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Modern Astronomy in the Ottoman Empire: عوالم فلكيه [Avâlim-i Felekiyye / Cosmic Worlds]



An Ottoman book on modern western astronomical discoveries, edited by Selih Zeki, the director of the Imperial Observatory


8°. [4 pp.] introduction, folding plate, 247 pp. with black and white illustrations in text, [2 pp.] blank, 19 interleaved photographs with irregular numeration, one double-page celestial chart, original broen cloth binding with debossed decoration and gilt lettering on the spine (old annotations in text, binding slightly rubbed on the corners, soft folds, otherwise in a good condition).


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The texts, accompanied by illustrations and photographs, is based on the latest international researches and includes sunspots, detailed photographs of lunar surface, surface of the Mars based on the researches of the astronomer Percival Lowel (1855-1916) Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908), comets, supernovae, solar eclipse etc. The images were taken from contemporary foreign literature.

The editor Salih Zeki (1864-1021) was an Ottoman electrical engineer, mathematician, physicist, astronomer, historian of science and a director of the Imperial Observatory for about 14 years from the early 1896 on. Zeki, who studied at École Supérieure de Télegraphie in Paris, developed interests in astronomy during his post as an assistant-director of the Technical Office of the Ottoman Administration of Posts and Telegraphs, where he was educated by a colleague, Emile Lacoine (1835-1899), who worked as a technical council at the same institution and as a vice-director of the Imperial Meteorological Observatory. Lacoine was a pioneer of electric engineering in the Ottoman Empire, who improved telegraphs and was among others employed at the Suez Canal. Before his sudden death during an appendicectomy, in 1899, Emile Lacoine influenced important scientists such as Salih Zeki and Mehmet Emin Kalmuk (1869 – 1954), a prominent engineer of the late Ottoman Empire and the Early Turkish Republic.

Salih Zeki was also employed as a professor of mathematics, physics and astronomy at the Istanbul University (Darülfünun) and participated on projects, involving international scientists, such as observation of the total solar eclipse in Trebizond on August 21st, 1914.

The book was published in the year, when the Imperial Observatory was destroyed in the so called “31 March Incident”, a riot following the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. After the destruction Salih Zeki left his post of the director of the institution and held his first lectures on the astronomy at the Istanbul University.

The text was written by an Ottoman-Anatolian educator of Armenian origins Hovannes Hagopyan. Not much is known about Hagopyan, who was probably chosen to write the book under Zeki’s supervision to approach the language to educational purposes. He was a member of the Armenian Protestant Church and connected to the American Missionary School. Hagopyan was probably deported and murdered in the Armenian genocide in 1915.

Worldcat lists six institutions housing an example of the book, although it is unclear how many of them are electronic examples.

References: OCLC 54750217, 780179385 (eBooks?); BDK – MİL – ÖZEGE; 1263 – TBTK; 5166; Cf.: Feza GÜNERGUN, Salih Zeki ve astronomi: Rasathane-i Amire müdürlü ğü’nden 1914 tam güne ş tutulmasina, Osmanlı Bilimi Araştırmaları, VII/1, 2005, pp. 97-122.


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