subjects. Specifically, the Library holds 23,000 books in Turkish and Ottoman Turkish, 8,000 in the languages of Inner Asia, primarily Turkic languages, and over 3,500 books about Inner Asia. Because many divisions of the Library acquire and catalog books about Turkey in English and other languages, their number is more difficult to estimate. The Harvard Map Collection holds 91 maps of Turkey, and Houghton Library has 37 Ottoman Turkish manuscripts. Another media resource includes 59 videos in Turkish held in the Widener Library. In total, Harvard's collection of Turkish-language materials is one of the largest in the United States. The collection is searchable online through the Harvard OnLine Library Information System (HOLLIS Plus), which also offers access to other online research tools.

    One book fund in particular, the Goelet Fund for Turkish and Central Asian Collections, has been in used by the Middle Eastern Division of Harvard College Library since 1991 to acquire books from Turkey, the republics of formerly Soviet Central Asia, and the Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. The books are primarily in Turkish, Uzbek, Kirghiz, Kazakh, Uighur, and Kurdish; a few are in Russian and Western European languages.

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