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© Calligraphic Galleon - Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art and Rogers Fund, 2003
The Metropolitan Museum New York, USA
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Historiography in Ottoman Europe

Recently, historians and social scientists have become increasingly aware of the fact that “modern” historiography does not always acknowledge the existence and richness of other longstanding historiographical traditions. Nonetheless, since it took shape as science in Western Europe in the 19th century, it has been practiced almost everywhere. In consequence, efforts were made to understand this “theft of history”, as Jack Goody once labelled it, to see how universal histories were written in various times and spaces, and to shed light upon different historiographies, ancient and new, modern and traditional. Anthony Grafton even asked the fundamental question: “What was history?”

With very few exceptions – noticeably Konrad Petrovszky's 2014 monograph –, the various forms of history writing of Early Modern Ottoman Europe were never the subject of a comprehensive or comparative approach. In spite of many remarkable, however individual results, national historiographies still find it difficult to overcome inherent methodological, linguistic and financial difficulties and to offer proper and concise answers to several decisive questions:

  • How was history written in Ottoman Europe?
  • How was the past recorded?
  • How was it told and re-told?
  • How did these people build their imaginary worlds, and what kind of boundaries did they raise between them?
  • What kind of bridges do they construct?

In order to fill this significant historiographical gap, the Department of the History of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey and the University Library of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have started a project entitled “A Bibliographical Database of Historiography in Ottoman Europe (15th-18th Century)”/“Bibliographische Datenbank zur Geschichtsschreibung im Osmanischen Europa (15.-18. Jh.)” in July 2015. This project is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). It aims at identifying, recording and detailing the main published and unpublished historical sources and archival materials relevant to the topic.

The sheer number of primary and secondary sources – printed, lithographed, handwritten – is difficult to survey. All the more so, as certain sources, especially texts available only in unpublished manuscripts, may not be very prominent or are difficult to access. This problem is exacerbated where texts and languages are concerned that have not received close attention in their academic field. In addition, although a wide range of different sources are catalogued in libraries in different countries and noted in different national bibliographies, they are described according to these institutions’ varying parameters. The rich and polyglot historiographical corpus of Ottoman Europe composed in the Balkans between (roughly) 1400 and 1800 is definitely highly scattered and insufficiently known.

Our project endeavours to overcome such difficulties. It combines the historical expertise of the History Department of Ruhr-Universität Bochum with the technical and archival proficiency of the University Library Bochum in order to gather, systematize, and comprehensively showcase a wide variety of historiographical sources and relevant auxiliary material.

This corpus includes primary sources in various stages and forms of edition or publication, as well as secondary literature on the archival sources themselves and on their authors.

The system incorporates material in various languages using the immediate availability of an internet presence to transcend and bridge the great geographical range offered by the subject. Upon launch, the website will be accessible under a CC license to support the dissemination of knowledge through Open Access.

Custom-made by the late André Hagenbruch, the system continues to evolve, adapts to the requirements of the particular genre to ensure optimum representation of the sources and contains an increasing amount of data. In May 2016, an international workshop organized in Bochum added benefits to the project, as it allowed us to interact with main specialists in the field and to better understand the nature of the data under scrutiny. It provided the invited speakers with the opportunity to exchange thoughts and to test hypotheses, while it allowed the organizers to discuss potential partnerships.

For the users of our “Bibliographical Database” are not only addressed as recipients of information. Rather, as experts in their field, individuals as well as institutions are invited to contribute information for consideration to ottomanhistoriography@rub.de. This way, the “Bibliographical Database of Historiography in Ottoman Europe” can evolve into a dynamic and diverse openly accessible and valuable repository of both common and rare bibliographical information provided for and by specialists worldwide.