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New Trajectories for the Digital Humanities and Ottoman Studies

Session V-05, sponsored by Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association (OTSA), 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
Digital humanities is an important milestone that combines promising new perspectives of computational methods with the humanities. By bringing different specialties together to create a common language, bridging the gap between the humanities and digital spaces, digital humanities has come to represent a comprehensive and layered research process beyond scanning archival documents and now works to make them suitable for deep analysis and machine operations. Ottoman Studies faces many challenges and possibilities when it comes to implementing digital tools into our research and teaching. The aim of this panel is to address those concerns and explore new and exciting trajectories in research that pairs unique digital tools and the study of the Ottoman World. There are many publications and projects which aim to pair Ottoman studies with different research and educational digital tools. The rapid developments in the Digital Humanities have created the need to evaluate its developments and its future in Ottoman studies over the years. This panel, "New Trajectories for the Digital Humanities and Ottoman Studies,” invites scholars, both Ph.D. students and early career academics, to provide a broad array of perspectives on the future possibilities of Digital Humanities in Ottoman Studies highlighting a variety of themes such as GIS and spatial studies, network and text analysis, gaming and historical simulations, digital platforms, and 3D visualizations. The panel also aims to set an agenda for the current situation and recent developments in the field through exemplary projects, platforms, and initiatives that are pioneers in digital Ottoman studies. In addition, the panel aims to create a solution-oriented discussion environment engaging with the technical difficulties and challenges for the application of digital tools in Ottoman studies.
  • This paper will present my current work on the Hajj Trail, a digital teaching tool which aims to present the cultural history of the early modern Ottoman World through an interactive and accessible historical simulation. The project aims to bring the experiences found in early modern pilgrimage narratives to students through an interactive digital platform. The format of The Hajj Trail simulation builds off the style of the 1970s educational simulation 'The Oregon Trail' that generations of American public-school students played during their elementary education. The Hajj Trail expands on the concepts of that older educational tool and repurposes it for an educational introduction to the cultural history of the early modern Islamic World – and in particular the Ottoman Empire. The simulation takes students along the Ottoman caravan route from Istanbul to Mecca where they encounter the beauty and difficulty of traveling in the early modern world as sourced from early modern travel and pilgrimage narratives themselves. The most prominent examples being the travelogues of Evliya Çelebi, Yusuf Nabi, Abu Salim al-Ayyashi, Qutb al-Din al-Nahrawali, Ambrosio Bembo, and Richard Pococke among others. The paper will examine educational outcomes from the use of this teaching tool in classroom. Moreover, I will explain how the project came together, the utility of the user-friendly coding tool Twine, and how similar projects could be put together for the study and teaching of the Islamic World in the future.
  • Ms. Fatma Aladağ
    Digital technologies that are rapidly penetrating the field of humanities, today offer the ability to make multi-layered and complex analyzes. Historiography within the scope of the digital turn has also been affected by this process, and new research methodologies provide the opportunity to ask new perspectives and research questions in historical research. The centuries-old domination of the Ottoman empire and the bureaucratic record-keeping tradition provide huge archive resources. These archives cover the history of nearly 40 countries, including Anatolia, much of the Arab world, the Balkans and Eastern Europe, Crimea, the Caucasus, and Western Iran. Archival resources of this wide geography offer unique data for urban history studies. This article aims to contribute both thematically and methodologically to Ottoman urban history from the perspective of digital humanities. Thematically primary purpose; the study reveals an inventory of 700 Ottoman cities in the first half of the 16th century, organized as provinces (vilayet), sanjaks (sancak), and cities (kaza), from archival sources. It also discusses the reasons for the changes and transformations in the administrative and provincial organization of these cities. Using legal documents such as Kanunname and kadıasker records, and tax system resources such as tahrir registers, it reveals how these various types of sources portray different imperial geography. The methodological contribution of this study is the digital spatialization and visualization of archival data with the Geographic Information System (GIS) using ArcGIS software. Ottoman cities are placed in their current coordinates for the first time at the entire imperial level through GIS. In this respect, as a case study on the application of GIS in Ottoman studies, it provides an opportunity to discuss potentials and challenges by contributing within the scope of digital humanities, digital urban history, and also Ottoman gazetteer studies.
