Historical texts of the early modern Ottoman period (16th century) constitute an absolute rarity in the digital world, let alone in digital editions that combine facsimiles with transcribed digital texts that allow exploring and searching the source.
The digital versions of so-called mecmuas (collections of miscellaneous texts by one or several authors compiled for mainly private use) grew out of the project Early Modern Ottoman Culture of Learning: Popular Learning between Poetic Ambitions and Pragmatic Concerns (funded by the Austrian Science Fund) which explores aspects of the culture of learning in early modern Ottoman society, in particular those areas of learning used and cultivated outside the official Ottoman institutions of learning, the medreses. The main sources used in the project for this investigation are the encyclopaedia Netaic ül-fünun by the 16th century scholar and poet Nevi and a number of mecmuas preserved in the Austrian National Library and the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv (Austrian State Archives) in Vienna.
The project has been pursuing three main perspectives:
- We explore the early modern culture of what can be called general or popular learning of educated Ottomans with regard to its own historical context and cultural concepts. The Netaic and the mecmuas are investigated with reference to their sources, the backgrounds of their authors and compilers, as well as those of their readers and users. A central concern of our investigations is the question of the popularization of learning, in particular with respect to how the authors of these works utilised their sources, how learning was represented, and how the works were put to practical ends. Special attention has been paid to the role of poetry in the Ottoman culture of learning and the way it was applied in the Netaic and the mecmuas.
- The philological objectives of the project include the compilation of a full critical edition and translation of the Netaic and an edition and translation of selected parts of the mecmuas. The circumstances of the Netaic’s transmission is particularly interesting. Among the research questions addressed in the project are editing problems in relation to texts that have come down to us in a great number of manuscripts (around 60), some of which differ considerably from each other – a situation not unusual for popular Ottoman works.
- The project also has a strong text technological component. As pioneers in digital Ottoman studies, the researchers focussed from the very beginning of the project on a sound grounding in up-to-date digital methodologies that would ensure an open lifecycle for their data, which would allow them to communicate on their research on a broad and open basis and to allow others to contribute and even continue what was started as part of this groundbreaking project. At the boundaries of traditional philology and digital humanities, they did not only create a digital edition but also started to work on several layers of annotations which make the digital resources an invaluable treasure-trove not only for specialists in Ottoman studies. The texts have been furnished with labels identifying a wide range of named entities, thus allowing readers of the digital texts not only to search for particular persons, but also to dig into natural phenomena such as astronomical entities, plants, illnesses etc. which are of high interest for many scholarly and scientific disciplines.