History of Death and Disease in the Islamicate World

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Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • November 1, 2022

    Influenza in Late Ottoman and British Occupied Iraq - Isacar Bolaños (California State University, Long Beach)
    "In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, influenza spread across the world in two major pandemics—one in 1889-1893, the other in 1918-1920. This paper examines the effects of these pandemics in Iraq during the periods of Ottoman and British rule. It demonstrates that while influenza certainly had an effect on the region, Ottoman and British officials viewed cholera and malaria as bigger issues of concern, particularly in light of Iraq’s ecology and its relation to epidemic diseases. Not only does this reveal an important instance of continuity in how the Ottomans and the British addressed matters of disease control in Iraq; it also suggests that greater attention must be placed on the specificity of location when narrating the global history of influenza, especially in light of recent scholarship that has revealed significant differences in how societies across the Middle East experienced influenza when compared to societies in other parts of the world."  

  • October 4, 2022

    Medical eclecticism and changing epistemologies of disease in the Ottoman medical corpus in the late seventeenth century: A critical approach to the perspectives and concepts (Tunahan Durmaz)
    Based on a chapter in progress for my dissertation, this presentation aims to discuss the issue of change and transformation in the late seventeenth-century Ottoman medical corpus. The late seventeenth century was a period in which Ottoman medical writers densely interacted with contemporary European medicine. Until now scholars of Ottoman science and medicine have approached this phenomenon from several perspectives such as the concept of “new” and translation and so on. In this regard, I intend to adopt an approach through which we can emphasize the eclectic nature of medical knowledge in this corpus. The image emerging via this critical assessment serves as a background to my empirical analysis of the epistemology of disease. Mainly focusing on the writings of two consecutive head physicians at the Ottoman court Sâlih b. Nasrullah b. Sellûm el-Halebî (d. 1669) and Hayâtîzâde Mustafa Feyzî Efendi (d. 1692), I aim to explore the perceptions of disease through the issues of medical authorship and empiricism.   

  • June 7, 2022

    "Don’t Spit on the Ground!:" Anti-Spitting Campaigns and Spittoons in Public Spaces in Early Republican Istanbul, Zehra Betül Atasoy
    Tuberculosis was one of the leading causes of death in early twentieth-century Turkey. The systematic fight against TB would only start after World War II when the state implemented new policies. Before these nationwide attempts, reducing the sputum vector contagion focused on anti-spitting campaigns by changing public manners. I investigate these campaigns to curb tuberculosis transmission in the early Republican period and the placement of spittoons in public spaces such as streets, squares, and public transit, along with places of treatment. I explore these campaigns through their execution by the Istanbul Municipal Police and by examining public opinion and physicians’ comments and suggestions. 

  • May 3, 2022

    Plague, Climate, and Migration: Rural Depopulation in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire During the Little Ice Age (Nükhet Varlık)

    The effects of the Little Ice Age on Ottoman rural society have been so far examined with respect to political and economic changes, social upheaval, and migration. What remains to be better understood is how recurring outbreaks of plague of that era further aggravated this fraught society. Ottoman archival and narrative sources suggest that recurrent plagues led to radical changes in the empire’s demographic structure starting in the late sixteenth century. High levels of rural mortality paired with flight resulted in smaller settlements being abandoned in favor of larger towns and cities. In this presentation, I will discuss the demographic effects of plague on Ottoman society in the unusual climatic context of the Little Ice Age.


  • April 5, 2022

     A “Global” History of the Black Death: New Narratives for the Islamicate World, Monica Green 


    In February 2021, I presented to this group a talk, “Bringing Dols and Conrad into the Genomic Age,” which laid out how and why work from genetics (both paleo- and phylo-) was transforming what could be known about the geographic and even temporal scope of the late medieval plague pandemic we have come to know as the Black Death. My argument was that this expanded definition of the 2nd Plague Pandemic made the Islamicate world central to the whole larger phenomenon. Thus, approaching the question from a “global” perspective that spanned political regimes and even linguistic and cultural borders was essential.
    I am now completing my book, The Black Death: A Global History, and wish to return to the question of the centrality of the Islamicate world in how narratives about the pandemic should be framed, not only for research purposes but also (and even especially) for teaching, whether in the context of Islamic Studies or in general historical surveys. The COVID Pandemic has made very clear the need for “pandemic thinking”: conceiving of pandemics in ways that go beyond accretions of stories from sometimes random documentary accounts to multidisciplinary syntheses that attempt to explain how all the elements that go into creating pandemics—microbial, ecological, climatic, and of course human—fit together to move a disease across vast distances, landscapes, and cultural settings. In other words, this work needs to be scalar and it needs to be global.
    For this talk, I will focus on three elements: 1) the importance of recognizing the uninterrupted cultural history of plague in the Islamicate world, from its 7th-century origins on; 2) the new ways in which the Mongol Empire fits into the story of the Black Death; and 3) the ways in which historiographical accretions in both the Islamicate world and Christian Europe, starting in the 14th century, have occluded key insights that now need to be peeled away in order to recognize the pandemic in all its magnitude. I will conclude with some desiderata for future work.


