• Yunus Emre Institute

Humans Of The Ottoman Empire Relaunches With A Discussion On Geographers


Dr. Gottfried Hagen And Dr. Cengiz Sisman Examine Ottoman-Era Geographers


Washington, D.C. - On April 30th, the Yunus Emre Institute in Washington D.C. relaunched its Humans of the Ottoman Empire talk series due to popular demand. This series explores the people and social groups that lived in the Ottoman Empire. Dr. Cengiz Sisman is serving as the series moderator, and he was joined by Dr. Gottfried Hagan from the University of Michigan for this event.


Dr. Sisman interviewed Dr. Hagan about how the Ottomans studied and understood geography and cartography. Dr. Hagan revealed that geography was not a formal area of study in the empire, but that it was related to several other fields at the time. Geography was tied to astronomy, an important science in the Middle East in the medieval period due to navigation and religious practices. The Ottomans also understood geography through historical narratives of the region and their state. Travel accounts and maps were occasionally influenced by legends such as the Piri Reis map. Geography and cartography were very rare fields restricted to the elite in society; the lower and middle classes would not have had access to maps or specific skills such as making land surveys. The Ottoman Empire was typically described with travel narratives and ethnographies versus making territorial maps. The first dedicated territorial map was produced in 1803, several centuries into the time of the empire.


A number of guests engaged with the discussion by asking questions that they formed while watching the event. One audience member asked about mythological creatures on Piri Reis’ Ottoman map from 1513. Dr. Hagen clarified that the creatures are from old fables and stories, emphasizing the creativity cartographers had when making their maps. For example, one creature depicted as living in Brazil was an interpretation of a unicorn. Dr. Hagen and Dr. Sisman both elaborated that storytelling played an integral role in the creation of maps and their geographical examination of the empire.


Another question from the audience was about whether the Ottomans encountered other traditions of geographical studies. Dr. Hagen answered by carefully explaining that the Ottoman Empire drew from the mapmaking and geographical knowledge of the previous Persian and Arabian empires. In addition, Dutch and Italian maps circulated in Istanbul, and their traditions influenced Ottoman geographers in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Many audience members thanked Dr. Hagen and Dr. Sisman for their careful charting of Ottoman history.


Yunus Emre Institute is a Turkish cultural center located in Washington, D.C. and around the world. The institute hosts events and programs that educate the public about Turkey’s culture, history, and language. For more information about the institute’s mission or online programs, please email washingtondc@yee.org.tr or follow @yeewdc on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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