Institutionalization of Scientific History of Istanbul University

The aim of this paper is to introduce the research and teaching activities of the Chair of History of Science, Faculty of Letters, Istanbul University. Established in 1984 (Chairpersons: E. İhsanoğlu 1984-2001; F. Günergun 2001—), the Chair was instrumental in conducting and promoting researches on history of science in Turkey as well as in the teaching of this discipline throughout the past twenty years. The teaching activities started in the academic year 1985-86 and elective courses on history of science were offered to the students of the Philosophy Department. These courses became compulsory in 1986. In 1989, the Chair was given the status of a department and launched in 1992, a “4-year undergraduate program” leading to a “BA degree in history of science.” This undergraduate program, the first of its kind in Turkey, included, besides courses on history of science, courses on mathematics, physics, astronomy, logic, sociology and history of philosophy. The 4-year program was however abolished in 1999 and a year later, the “Department of History of Science” was relegated to its former status: A chair within the Philosophy Department. Although the members of the Chair carried on their own researches, the main inconvenience of this retrograde decision was that no students could ever enroll in the 4-year undergraduate program with the aim to be trained in history of science. These decisions also hindered the access of students to the graduate program, since only departments and not chairs are allowed to recruit graduate students in the Turkish universities. Thus the Chair had to be contented with a few graduate students enrolled in the Philosophy graduate program. The underlying arguments that led to the abolishment of the 4-year BA program still remain undisclosed. The re-opening of the program leading to a BA in history of science in the universities, and the inclusion of history of science courses in the secondary education are particularly necessary in Turkey and will no doubt help students to direct themselves towards scientific activities. Presently, the Chair offers a number of elective courses to the students of the Faculty of Letters and two compulsory courses to the students of the Philosophy Department. The graduate program in history of science started in 1988. Until the year 2004, 5 PhD and 13 MA theses have been defended. The main themes under study were the teaching of various sciences in educational institutions; scholars and their scientific output; the transfer of modern sciences, technologies or scientific theories, the production scientific works, journals and the related issues with special focus on the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) and Turkish Republic (from 1923 onwards). The main reason for initiating and carrying on historical studies on science and technology on these periods was the limited number of research available. Other eras such as Hittites, Ilkhanids, Timurids and Medieval Islam were also investigated. The Chair of History of Science also initiated in 1995 the publication of Osmanlı Bilimi Araştırmaları / Studies in Ottoman Science, a bi-annual referee journal where historical studies on science, technology and medicine are published. Most of the articles deal with scholars, institutions and scientific works that flourished in the Ottoman Empire. Books on related subjects are also reviewed. The Chair also organized a number of national symposia and collaborated with several institutions to organize international scientific meetings to promote researches on history of science in Turkey.


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