Turkey Season

It’s not hard to figure out why Turkey, and its preceding political entities, the former Ottoman Empire, Byzantine Empire,  and Eastern Roman Empire, have been written about at length by western European diplomats, historians, and travelers.   The region which encompasses some of the earliest sites of permeant human settlement, is positioned at a critical geographic point for trade, and has a distinct and rich culture of food, art, literature, and architecture.

page of a book
“The Life of Solyman” from ‘The Generall Historie’

The DeGolyer Library is home to a number of books on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, from early modern political histories to travel guides and essays that help define Romantic Orientalism. One of the earliest works in our collection is The Generall Historie of the Turkes, written by historian Richard Knolles.  Published in 1603, it was part of what was then a trend of 16th and early 17th century works about Turkey.  These titles, particularly the histories, were usually published in Latin, making Knolles’ work the first to appear in English. It’s not surprising that studies of the Ottoman Empire were popular during Knolles’ life, as it had become one of the dominant economic, political, and military powers in the world.


Title page and frontispiece
‘The History of the Present State of the Ottoman Empire’ title page

Knolles’ work was popular enough to see multiple editions reprinted over the century, with updates from later authors, including Edward Grimestone and Ambassador Sir Thomas Roe.  In 1700, Sir Paul Rycaut wrote an edition of Generall Historie, which built on his existing reputation as an authority on the Ottoman Empire, earned through his service as private secretary to Heneage Finch, ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and as British Consul at Smyrna. What made Rycaut truly famous in regard to Ottoman studies was his 1666 book The History of the Present State of the Ottoman Empire. This was the first English account by an author with a personal in-depth understanding of the Empire, though it was also shaped by the legacy of Generall Historie, as well as the contemporary politics of the Stuart Restoration. The numerous editions received attest to its popularity throughout Europe.


Black and white illustration of a man in front of buildings by a river
An illustration from ‘Beauties of the Bosphorus’

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Romanticism took hold of Europe’s intelligentsia. Characterized by a glorification of the past, nature, and emotions, the movement birthed a wave of Orientalism.  A Western tradition of scholarship and art anchored in a fascination with the eastern world, particularly Islam and the Middle East, Orientalism is also defined by a prejudiced outsider’s interpretation of the history and cultures it focuses on. During the period, travelogues and memoirs of Turkey became fashionable.  The DeGolyer has a number of examples of this genre, including Records of Travels in Turkey, Greece, &c (1833) by Adolphus Slade, Travels in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Turkey (1827) by George Matthew Jones, and The Beauties of the Bosphorus [sic], written by novelist Julia Pardoe in 1838, which is pictured here. Bosphorus features Pardoe’s rumination on society in Istanbul, and features numerous illustrations of the region and its natural and architectural beauty.



If you’d like to learn more about any of the books mentioned above, contact Christina Jensen at cwjensen@smu.edu



Ingram, Anders. Writing the Ottomans : Turkish History in Early Modern England, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.libraries.smu.edu/lib/southernmethodist/detail.action?docID=4000881.