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Learned Patriots

Debating Science, State, and Society in the Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire

Learned Patriots

Debating Science, State, and Society in the Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire

The nineteenth century was, for many societies, a period of coming to grips with the growing, and seemingly unstoppable, domination of the world by the “Great Powers” of Europe. The Ottoman Empire was no exception: Ottomans from all walks of life—elite and non-elite, Muslim and non-Muslim—debated the reasons for what they considered to be the Ottoman decline and European ascendance. One of the most popular explanations was deceptively simple: science. If the Ottomans would adopt the new sciences of the Europeans, it was frequently argued, the glory days of the empire could be revived.
In Learned Patriots, M. Alper Yalçinkaya examines what it meant for nineteenth-century Ottoman elites themselves to have a debate about science. Yalçinkaya finds that for anxious nineteenth-century Ottoman politicians, intellectuals, and litterateurs, the chief question was not about the meaning, merits, or dangers of science. Rather, what mattered were the qualities of the new “men of science.” Would young, ambitious men with scientific education be loyal to the state? Were they “proper” members of the community? Science, Yalçinkaya shows, became a topic that could hardly be discussed without reference to identity and morality.
Approaching science in culture, Learned Patriots contributes to the growing literature on how science travels, representations and public perception of science, science and religion, and science and morality. Additionally, it will appeal to students of the intellectual history of the Middle East and Turkish politics.


"A rewarding reexamination of 19th-century Ottoman conversations about science and civilization. Rather than revisiting well-traveled narratives of the Ottoman adoption (or lack thereof) of modern 'science and technology,' and rather than asking how Ottoman bureaucrats and intellectuals established what was or was not properly science, Yalçinkaya asks a more 'naïve' question: 'What were the Ottomans talking about when they talked about science?'  His answer—'people,' and in particular the ideal, scientifically informed, yet ethical and upright 'patriot'—turns much received wisdom concerning late Ottoman scientific discourse on its head. . . . This book is a welcome addition to scholarship on the rhetoric of science and technology in the Ottoman Empire. . . . Recommended."


"A fascinating book for anyone interested in the entangled histories of science and modernity, and the ways that particular forms of identity and subjectivity emerged from inscriptions of that entanglement. I especially recommend it to readers paying special attention to the histories of the press, language, and the state as they are bound up with nineteenth century science and technology."

New Books in History

"There is also no doubt that Learned Patriots is an excellent, meticulously researched addition to nineteenth-century historiography of science, opening almost single-handedly a whole new area of research."

British Journal for the History of Science

"[A]n outstanding contribution to the cultural and social studies of science in the Ottoman Empire.... [S]o far Yalçınkaya’s work is the single most thorough account and cultural study of science in the nineteenth century Ottoman history."


“The importance of new ideas about science in the development of new ideological currents in the late Ottoman Empire has been recognized for a while now, but no previous book has dealt with the topic in such detail and with such a focus as Yalçinkaya’s excellent Learned Patriots. Tracing the development and transformation of competing discourses on science in the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century, Yalçinkaya argues that these discourses were closely tied to debates on morality, cultural orientations, and ideological preferences during a period of intensifying military, political, and economic pressures on the Ottoman lands. The book will be of interest to scholars of the late Ottoman Empire, the modern Middle East, and anyone interested in the interplay between the dissemination of scientific knowledge and ideas and social and intellectual changes in the 1800s.”

Amit Bein, Clemson University

“Alper Yalçinkaya’s Learned Patriots will be greeted with enthusiasm by everyone interested in science and society in the late Ottoman Empire. Yalçinkaya brings together critical issues that earlier approaches have usually separated:  history of science, political thought, elite formation, the polemics over issues of cultural change. Offering fascinating insights into change over time in the interactions of these issues, he shows that what mattered was not just scientific expertise but the social engagement and moral character of its custodians and its positive contributions to the communalistic universe of Ottoman social values.”

Carter V. Findley, Ohio State University

“Professional historians and sociologists of science have been writing about the Ottoman Empire since the early 1940s, yet no work to date matches the sophistication and fascination of Alper Yalçinkaya’s Learned Patriots. In this engaging study of how nineteenth-century Turks embraced the ‘new science’ of the West to replace the ‘old science’ of the medreses, he sets a very high standard for future scholarship on the subject.”

Ronald L. Numbers, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Table of Contents


1 A New Type of Knowledge for a New Social Group
2 Speakers, Institutions, Discourses of Science in a New Regime
3 Consolidation of the Discourse: Science, State, and Virtue in the 1860s
4 Expansion and Challenge: Young Ottomans, New Alternatives
5 Debating Science in the Late Tanzimat Era: Themes and Positions
6 Inventing the “Confused Youth”: Science, Community, and Morality in the 1880s
7 Science and Morality at the End of the Nineteenth Century


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