Prosopographical Study of Sixteenth-Century Ottoman Medical Elite

Ottoman Physicians

Ottoman Physicians

Project Overview: 

This digital humanities project aims to explore the body of sixteenth-century Ottoman madrasa-educated physicians with a view to establishing the professional and intellectual interactions between them in the historical context of early-modern Ottoman medicine. Drawing from a variety of digitized published and unpublished sources, we are developing a database that will study the relationships between the members of this elite group of “healers”.
Recent research suggests that the rise of the early modern Ottoman state caused profound transformations in the medical establishment of the empire. Especially starting in the second half of the sixteenth century, the state itself assumed the role of regulating health administration in the empire. For example, physicians were gradually appointed directly by the state. After receiving education in the Ottoman madrasas, these professionals were appointed to serve in the various hospitals and other health institutions in the empire. Their appointments and promotions were closely regulated by the central administration in Istanbul. We see the regularization of their career paths, and the gradual process of professionalization that ensued.  All this can be traced in the Ottoman archival document collections.
Notwithstanding the availability of this body of evidence, no systematic effort has been made in the scholarship until now to identify Ottoman medical cadres, trace their career paths, analyze their contribution to Ottoman medical theory and practice, and study the relationships and interactions between individual physicians and other contemporary scholars. As a first attempt to approach this subject, we will use a variety of sources: First, the Ottoman biographical dictionaries will be carefully examined to identify these physicians. After establishing their basic biographical information (origin, training, and death date), we will then seek to trace records pertaining to their promotion and appointments in the official archival documents of the Ottoman state.

The next step will be to locate their medical writings in catalogues of medical manuscripts and book inventories. All this information will be collected in a database and classified with respect to criteria such as identity, training institution, appointments, works, etc. The information contained in the database will then be used for the purpose of producing social-network analysis, in order to understand the nature of spatial and temporal connections between individual physicians (for example, teacher-disciple, colleague-cohort, director-employee, etc).
The project promises to offer insights about the rise of an elite group of physicians, their gradual process of professionalization, and the relationship between the individual members of this group. As a case-study of physicians, it will contribute to studies of history of medicine and the rise of professional elites, and serve as a point of comparison to the better studied examples of early-modern English, French, and Italian societies.

Project Team: 

Nükhet Varlık (Academia profile)
Associate Professor, History Department, Rutgers University-Newark


Abdurrahman Atçıl (Academia profile)
Assistant Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Queens College, CUNY


Atçil, Abdurrahman. Scholars and Sultans in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2016 (forthcoming).
Varlik, Nükhet. Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015.