Nir Shafir - The Road From Damascus: Travel and Knowledge in the Seventeenth-century Ottoman Empire

March 27, 2014

SC469, 6pm

In the mid- to late-seventeenth century a number of intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire began writing long travelogues in both Arabic and Turkish in an attempt to develop an epistemology of eye-witnessing through the practice of travel. These travelogues constitute perhaps the largest and most popular set of travel literature for the early modern Middle East. However, these travelers did not venture west into Europe proper or east into Central Asia or south into South Asia. Rather they are narratives of wanderings—part pilgrimage, part discovery—through an expanded Ottoman holy land that stretched from Damascus in the north to Mecca in the south and west towards Cairo and covered everything in between. This presentation briefly examines one or two of these travelers and explores how practices of eye witnessing and encounter functioned within the seemingly familiar cultural sphere of the empire. By looking at the techniques of observation that these travelers cultivated and the questions they attempted to answer, we can perhaps gain a more nuanced understanding of the mobility of knowledge in the early modern world and the place of Ottoman intellectuals within that world.