Books and Their Readers in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul
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CitationQuinn, Meredith Moss. 2016. Books and Their Readers in Seventeenth-Century Istanbul. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis study contributes to the cultural and intellectual history of the early modern Middle East by analyzing how books were produced and circulated, and which audiences existed for various types of books in the Ottoman capital, Istanbul. Focusing on the 17th century, I draw upon the material evidence of manuscripts, statistical and network analysis of archival sources, as well as upon narrative and biographical texts. My analysis shows the limitations of conventional socio-economic categories for writing Ottoman cultural history, and argues for a new approach to writing cultural history.
Because almost all of the books in Istanbul were produced by hand, this research offers a counterpoint to the much-explored narrative of printed books. In early modern Istanbul, book-making was highly decentralized. Readers could and did create their own books, sometimes for reasons of economy and sometimes to achieve a special closeness to the work. In fact, the quintessential book in early modern Istanbul was not a fancy volume, but a humble personal notebook created from folded leaves of paper and filled with excerpts or short treatises. Because it was possible to copy and own just the portion of a book that was of interest, fragmented and partial texts were the norm. As a result, libraries that collected reliable and complete texts were an essential part of book circulation. These libraries were set up for copying as much as for reading. I introduce an exemplar manuscript that was held for this very purpose.
Ownership of books was most highly concentrated among those who bore the title of efendi. Men, especially wealthy men, were also more likely to be bookowners than others, but book ownership was not widespread. However, people from every segment of society came into contact with books and the texts they contained, often as listeners rather than readers.
This dissertation inverts a common paradigm for writing cultural history. Rather than map cultural currents onto predetermined social groups, I begin with clusters of books that anecdotally or statistically belong together. I then use manuscript evidence such as reading statements, as well as probate inventories, to suggest their audiences. Each book had its natural ecology: the texts with which it naturally belonged because of how it was used and by whom. Books had affinities that crossed traditional subject boundaries. For example, the constellation of medrese books most frequently owned together includes law, grammar, and lexicography. Less rarified books also had their own ecologies. A single title might appear both as a deluxe book intended for display in a refined home and as a scrappy storybook meant to be read aloud in a boisterous coffeehouse setting. In such a way, some texts could transcend social categories altogether.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33493319
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