Waiting for Müteferrika: Glimpses of Ottoman Print Culture

Waiting for Müteferrika: Glimpses of Ottoman Print Culture


Orlin Sabev

Series: Ottoman and Turkish Studies
ISBN: 9781618116185 (hardcover)
Pages: 168 pp.; 3 illus.; 2 tables
Publication Date: April 2018

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This book is a study of the first Ottoman/Muslim printer Ibrahim Müteferrika and his printing activity in the first half of the eighteenth century. By reviewing the existing views in narratives dating from the fifteenth through the nineteenth century and modern scholarly works, most of them quite critically discussing the relatively late introduction of Ottoman Turkish/Muslim printing, the book argues that the delay was mainly due to the lack of an appropriate printer who would be capable and eager enough to set a printing house and whom the Ottoman authority could trust. By focusing on Müteferrika’s western-formed mindset the book detects the influence of his printing enterprise upon the transition from scribal tradition to print culture.

Orlin Sabev is Associate Professor at the Institute of Balkan Studies with Centre for Thracology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (Sofia). He has published six books and over a hundred articles in Bulgarian, Turkish, and English on various topics in the field of Ottoman education, print culture, social history and sexuality, in particular: on the history of Ottoman/Muslim education (2001), on the first Ottoman Turkish/Muslim printing press in Constantinople in 1726-1746 (2004 and 2006), on the history of Robert College, founded in Constantinople in 1863 by American missionaries (2014 and 2015), and on the history of Ottoman libraries (2017).


Even if there is no good answer for ‘why’ printing was such a late innovation in the Ottoman realm, we do not lack information about ‘early’ printing in Arabic script in Turkey. In this regard, we owe much, especially in the past two decades, to Sabev, who records an impressive list of his own publications on the subject (21 titles) in his bibliography. In fact, the present book is a synthesis of earlier studies on Ottoman printing, both by Sabev and others. … Sabev’s work is a welcome contribution to the complex subject of Ottoman printing. … Waiting for Müteferrika is a well-written synthesis about one instance when printing became a genuine agent of change.
— Jan Just Witkam, Leiden University, Quærendo Vol. 49
The book sheds light on different aspects of the emergence of the first Ottoman printing press. It also opens multiple questions related to both the historical event of Müteferrika’s endeavour, and to modern historiographical attitude not only towards printing in the context of the Ottoman Empire, but also to questions of decline and comparison to developments in European public sphere. In that context, one further question can be posed: while comparisons with late medieval/early modern European experience with print is valid, is it possible to extend them to other non-European societies, such as the premodern China or India? What would be the meaning of the Ottoman ‘experiment’ with print then? This book is recommended for scholars and students wishing to know more about the 18th century material and technological developments and the effect that Müteferrika’s printing project had on the centuries to come.
— Dzenita Karic, darulfunun ilahiyat Vol. 30, No. 1

Table of Contents

Note on the Front Cover Image
Note on Transliteration
List of Tables
List of Figures

Introduction: In Search of Lost Time?
Chapter 1. The Strange Arts: Printing and Other “Oddities”
Chapter 2. Out of the Ordinary: İbrahim Müteferrika’s Mind-set
Chapter 3. Deus ex Machina: The Müteferrika Press
Chapter 4. They Hadn’t Read My Prints: Success or Failure?
Chapter 5. Virgin or Poison: The Making of Ottoman Print Culture
Conclusion: Waiting for Godot?