The Oriental Outpost of the Republic of Letters. Sebastian Tengnagel (d. 1636), the Imperial Library in Vienna, and Knowledge about the Orient

Projektteam: Thomas Wallnig
Claudia Römer
Hülya Çelik
Chiara Petrolini
Pia Molino

Finanzierung: FWF (P-3051)

Not always has the Orient been the Orient. The academic public would agree today that “Orientalism” is a product of western minds with an imperial agenda, but not much of the discussion in the aftermath of Edward Said’s monumental statement has seriously considered historical settings before 1800. Hence it is still widely assumed that knowledge-power relations are intimate by-products only of Western European national state imperialism.

Around 1600, one of the realms actually bearing the title “empire” was the Holy Roman Empire. Its elected rulers, the Habsburg emperors, heirs to ideas of imperial universalism, strove to deal with issues of confessional war and colonial expansion, to balance the familial union with Spain and the competition with France, and, not least, to come to terms with the new south-eastern neighbour: The Ottoman Empire, which during the 15th and 16th centuries had conquered large parts of the Balkans and Hungary. It was certainly not the first nor the only encounter between the Muslim and the Christian world, nor was the imperial librarian Sebastian Tengnagel the first mediator of knowledge in this regard; but it was the first time that this encounter occurred in a context in which, on the “western side”, the systematic acquisition and curation of knowledge became an integral part of the process of state building.

Court libraries played a pivotal role in this process, as they not only became the material manifestations of a knowledge believed to be both universal and dynamic, but they also represented the scholarly arsenals from which to draw the weapons of intellectual warfare. At the same time, however, they were viewed as repositories of knowledge used, augmented and treasured by the citizens of the res publica literaria: an imagined community of scholars built on the ethics of friendship and the goal of a common enhancement of knowledge, yet also a filtered mirror of political, military and human tensions.


Laufzeit: 2018 → 2021

 The Diplomat and Orientalist Andreas David Mordtmann (1811-1879) as Witness of the Late Ottoman History and Early Representative of the Discipline of Ottoman Studies

Project team: Tobias Völker
Yavuz Köse

Financing: DFG

The proposed research project centers on the oriental scholar and diplomat Andreas David Mordtmann (1811-1879). Mordtmann came to Istanbul in 1846 as chargé d´affaires for the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck; after his dismissal from this post in 1859 he became an Ottoman civil servant, working privately as an academic and journalist. His positioning between the German and the Ottoman culture as well as his various professional spheres of activity shape his distinctive perspective as scholar and historical witness. Possessing more first-hand information than most of his European contemporaries while being cut off from the institutional environs of established academia he described the political and social upheavals of the late Ottoman reform period known as Tanzimat (1839-1876) from an ambivalent in-between position. The analysis of the various writings he left behind will therefore focus on his particular transcultural outlook on late Ottoman history as well as the substantial impact of his research in the still young field of Ottoman studies. By positioning his writings in the context of the orientalist and occidentalist discourses of his time the study will thus make a substantial contribution to the history of Orientalist scholarship, complementing and challenging some of the common assumptions about the way how in the nineteenth century, pre-imperial German context knowledge about 'the orient' was produced.


Duration: 2017 → 2020

 Hermeneutic and Computer-based Analysis of Reliability, Consistency and Vagueness in Historical Texts (HerCoRe)

Projektteam: Cristina Vertan
Walther von Hahn
Alptuğ Güney
Iona Costa
Yavuz Köse

Finanzierung: Volkswagen Stiftung ("Mixed Methods" in den Geisteswissenschaften)

