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Salih Zeki and astronomy:
From meteorological observatory to the total solar eclipse of 1914

 Feza Günergun

The holders of astronomical knowledge, in late nineteenth century Turkey, were rather diverse. While Ottoman officers taught astronomy (ilm-i heyet) at the Military School (Mekteb-i Harbiye) based on translations made from European astronomy textbooks, the timekeepers (muvakkits) and the astrologers (müneccims) prepared calendars for every day use. The Rasathane-i Amire (literally Imperial Observatory) founded to exchange meteorological data between European and Ottoman stations where Salih Zeki (1864-1921) acted as director for almost 15 years was also an institution in which astronomical observations seem to have been carried on occasionally.

Salih Zeki's interest in astronomy seems to have originated in late 1880s when he was appointed as assistant-director to the Technical Office of the Ottoman Administration of Posts and Telegraphs after his return from Paris where he had studied in the Ecole Supérieure de Télégraphie. The director of this office Emile Lacoine (1835-1899) was knowledgeable in calendar computing and Salih Zeki's early work related to astronomy was to translate the calendar Takim-i Cedid (New Calendar) that E.Lacoine had computed for the Rumi year 1310 (1834). Salih Zeki's researches on medieval Islamic mathematical and astronomical manuscripts aiming to highlight Islamic scholars' contributions to scientific knowledge may have increased his interest in astronomy.

Salih Zeki was appointed director to the Imperial Meteorological Observatory in 1896 following the death of its founder A. Coumbary (1826-1896), a position he held until 1909. Beside his administrative work in the Meteorological Observatory, he compiled his two major works on the history of mathematics and astronomy, taught mathematics, physics and astronomy in Istanbul Darülfünun (University). His request to explore the effects of the 1899 earthquake in Aydın was approved by the Government, but no records of this mission are presently available.

In 1913, Salih Zeki participated to the Conférence Internationale de l'Heure that convened in Paris, as representative of the Ottoman Government. In this conference, the Ottoman Government signed the agreement for the Establishment of the Bureau Internationale de l'Heure and started the preparatory work for the adoption of Universal Time in Turkey.

Salih Zeki was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to participate to the expeditions led by European astronomers to observe the total solar eclipse in Trebizond on August 21, 1914. The actual absence of documents regarding the expeditions leads us to argue that neither Salih Zeki nor other foreign astronomers observed the total eclipse in Trebizond.

Salih Zeki, besides publishing articles on astronomy, translated from French two textbooks on astronomy: Yeni Kozmografya (New Cosmography, Istanbul 1915) and Muhtasar Kosmografya (Abridged Cosmography, Istanbul 1916). A note in Yeni Kozmografya indicates that he proposed to the Ottoman Government a project to improve the Islamic calendar (Mali/Rumi takvim). He also edited the Avalim-i Felekiye (Istanbul 1909), a textbook compiled by H. Hagopyan based on various sources, E. Loomis (1811-1889) being one of them. According to Halil Edhem Eldem (1861-1938) the museologist, Salih Zeki's last work was the catalogue of astrolabes conserved at the Imperial Museum in Istanbul. The present paper while surveying Salih Zeki's activities related to astronomy, also points to new issues that need to be researched further.

Key words: Salih Zeki, astronomy, history of astronomy, cosmography, solar eclipse, calendar, Rasathane-i Amire, Istanbul Meteorological Observatory, H. Hagopyan, E. Loomis; Anahtar kelimeler: Salih Zeki, astronomi, astronomi tarihi, kozmografya, güneş tutulması, takvim, Rasathane-i Amire, H.Hagopyan, E. Loomis.



Son güncelleme: 01.11.2016

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