OTTOMAN MEDICINE AND TRANSCULTURALISM FROM THE SIXTEENTH THROUGH THE EIGHTEEN CENTURY
The notion is generally accepted that a society's attitudes toward health, as well as its development of particular medical practices, are reflective of its social order and religo-cultural value system. According to this precept it should be sraightforward task to situate the development of Ottoman medical practice within the appropriate societal context. The Ottomans fostered an environment in which nonconforming cultures and unassimilated subcultures -ranging from the full spectrum of Judeo-Christian sectarien traditions to a variety of heteredox Islamic communities- coexisted comfortably. The examination of Ottoman medicine allows us significantly to change how we see segmentary Ottoman society-which in the crudest portrayals has been shown as divided into two mutually hostile groups: the priviledged Muslim majority, on the one hand, and the non-muslim, or "subject" peoples, on the other - and shows us some of the ways in which certain groups' material interests, otherwise seen as divergent, converged at certain key points. It may be stated in semiaxiomatic fashion that it was the trinity of syncretism, multiculturalism, and ethnic and religious pluralism that gave Ottoman civilization its characteristic stamp; and the creative blending of traditions which the Ottomans achieved in the field of medicine serves as a clear example of the multicultural character of Ottoman action and thought.
Traditionally, the study of Ottoman medicine has been relegated to one of four main methodological schools. In the first and perhaps most prevalent approach, the history of Ottoman medicine has been studied as a branch of the history of science and technology. In the second approach, it has been studied as a branch of history of ideas. A third approach has been to study Ottoman medicine as a branch of Ottoman institutional history, placing the major emphasis on the education and training of physicians. Finally, there is the school that studies Ottoman medicine as a branch of biography; this school's main concern is to analyze well-known physicians' written works and assess their professional reputations.
To properly assess the evolution of Ottoman medicine, one must examine the broadest possible spectrum of evidence from both artifactual and written sources. The following account of the state of current and prospective research on Ottoman medicine is an attempt to identify and assess the relative importance of some underutilized and not very accessible categories of information. From clues gleaned from a broad array of different source, it may be possible to identify popular attitudes on health and health care issues, and to isolate those elements- apart from the preference for self-administered drug therapy and the avoidance of inessential surgery that can be said to typify the style of Ottoman medicine. Among the potential sources for this study, the following five types of data should be given special consideration:
* Archival evidence, in particular the Ottoman judicial recods, or kadı sicilleri, which can serve as a source for official regulations and legislative activity, and for registration of individual complaints
* Autobiographical accounts, personal reminiscences, and the Ottoman biographical literature
* The atasöz (folk sayings) collections, poetry, and popular theater; that is, the literary evidence
* Rural medicine and folk practices and beliefs as documented by field observation, collection of the material evidence (e.g., artifacts such as written charms and amulets), and oral histories;
* The travel literature, a corpus that has a particular value for the study of Ottoman medicine because of the fact that the travelers, in their search for the exotic and unusual, were likely to comment in detail on matters that Ottoman sources passed over without mention as either common knowledge or unimportant.
It is valid, I believe, to speak of the Ottomans as having developed something that in its approach and spirit -though not, of course, in its content or methods- was very close to modern holistic medicine. In both, the emphasis is placed upon the triad of body, the mind, and the environment. The Turks also emphasized the importance of empathetic care and good bedside manner to the patient's quick recovery; and to my mind it is these aspects of Turkish medicine rather than its much discussed "empiricism" that most typify it. Another characteristic feature of Ottoman medicine is the multiplicity of its sources of inspiration. The Ottomans inherited their medical lore from a variety of different and sometimes antithetical traditions, which included their own Central Asian and shamanistic folk traditions, Hellenistic medicine, Romanized Galenic medicine, and the rich scientific tradition of Middle Eastern and Arab Islamic medicine, in addition to the traditions of their most immediate imperial predecessors in Anatolia, the Seljukids and the Byzantines, both of whom possessed well-developed health care systems of their own. Some of these traditions continued in only superficially Ottomanized form, but the Ottoman tradition was created syncretically from all of these disparate elements, and was uniquely interpreted and blended for application according to the Ottoman's own cultural and pragmatic priorities.
Insufficient attention has been paid to identifying those aspects of Ottoman medical lore which bore a uniquely Ottoman stamp. Unavoidably, during the long historical period between roughly AD 1300 and 1900, there arose from eternal as well as axternal sources much that was new, and these novel aspects deserve more thorough investigation and treatment than they have received to date. As I have attempted to show, once we have sufficiently broadened our focus it may be possible to reconstruct a more balanced view of the Ottoman physician's world and to describe the nature of his connection with the social environment in which he operated.