Dimitrie Cantemir was one of the most prominent figures at the end of XVIIth and beginning of the XVIIIth century in the cultural space of Central Eastern Europe. His works about the history of the Ottoman Empire and the Description of Moldavia were translated in English, German and French and remained capital works until the end of XIXth century. Cantemir's books are partially testimonies of things, events and places he experienced himself. This brings a plus of subjectivism in his writings which results in a scientific discussion about the validity of his historical style. Digital Humanities nowadays tend to use huge corpora ("big data") to achieve reliable results with computer-based technologies. However, behind all interpretations, such as reliability discussions, stands a hermeneutic approach, which is always qualitative in nature. Such research can be backed up by quantitative descriptions of the material. The scientific use of annotations is usually a positive ascription of features, such as "is reliable" or "is not reliable" and a statistics of the corresponding feature. This kind of approach ignores a fundamental aspect of the data, the vagueness of many assertions and thus the drawbacks of such crisp choice "is/is not". The project aims at investigating to which extent assertions found in Cantemir's original texts (in Latin) or in the translations in German and Romanian are: (a) consistent within the same text and across the originals, (b) reliable with respect to author's annotations or the annotations of further translators; (c) consistent and reliable across different language versions. The result of the project will be on the computer science side a prototype tool for computer-based hermeneutic reliability research in historical texts. On the humanistic side the project will deliver a reinterpretation of the hermeneutic cycle given external knowledge, the qualitative analysis performed by historians with the help of the computer based approach, and a comparative report.


Laufzeit: 2017 → 2020

 Early Modern Ottoman Culture of Learning: Popular Learning between Poetic Ambitions and Pragmatic Concerns

Projektteam: Gisela Procházka-Eisl
Hülya Çelik

Finanzierung: FWF

The project, which was realized between 2011 and 2015, was financed by the Austrian Science Foundation FWF. It was carried out – including this digital edition – in large parts by Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Hülya Çelik, Oriental Institute, University of Vienna. There are some contributions by Adnan Kadrić, Orientalni Institut, University of Sarajevo.

The intention of this project is to explore certain aspects of the Early Modern Ottoman culture of learning, in particular those areas of learning used and cultivated outside the official Ottoman institutions of learning, the medreses.

Our sources for this investigation were the encyclopaedia Netaic ül-fünun of the 16th century scholar and poet Nevi and a number of six multi textual manuscripts (mecmūʿas) preserved in the Austrian national Library and the Austrian State Archives, both in Vienna.

The project had two main aims, one basically related to cultural history, the other to pragmatic philological issues:

  1. As for cultural history we intended to explore the early modern culture of what can be called the “general” or “popular learning” of educated Ottomans with regard to its own historical context and cultural concepts. The Netaic and the mecmūʿas were investigated with regard to their sources, and the backgrounds of their authors and compilers, and of their readers and users. The question of the “popularization” of learning will be raised in particular with regard to the way in which the authors of these works made use of their sources, how the learning was presented, and how the works were used. Special attention is payed to the role of poetry in the Ottoman culture of learning and the way it was applied in the Netaic and the mecmūʿas.
  2. The philological objectives of the project include the compilation of a full critical edition and translation of the Netaic as well as an edition and translation of selected parts of the mecmūʿas. The results were published in 2015 in two volumes: Gisela Procházka-Eisl, Hülya Çelik: Texts on Popular Learning in Early Modern Ottoman Times. Part I: Hidden Treasures: Selected Texts from Ottoman Mecmūʿas (Miscellanies). Sources of Oriental Languages and Literatures 119. Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University, 2015.
    Gisela Procházka-Eisl, Hülya Çelik: Texts on Popular Learning in Early Modern Ottoman Times. Part II: “The Yield of the Disciplines and the Merits of the Texts”. Nevʿī Efendi’s Encyclopaedia Netāyic el-Fünūn. In collaboration with A. Kadrić.
    Sources of Oriental Languages and Literatures 120. Harvard University, 2015.
  3. We also created an open access digital edition which contains the complete edition of all the six miscellanies and the Netā'icü l-Fünūn. A word-by-word search of the complete material is possible at that website: there are annotated entries for personal names, place names, astronomical and astrological terms, text genres, folio numbers, and – because of the numerous medical/magical texts – for illnesses, plants, and the non-botanical substances used in remedies and recipes.


Laufzeit: 2011 → 2015