Disease, Faith, and Science: by jtallon [WorldCat.org]
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Plague, quarantines, and geopolitics in the Ottoman Empire

by Birsen Bulmuş

  Print book

Disease, Faith, and Science:   (2013-12-19)

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by jtallon

 

Birsen Bulmuş. Plague, Quarantines and Geopolitics in the Ottoman Empire

Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. 160 pp. $105.00 (cloth) ISBN-978-0748646593

Drawing upon several Ottoman archival sources from Istanbul and Sarajevo and a substantial amount of primary material in English and a fair amount in French as well as numerous printed sources, regarding plague and the religious implications of plague, this volume weaves a sophisticated story. It brings together Ottoman and English/British literature on plague and quarantine and interlaces a narrative that spans the 16<sup>th</sup> to the 20th centuries and shows how the debate around plague progressed. The author is very effective in giving nuance and subtlety to the issue of quarantine as a result of westernization or as a combination of other factors. The issue of whether or not the notion of quarantine was introduced by European powers or was developed domestically within the Ottoman Empire is addressed. Additionally, the concept of the quarantine on the part of the British as a measure commercial protectionism and imperial expansion and, after the 1850’s, on the part of the Ottomans as a means of protecting sovereignty are investigated. Additionally, the British quarantine in Egypt and the Ottoman quarantine in the Hijaz, Basra, and eastern Anatolia are presented as examples to discuss these issues. The wealth of primary sources utilized in the book breathes life into these discussions and provides a nuanced approach.

The most interesting aspect of this work is the narration of the development of the Ottoman mindset from the anti-contagionist perspective of the late 18<sup>th</sup> and early 19<sup>th</sup> centuries, embodied by Hamdan Bin Al-Merhum Osman Hoca, with that of the contagionist perspective of the late 19<sup>th</sup> and early 20<sup>th</sup> centuries embodied by Kasım İzzeddin. This shift reflects, in some regards, the development of the Ottoman Empire itself. Highlighting how changing attitudes about disease and the West coalesced in the rise of a public health system and a border controls. This provides very stimulating information related to the “modernization” of the Ottoman Empire.

This volume offers a perspective that gives a scholar or specialist as well as the advanced student insights into the topic. In eight concise chapters, the text is plainly written and presents rather complex concepts clearly. This work adds significantly to our understanding of the issues related to the plague and its prevention. It describes effectively the social, religious, and political implications of trying to understand and combat the plague. These developments are elaborated upon throughout the centuries from roughly the 16<sup>th</sup> century until the end of the Empire.

 

One small of critique of this work is in regards to transliteration or, perhaps more precisely, utilizing standard transliteration. Bulmuş frequently uses Modern Turkish transliteration for many of the book titles and their authors. This is not problematic for Ottoman titles and their authors, but it has the potential to cause confusion for non-turkophones in regards to some of the Arabic names that were later translated into Ottoman Turkish. For example, Bulmuş uses Ebu Bekir as opposed to Abu Bakr[20] and Ömer bin Al-As as opposed to ‘Amr ibn al-‘As. [23]Also there is frequent switching between the names Hamdan Bin El-Merhum and  Hamdan Bin Al-Merhum. This is not a major distraction, but standardized transliteration would avoid confusion for non-Turkish/Ottoman specialists. Especially since this work has significant material from English/British sources and therefore would be of interest to scholars of Early Modern Britain. Additionally, there were a few spelling inconsistencies for place names. None of these issues seriously detracts from the readability of the text. This is a fine work that offers new information and new perspectives.




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