Research Seminar - Close-up at a Distance: Threading Together Artifacts in Ottoman Map History

When and Where

Wednesday, February 02, 2022 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm


Adrien Zakar, Professor at the IHPST


Ottoman subjects produced a wide range of geographical books, atlases, land descriptions, and maps between the 15th and early 20th-centuries. Initially rare and restricted to court circles, these artifacts gradually became part of everyday life, reflecting the rise of territorialized states, intensifying militarization, growing literacy, and sweep capitalization of Middle Eastern economies. How can historians of science and technology thread these artifacts spanning across the early modern and modern periods together? That medieval Islamic geographers had been instrumental in the transmission of classical spatial knowledge, such as Ptolemy’s Optics, to the European Renaissance is well known. That the Middle East is a laboratory for modern visual technologies from aerial photography to satellite imaging, the GPS and drones has likewise been extensively documented. Knowledge production in the middle, Ottoman period, however, remains a blind spot, conventionally approached as mere derivative of a European experience with technology and statecraft. In this seminar paper, I will offer historiographical reflections on the conditions and possibilities for situating the story of Ottoman cartography within the broader trajectories of geographical knowledge, contact, competition, reform, and war. While discussing the challenges of situating Ottoman maps in this picture, I will focus on unearthing moments when the imperial territory became a central site for the development of modern mapping as a whole.