  • March 1, 2022

    Two Plague Treatises from the Ottoman Empire (Ahmed Tahir Nur and Mehmet Emin Güleçyüz)
    In this session, Ahmed Tahir Nur (Yale University) and Mehmet Emin Güleçyüz (The University of Chicago) will present the contexts and contents of two Arabic plague treatises from the early sixteenth century Ottoman Empire that they are currently editing and preparing for publication. Ilyās b. Ibrāhīm’s Shield from Plagues and Epidemics and Idrīs-i Bidlīsī’s Refraining from Epidemic-Stricken Places were conceived under different conditions and served different purposes. Yet, both treatises were written during a major outbreak of plague, and were devoted primarily to a comprehensive treatment of infectious diseases in general and plagues in particular. Their authors’ theoretical and practical engagement with plague reveals the significance of these plague treatises as historical sources on a number of areas, including transmission of medical knowledge and epistemological, religious and legal debates of the time.

  • February 1, 2022

    Corpse Traffic, Plague, and Cholera in the Late Nineteenth Century Ottoman Iraq
    (Zeinab Azerbadegan) 
    Since the fourth International Sanitary Conference in Istanbul 1866, regulating the traffic of dead bodies to Ottoman Iraq became an international preoccupation in the emerging global public health regime. Corpse traffic was a common and long-standing Shi’i practice, where the faithful transported the bodies of their dead to be buried inside or near the shrines in Ottoman Iraq. This presentation examines the global and local attempts at regulating corpse traffic, focusing on the debates among medical experts to show how medical knowledge production was informed by Orientalist and colonial discourses at the time. Demonstrating the impact of regulating corpse traffic on state-society and inter-imperial relations in Ottoman Iraq, this presentation highlights how the dead body was ascribed different national, class, and religious identities reflecting local and global political, social, and economic concerns in the region.

  • December 7, 2021

    When the Asylum Catches Cholera: Istanbul, 1893, Burçak Özlüdil
    The life of the institutionalized Ottoman mental patients was interrupted in a dramatic way twice between the 1870s and the 1890s due to outbreaks of contagious diseases. While the first—mysterious and contained—disease resulted in a major patient transfer and abandoning of the state insane asylum (Süleymaniye), the second one, the cholera outbreak of 1893, was dealt with differently. This presentation will look at the intersection of madness and contagious disease as it relates to concerns of public health in the Ottoman capital. I will primarily focus on the planned and actual responses of the Ottoman and asylum administration by analyzing the spatial dimensions of the outbreak and the responses inside and outside the asylum.

  • November 2, 2021

    The Life and Times of Hayatizade Mustafa Feyzi (d. 1692): Anxieties of Religious Conversion and Medical Translation (Duygu Yildirim) 
    This paper explores how and why certain medical translations became successful during the times of religious conflict in the early modern era. By focusing on the understudied relation between religious conversion and medical discourse, this paper scrutinizes the Ottoman imperial physician, Hayatizade Mustafa’s (d. 1692) medical work entitled, Curative Treatise for Difficult Diseases. As a Jewish convert to Islam, Hayatizade’s translations provided him a space in which he used the discourses of “utility” and “progress” to refute classical Islamic medical tradition. Hayatizade’s engagement with melancholy reveals the ways in which medical discourse became a polarized setting where religious identities were negotiated during the time of religious conflict in the Ottoman Empire.

  • October 5, 2021

    In this session, Nukhet Varlik and Ece Turnator will introduce the Black Death Digital Archive, a new resource of interest to the members of the HIDIW working group. "The Black Death Digital Archive (BDDA) is a multidisciplinary portal for researching the Second Plague Pandemic, i.e., outbreaks of plague that started with the mid-fourteenth-century Black Death and their recurrences across Afro-Eurasia the 13th century to the 19th" 

Group Conveners

  • Tunahan.Durmaz's picture

    Tunahan Durmaz

    Tunahan Durmaz is a third-year Ph.D. researcher in the Department of History at the European University Institute, Florence. His research mainly focuses on Ottoman and European histories (15th to 18th centuries) with a special interest in social and cultural aspects of communicable diseases. Durmaz comes from a diverse background of humanities encompassing not only history but also history of art and architecture. He earned his BA (with honors) in History and Architecture (minor) in Middle East Technical University in June 2016, and his master’s degree in Sabancı University with a thesis titled “Family, Companions, and Death: Seyyid Hasan Nûrî Efendi’s Microcosm (1661-1665).”


  • HIDIW's picture

    Nukhet Varlik

    Nükhet Varlık is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University–Newark. She is a historian of the Ottoman Empire interested in disease, medicine, and public health. She is the author of Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600 (2015) and editor of Plague and Contagion in the Islamic Mediterranean (2017). Her new book project, “Empire, Ecology, and Plague: Rethinking the Second Pandemic (ca.1340s-ca.1940s),” examines the six-hundred-year Ottoman plague experiencein a global ecological context. In conjunction with this research, she is involved in developing the Black Death Digital Archive and contributing to multidisciplinary research projects that incorporate perspectives from palaeogenetics (ancient DNA research in particular), bioarchaeology, disease ecology, and climate science into historical inquiry.


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