This doctoral research explores the role of travel as a method of acquiring knowledge in the early modern Ottoman Empire. While travel has long been seen as a fundamental motor of Western thought, it has not received similar recognition in Ottoman historiography. Surviving manuscript collections suggest that in the late seventeenth century travel writing became increasingly popular among Ottoman intellectuals and their travelogues record indirect pilgrimage routes to Mecca, in which authors investigated and discussed miracles, wonders, and flora. The present study will explore how this new genre of writing transformed travel into a knowledge-making practice that emphasized direct experience and naturalistic depiction. The origins and impact of this epistemological transformation will be investigated through research in the manuscript libraries and archives of Istanbul from January to November 2013.

This research applies current methods and questions developed by historians of science to the field of Ottoman studies, which has been traditionally dominated by social and economic history approaches. The field of Ottoman history of science is both vastly under-researched and has yet to adopt advances in science and technology studies from the past thirty years. Using recent work on seventeenth-century history of science in Europe as a reference point, the study addresses such topics as the history of scientific observation, the scientific self, and the role of wonders and marvels.

Project Report

The project's main goal was to send the co-PI, Nir Shafir, to Istanbul for ten months of archival research from March 2013 to December 2013 to understand how travel became an important knowledge-making practice in Ottoman society in response to the tumultuous religious and political environment of the late seventeenth century. The thesis was that during this period traveling on a particular indirect Hajj route became more than mere pilgrimage but also a means of acquiring a certain type of experiential and even naturalistic knowledge. A burgeoning piety movement spurred major intellectuals to set out on pilgrimages and in the process question or affirm contested phenomena such as the miracles of saints and prophets, marvels and wonders, and the botanical qualities of plants. History of science scholarship has shown that new methods and ways of knowing are not simply abstract intellectual constructs but concrete solutions to the social and political crises of a society and thus deeply connected to a particular society’s intellectual, social, and material conditions. So far, such a "contextual" approach has not been applied to early modern Ottoman intellectual history. Using methods and questions pertinent to the history of science, this project aimed to both shed light on the largely unknown intellectual legacy of the Ottoman Empire and challenge the uniqueness of the Western European experience of travel and intellectual transformation. Such research will eventually allow us to write the holistic and connected histories of early modernity that are needed as commerce, politics, and scholarship become more global. The co-PI, Nir Shafir spent the entire ten month research period conducting research in the various archives and manuscript libraries of Istanbul. The first few months (3/1/-5/15/2013) were spent at the Ottoman State Archives (Osmanli Basbakan Arsivi) where he focused on understanding the activities of the Ottoman state in the seventeenth century in organizing the Hajj and other pilgrimage routes. The following months were spent predominantly in the Suleymaniye Library, also in Istanbul. There he spent his time focusing on going through the largely unknown manuscript collections. He began with a list of significant travelogue authors from the late seventeenth century and tracked down all the miscellanies that contained their works and then used the other works in these miscellanies to discover new authors and works that were read during the late seventeenth century. In this manner, he constructed a network of major authors, thinkers, and controversies from the late seventeenth century. The information co-PI Nir Shafir collected will be analyzed and incorporated into his doctoral dissertation. For the moment, he has discovered a large variety of new travelogues and texts that illuminate the changes to the religious environment of the seventeenth century.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Linda Layne
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Los Angeles
Los Angeles
United States
Zip Code