The Emotional Universe of Insecure Scholars in the Early Modern Ottoman Hierarchy of Learning

Şen, A. Tunç

In this paper, I will focus on a particular Ottoman madrasa instructor from the so-called magnificent years of Süleyman's reign (r. 1520–66) whose self-narratives or “ego-documents,” scattered across a multitude of sources, illustrate the emotional states of a mid- to low-ranking member of the rigidly hierarchical Ottoman scholarly establishment. His is a richly documented case of an “exceptionally normal,” full of vivid details that allow us to decenter the available literature on early modern Islamicate and Ottoman intellectual history and its marked preference for the success stories of celebrated names over the failures of more marginal figures. In examining the writings of Ottoman scholars of lesser rank and social standing that are dispersed among their understudied private letter collections (münşeʾāt mecmūʿaları), autobiographical accounts, literary compositions, scholarly treatises, and even the paratextual records that one may locate in the manuscripts these scholars copied or possessed, one can reconstruct emotional pendulums that swung across various feelings in the face of ever-changing and challenging structural and circumstantial limitations. These limitations include more than just the financial insecurities and intellectual rivalries that were inherent both in the scholarly bureaucratic hierarchy and the overarching patronage system of the early modern Ottoman world of scholarship. One also should take into account how recurrent diseases, unexpected disasters, and physical distance to familiar people and places between rotational appointments left their indelible marks on the emotional canvas of Ottoman scholars.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies

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July 14, 2021