Ottoman Translations of Persian Manuals of Arts and Crafts: A Study on the Inner-Islamic Transfer of Encyclopaedic Knowledge on the Natural World and its Practical Applications

Principal Investigator: Philip Bockholt
Researcher: Sacha Alsancakli

The project focuses on Ottoman translations of Persian manuals of arts and crafts. Related to an encyclopaedic interest in the natural world and its phenomena, these manuals are brief, practically-oriented texts that explore such diverse activities as papermaking, soapmaking, swordmaking, gemology, blacksmithery, and many more. Sometimes devoted to a single one of these crafts, they also exist as compendiums and were circulated in different environments from artisans’ guilds to local courts and religious brotherhoods.

Through the examination of such little-studied texts, this project will open new venues of research in the cultural history of the early modern Islamic world, developing in four directions. First, it will discuss matters of literacy, translation, multilingualism, and the circulation of books, ideas, and practices in diverse social environments beyond the circles of power and the traditional scholarly elites, and including the so-called ʿawāmm al-nās (‘common people’). Second, it will examine the relationship between 'fundamental' and 'applied' research by studying the connections between encyclopaedic works and practical treatises. Third, it will tackle the use of these books as instructional manuals and inquire into what their production and circulation can tell us about the way people learned and were trained for the related crafts. Finally, it will explore the role played by Kurdish and other Persianate borderlanders of the Empire in the development of Ottoman sciences through their sponsorship of Turkish texts and translations.

The main primary source for this project will be the Majmū‘at al-Ṣanāyi‘, or ‘Compendium of arts and crafts’, a Persian manual of craftsmanship which made its way to the Ottoman Empire, was translated into Turkish at the request of Abdāl Khān (r. ca. 1031–74/1622–64), Kurdish emir of Bidlīs, and then widely circulated from the shores of Lake Van to the Aegean Sea, Egypt, and the Balkans. Twenty-six manuscripts of the Persian original and twenty-two manuscripts of the Ottoman translation of this text have been identified. These manuscript copies will be examined, compared, and used as documentary sources to trace the development and later influence of this translation project in all corners of the Ottoman lands and to reflect on the four aforementioned research questions.