• World Literature in Practice: The Orientalist's Manuscript between the Ottoman Empire and Germany

    Paul Babinski (see profile)
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    Princeton University
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    This dissertation traces how European “oriental studies” emerged from a sustained encounter with an earlier Ottoman intellectual tradition. In the seventeenth century, books acquired in cities like Istanbul or looted from Ottoman Europe formed the basis of many of the first major collections of Islamic manuscripts in non-Ottoman Europe, and Western European scholars who specialized in the study of Islamic texts worked mostly from sixteenth and seventeenth-century Ottoman commentaries, dictionaries, translations, and bibliographies, often with the help of Muslim scholars. “World Literature in Practice” builds on a broad survey of Islamic manuscripts from early modern German collections to reconstruct the scholarly practices of orientalists and their collaborators. Examining their notes and marginalia, it uncovers an early chapter in the history of world literature during the two centuries before Goethe coined the term, as Ottoman letters became the foundation of orientalist literature. Three chapters follow the strands of this encounter from the early seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. Chapter one looks at the first orientalist readers of Saʿdī’s Gulistān, a work of classical Persian literature which orientalists discovered through its various Turkish and Arabic commentaries and translations. Chapter two follows the formation of diplomatic language schools founded to train interpreters for work in the Ottoman Empire, and the generations of diplomat-orientalists they educated. Chapter three examines how orientalists collected and organized information from Islamic manuscripts in the decades after the formation of major manuscript collections in the second half of the seventeenth century, culminating in the work of Johann Jacob Reiske. A conclusion looks broadly at the transformation of orientalist practices over the early modern period.
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