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Continuity and Change in Turkish Culture


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, specialisation Turkish Studies or to the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research). Proficient reading skills in modern Turkish (level B2 European Common Framework). Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to one of the mentioned master programmes and/or are not sure whether they meet the language requirement are requested to contact the convenors,
Dr G.J. van Schaaik and Dr J. Schmidt


In this series of weekly seminars the focus lies on processes of change and modernization in Turkish culture (in the widest sense) in the period of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey. Continuity and discontinuity in art, architecture & material culture, literature & performing arts, religion, gender, language etc. will be studied. The course analyses how these aspects of culture change in the course of time and focuses on various processes such as interculturalization.
In the first half of the semester, the subject will be the world of Ottoman letters and its development in time. Emphasis will be laid on the production and reception of handwritten texts on the one hand and the gradual acceptance and growing circulation, especially in the 19th century, of the printed book on the other. The seminars will in part be of a practical nature and the students will be asked to work on their skills in reading both printed and handwritten Ottoman texts. Some attention will also be paid on Ottoman philology and the modern practice of editing Ottoman texts.
In the second half of the semester, the focus will be on language and linguistics. Starting off with questions pertaining to the design of a writing system based on Latin characters (many people believe that Turkish has a phonetic rather than a phonological alphabet), we will explain the success of the alphabet reform at hand of the ensuing literacy campaign and go into several aspects of language engineering as the result of the wish to purify “modern” Turkish by eliminating foreign (Arabic and Persian, that is, – but not western) elements of the language.

Course objectives

a. As for the seminars of the first part of the semester, the objectives are for the student: (1) to acquire knowledge of the basic literature on history of the Ottoman book and the practice of Ottoman philology, (2) to enhance his/her skill in reading both printed and hand-written Ottoman texts.
b. The aim of the second part of this course is to bring home to the student that “modern Turkish”, as currently being taught, is not the outcome of natural changes over time as we see them in other language groups and families, but the product of language engineering instigated by revolutionary ideological and political forces. The result is a language which from a typological and lexical viewpoint has drastically branched off from the Turkic group as a whole.



Mode of instruction

Master Class/ Research Seminar

Assessment method

Oral presentations (50%) and paper (50%)


Reading list

Literature relevant for this course:

First Part (Letters):

  • L.D. Reynolds & N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scolars. A Guide to the Transmuission of Greek & Latin Literature, pp. 186-213. Oxford 1968.

  • Jonathan M. Bloom, Paper before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World. New Haven & London 2001.

  • W.A. Churchill, Watermarks in Paper in Holland, England, France, etc. in the XVII and XVIII Centuries and Their Interconnection(Amsterdam 1935);

  • Edward Heawood, Monumenta Chartae Papyryceae Historiam Illustrantia. Hilversum 1950.

  • Gulnar Bosch, John Carswell & Guy Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings and Bookmaking. A Catalogue of an Exhibition, The Oriental Institute, The University of Chicago, May 18 – August 18, 1981. Chicago 1981.

  • Mehmet Eminoğlu, Osmanlı Vesikaların Okumaya Giriş. Ankara 2007.

  • Jan Schmidt, ‘Manuscripts and Their Function in Ottoman Culture; The Fatatri Collection in the Leiden University Library.’ Z. Toska, (ed.), Festschrift in Honor of Güney Kut. Journal of Turkish Studies 28/I (2004), pp. 235-369. Harvard University.

  • İsmail Erünsal, ‘Osmanlılarda Sahhaflık ve Sahhaflar: Yeni Bazı Belge ve Bilgiler’, in: Osmanlı Araştırmaları/ The Journal of Ottoman Studies XXIX (2007), pp. 99-146

Second Part (Language):

  • Bernt Brendemoen, 1990, The Turkish Language reform and Language Policy in Turkey, In: György Hazai (ed.), 1990, Handbuch der türkischen Sprachwissenschaft, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, p. 454-493.

  • Bernt Brendemoen, 1998, The Turkish language Reform, In: Lars Johanson & Éva Csató (eds.), 1998,The Turkic languages, London: Routledge, p. 242-247;

  • Geoffrey Lewis, 1999,The Turkish Language Reform. A Catastrophic Success, Oxford: Oxford University Press;

  • András Róna-Tas, 1998, Turkic Writing Systems. In: Lars Johanson & Éva Csató (eds.), 1998,The Turkic languages, London: Routledge, p. 126-137;

  • Roel Otten, 1999, In: Nicoline van der Sijs, 1999,Taaltrots – Purisme in een veertigtal talen, Amsterdam/Antwerpen: Contact, p. 301-319;

  • Arnout Vrolijk, 1998,Een Turks alfabet op Latijnse grondslag: de alfabet hervorming in Turkije, 1928-1998, Leiden: Universiteitsbibliotheek.


Registration through uSis.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Dr G.J. van Schaaik and Dr J. Schmidt