history in Turkey: A review of past studies and recent researches”
Chair for History of Science, Faculty of Letters
34459 Beyazıt – Istanbul
Interest in medical
history in Turkey started in 1870s within the nationalistic movement led by
Turkish physicians endeavouring for the teaching of medical sciences in Turkish
and not French, the teaching language at the Medical School at Istanbul. Their
aim was to prove that medical sciences had a long tradition within the Islamic
world and thus, Turkish was an appropriate langage for the teaching of medical
sciences. Dr. Hüseyin Remzi (1839-1896) , a leading member of the group,
projected to compile a three volume work, including chapters on the history of
Turkish and Islamic medical sciences. Although he could only publish a single
volume (Tarih-i Tıb, Istanbul 1887)
related to medical history in ancient civilisations, this volume can be
considered among the early medical history books issued in Turkish.
In the first decades of
the twentieth century, studies on medical history focused especially the
history of Turkish medicine. The leading idea was to prove that Turks practiced
medicine and produced medical works throughout their history. Physicians such
as Osman Şevki Uludağ (1889-1964) and Galip Ata [Ataç] (1879-1947) wrote on
medical history with the purpose of refuting European views claiming that Turks
were enemies of science and confirming Turkish contributions to Islamic science.
Dr. Rıza Tahsin’s (1875-1950) work on the history of the Imperial School of
Medicine (Mirat-ı Mekteb-i Tıbbiye,
1912) published in the same period, was one of the earliest books written on
the history of a medical institution.
With the foundation of
the “Institute for Medical History” in 1933 in the Faculty of Medicine of
Istanbul University, research activities acquired an institutional basis. The
head of the institute, Dr. Süheyl Ünver (1898-1986), was engaged in the study
of medical history in order to disprove the assertions of French doctors
arguing that medical institutions in Turkey were established by foreigners.
Thus, he tried to find out the sources of Turkish medicine. He published
“Medicine of the Uygurs” (1936) and “History of Seljuk Medicine” (1943). He tried
to prove that Avicenna, Rhazes, Biruni and Farabi were Turkish. His researches
and that of his contemporaries were highly colored by the state’s policy (the
newly founded Turkish Republic, 1923) stressing the Turkish presence in the
history of civilisation. In his numerous articles, S. Ünver treated a wide
variety of subjects. He created the first journal on Turkish medical history (Tıp Tarihi Arkivi, 1935) and founded the
Turkish Society for History of Medicine (1938). The latter was helpful in
bringing together Turkish medical historians for various activities.
The establishment of the
chairs for medical history in Ankara (1946), Istanbul (2nd chair in 1967),
İzmir (1965) and other cities during the last two decades of the 20th century, widened
the interest in medical history. National symposia regularly organized since
1988, graduate programs conducted in various Turkish universities promoted new
researches which mainly focused the following topics: medical manuscripts
produced during the Ottoman classical period (15th-17th c.); medical schools
and the teaching of medical sciences in Turkey throughout the Ottoman period
(14th to 210th c.) the introduction of European medical knowledge into Turkey
(17-19th c.) the biographies of Turkish physicians, the traditional (darüşşifas) and modern hospitals.
It is hoped that the
present paper which aims to review researches made so far, will also draw
attention to new sources and topics to be inverstigated in the future. The
present study will try to give an idea about the medical traditions, medical
teaching and practice in Turkey between 15th to 20th century.