  • Handwritten text recognition (HTR) has emerged as an important method for digital humanities practice in the last decade, especially for the field of history. Transkribus, an EU-funded software package that is designed to train machine-learning based HTR models, has seen great success for multiple, primarily European, languages. In this presentation, I will discuss my ongoing work on training a HRT model for eighteenth century Ottoman Turkish on Transkribus. Having completed two rounds of training, I will comment on the process and the potential of text recognition in Ottoman studies. In my model, I use eighteenth century bureaucratic documents that contain summaries of events and newspaper articles compiled in western borderlands of the Empire. I argue that machine-learning based models for text recognition will expand the horizons of history research and archival studies, allowing for what I call “Ottoman distant reading”. Distant reading is not a replacement for close reading and engagement with historical materials. Computer-generated transcriptions will allow researchers to gather large corpora to apply new questions and approaches to historical sources. I am particularly interested in how Ottoman officials in the borderlands conceptualized news and information. Did they signify that the value of the content that they received from their spies was different from those that they received from their servants or from newspaper translations? Did the location of their sources affect their reliability? These questions and many others would benefit from new approaches. Moreover, there are no tools available for full-text keyword search in Ottoman Turkish documents. Researchers are limited to summaries provided by the archivists in their search queries. These summaries, while helpful, are produced from the perspectives of the archives and may omit some important topics, including those related to marginalized groups and non-hegemonic communities. In my paper, I will outline the process and challenges in editing and curating documents for model training and reflect on the results of different stages of the model training process. Considering that text technologies, including Transkribus are developed with European languages in mind, scholars working with under-resourced languages like Ottoman Turkish have additional barriers. While Ottoman Turkish was written Right-to-Left using Arabo-Persian script, modern academic conventions follow transcription guidelines that produce texts in Latin script. The transcription process also includes the addition of vowels and the reversal of the writing direction. These characteristics of Ottoman Turkish complicate model training but in turn advance the frontiers of text technologies.
  • While being incorporated into various disciplines, the use of 3D computation in historical scholarship has been relatively underutilized. This paper will analyze the medicalization of madness and modernization of its spaces through the simulation of a nineteenth century Ottoman insane asylum. The simulation is created with information I gathered from in-depth research of primary archival and printed documents, located at the intersection of medicine, psychiatry, architecture, and urban studies. I will discuss the evolution and workings of Istanbul Toptaşı Asylum that was used as the state mental hospital between 1873 and 1924. In order to demonstrate the reorganization of the asylum, which, in turn, demonstrates the change in psychiatric practice through spatial analysis and visualization, I examine two aspects: 1) how the buildings transformed over time; 2) what life in the asylum looked like. While the former makes the “passing of time” an integral part of the building, the latter aims to construct the everyday life in the building. The everyday life in the asylum consisted of the acts and movements of its occupiers, in this case, patients, doctors and the staff. By tracing their movements and visualizing them, it becomes possible to have a better understanding of the daily routines (eating, cleaning, sleeping etc.) in addition to the medical treatments that took place through a certain reorganization of space and time. This setting is particularly illuminating as it was assumed at the time that the life and routines of patients in the asylum were crucial components of the healing process. Moreover, it sheds light on the previously unknown chapter in the history of psychiatry. From a technical point of view, I will demonstrate the platform—SpatioScholar—a temporospatial analysis solution my team created for historical and contemporary scholarship. The custom toolset utilizes Unity, which is originally a gaming platform. I will discuss how to leverage features of such platforms without gamifying our subjects. I also will address the opportunities and challenges in working with 3D models
  • Digitale Edition von Quellen zur habsburgisch-osmanischen Diplomatie 1500–1918 (Digital Scholarly Edition of Habsburg-Ottoman Diplomatic Sources 1500–1918), shortly referred to as QhoD, is a digital humanities project of the Institute of Habsburg and Balkan Studies of the Austrian Academy and Sciences. QhoD digitally edits written and material artifacts of Habsburg-Ottoman diplomatic encounters (1500-1918). In the first phase of the project that has been approved by the Austrian Academy of Sciences until December 31, 2024, archival artifacts concerning three eighteenth-century Habsburg-Ottoman grand embassy exchanges are being transcribed and digitally published. The Ottoman documents are translated into English. In my paper, I will present the data curation steps we have so far fulfilled in the QhoD project, hoping to explore along with the other panel participants and audience the potential future implications of our work in the field of digital Ottoman studies. QhoD digitally edits sources using standardized structural and semantic XML mark-up as described in the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines. To summarize, the QhoD implementation that we have so far developed on the QhoD website allows digital marking up of named entities (persons, places, institutional references, etc.) along with the historical vocabulary of any conceivable theme, as well as dates, measurement units, foreign language use, and other relevant sets of information. This marked-up data is searchable and analyzable. The metadata gathered in this way is curated in a joint instance of the Austrian Prosopographical Information System (APIS) shared with another long-term project of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Die Ministerratsprotokolle 1848-1918 (Edition of the Minutes of the Council of Ministers of Austria and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy). In the foreseeable future, APIS will contain hundreds of entries for Ottoman individuals, institutions, and place names. What is the potential of creating a similar digital curation pool for Ottoman historical data? What are additional data sources that could be integrated into a working environment for editing Ottoman documents at large? While QhoD is exploring potential frontiers of digital humanities research in the field of Ottoman studies, another significant feature that we are currently developing on the QhoD’s edition infrastructure is the interlinking of the primary sources with one another via cross-references. This feature will enable readers and future researchers to approach and evaluate a given historical issue from different perspectives and build their own interpretation. We also hope that this feature will be a highly instructive tool for the classroom teaching environment.