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German chemists in Istanbul during WWI and the reformation of chemical education at the University (Darülfünun)

Feza Günergun

The leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress, following their ascension to power in 1913, undertook a number of reforms at the University (the Darülfünun) in Istanbul aiming to improve the quality of teaching. The political and military alliance struck with Germany, coupled with German aspirations to become culturally influential in the Turkish world, paved the way for the arrival of up to 20 German professors in Istanbul during WWI, among them, three chemists. Franz Schmidt, the adviser to the Ottoman Minister of Education, coordinated the selection and invitation of scholars from Germany.

Emil Fischer, the head of the Institute of Chemistry at Berlin University was influential in the selection of young chemists to be appointed to the Faculty of Science of the Darülfünun. In Autumn 1915, the three chemists arrived in Istanbul: Fritz Arndt (1885-1968) undertook the teaching of inorganic chemistry, Kurt Hoesch (1882-1832) organic chemistry, and Gustav Fester (1882-1965), industrial chemistry. A new building (Yerebatan Kimya Enstitüsü)was allocated to the institute of inorganic and industrial chemistry, where six laboratories, a library and an amphitheater specially designed for chemistry courses were set. Equipment and chemicals were imported from Germany. The newly designed undergraduate program for chemistry commenced with the academic year 1917-1918.

Professor F.Arndt, formerly privat dozent in inorganic chemistry in Breslau University was probably the most active of the three chemists. While he was the consultant in the renovation of the building which would house the inorganic and industrial chemistry institutes, he compiled two inorganic chemistry books to be used in the laboratory courses. Both were translated into Turkish by his young Turkish colleagues, who had previously studied chemistry in Berlin. He also recommended and supervised the translation of two books on qualitative and quantitative analysis of inorganic substances from German to Turkish. These books were translations of works of professors from the Breslau University, and of other German chemists. Praktikums were at the core of he undergraduate program. The students were expected to spend most of their time in the laboratories. This was a novelty when compared with previous teaching. The newly translated chemistry books from German chemists replaced the Turkish chemisty books based on French authors. The translation work went alongside the coining of new chemical terms derived from Arabic. These Ottoman terms, however, were used for about a decade and then replaced by 'pure Turkish' (Öz Türkçe) terms derived from Turkish or European languages.

The Young Turk policy to promote industrialisation in Turkey coincided with the emergence of chemistry as an applied science, and led the Ottoman administrators to invest in the teaching of chemistry, allocating a rather sophisticated building and substantial resources despite war-time conditions, and inviting three chemists at once, when a single professor was appointed for other disciplines. This is also reflected inclusion of of Emil Fischer, the most famous organic chemist of the time, in the list of professors to be invited to the University where chemical research was at its embryonic stage. Although the German project of transforming Darülfünun after a German University was not endorsed by the Minister of Education, the emphasis given by Arndt and Fester to chemistry teaching in the laboratory, would have deep and long lasting impact in the chemical education in Turkey.

Key words: Darülfünun, German chemists, Fritz Arndt, Gustav Fester, Kurt Hoesch, teaching of chemistry, Young Turk Revolution, Turkey; Anahtar kelimeler: Darülfünun, Alman Kimyagerler, Fritz Arndt, Gustav Fester, Kurt Hoesch, kimya eğitimi, İkinci Meşrutiyet, Türkiye.


Son güncelleme: 01.11.2016

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