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An Example of Ottoman Biological Materialism? A Closer Look at Fikri Tevfik’s Hüceyre Hayatın Esası (Cell: The Essence of Life)
During the diverse Ottoman intellectual life in the Second Constitutional era (1908-1918), discussions on science have intensified in the form of different writings such as translations, adaptations and rewritings. Those scientific productions which could be considered as one of the aspects of late Ottoman modernization were carried out by Ottoman intellectuals from different political and religious backgrounds, such as progressivism, Islamism, materialism, and spiritualism. Among them, one intellectual community, a publishing house named as Teceddüd-i İlmî ve Felsefî Kütüphanesi (The Library of Scientific and Philosophical Renovation), whose founding and acting members are considered as materialists, had fruitfully contributed to the debates on different realms of knowledge production such as natural science, religion, psychology, sociology, and literature. As Ottoman intellectuals in this circle envisioned a comprehensive social transformation and discussed the limits of modernization within the context of novel science of the 19th century, specific focus was given to three main subjects: law of matter (madde kanunu), evolution (tekâmül) and theory of cell (hücre nazariyesi). This paper is concerned with one of the books published by the Library of Scientific and Philosophical Renovation on cell biology Hüceyre: Hayatın Esası (Cell: The Essence of Life) by Fikri Tevfik in 1911. Fikri Tevfik was the brother of Baha Tevfik, the founder of the above-mentioned publishing house. At the time of the publication of this book, Fikri Tevfik was a young graduate of the natural sciences department at the Darülfünûn (an Ottoman University founded in 1900 in Istanbul) and in preparation of continuing his education in Europe. Together with the knowledge he gathered from Darülfünûn lecturers, especially from Esad Şerafeddin Bey, Fikri Tevfik mostly benefited from the works of French botanists of the 19th century such as Gaston Bonnier, Georges Colomb and Édouard Lefèvre. Along with these influences, other intrinsic characters of the book encourage one to categorize it somewhere between a translation and an original writing. Broadly, present paper aims to contextualize this neglected book in the context of late Ottoman scientific production, and also claims that its hybrid character tells about different aspects of Ottoman modernization. Additionally, it aims to challenge the unquestioned views on Ottoman materialism by comparing this book with the other publications of the above-mentioned publishing house. Finally, it searches for its importance and influence in the Ottoman scientific community.
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Ottoman Empire
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