What do the travelogue of an eighteenth-century Ottoman ambassador and the reflections of a seventeenth-century dervish from Istanbul have in common? They both provide precious insights into Ottoman experiences of epidemics at home and abroad, as encountered while traveling. In 1721, Yirmisekiz Mehmed Efendi wrote an account of his experiences with French quarantine procedures in Provence. In 1661-62, Seyyid Hasan Nûrî Efendi gave a heart-wrenching account of his family’s suffering during a plague outbreak. Despite not practicing European style quarantine for much of the early modern period, Ottoman officials and subjects had a long history of reflecting on, trying to cope with, and even resisting plague and other epidemics. What more can we learn from Ottoman experiences of epidemics? Find out in today’s episode!

“Indeed, when I (Mehmed) was in France, the town of Marseille was, by Divine permission, infected by a cruel plague, from which died 80,000 souls. The disease also spread in Provence, and Toulon, which is in this province, was afraid of the spread of the disease and allowed strangers in only after 20, 30, or sometimes even 40 days. The French call this period of isolation the Lazaret or the quarantine.”

Mehmed Efendi, and Julien-Claude Galland. Relation de l’ambassade de Mehemet-Effendi à la cour de France en 1721. (Translated from Ottoman Turkish and published in French in 1757)


Nükhet Varlık is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Carolina and Rutgers University–Newark. She is a historian of the Ottoman Empire interested in disease, medicine, and public health. She is the author of Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600 (2015) and editor of Plague and Contagion in the Islamic Mediterranean (2017).

Giancarlo Casale is Professor of Early Modern History of the Mediterranean in the Department of History and Civilizations of the European University Institute. His current research focuses on the points of intersection between Ottoman intellectual life and the Italian Renaissance, as well as the history of cartography and of ethnographic modes of writing in Ottoman Turkish. His most recent book, Prisoner of the Infidels: The Memoirs of an Ottoman Muslim in 17th-century Europe is forthcoming from the University of California Press in 2021.

Tunahan Durmaz is a first-year Ph.D. researcher in the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute. His research focuses on Ottoman and European history (15th to 18th centuries) with a particular interest in the social and cultural aspects of diseases. Before starting his Ph.D. research at EUI, Tunahan earned his M.A. at Sabanci University (Istanbul) with a thesis titled “Family, Companions, and Death: Seyyid Hasan Nûrî Efendi’s Microcosm (1661-1665).”

Further Readings

Varlık, Nükhet, Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347–1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
————, (ed.), Plague and Contagion in the Islamic Mediterranean: New Histories of Disease in Ottoman Society (Kalamazoo, MI: ARC Humanities Press, 2017).
————, “The plague that never left: restoring the Second Pandemic to Ottoman and Turkish history in the time of COVID-19” in New Perspectives on Turkey (2020).
————, “Rethinking the history of plague in the time of COVID‐19,” in Centaurus 62:2 (2020).
Casale, Giancarlo, Prisoner of the Infidels: The Memoir of an Ottoman Muslim in Seventeenth-Century Europe by Osman of Timişoara (Berkeley: University of California Press, Forthcoming 2021).
————, “Did Alexander the Great Discover America?: Debating Space and Time in Renaissance Istanbul”, in Renaissance Quarterly 72/3 (2019).
————, “Tordesillas and the Ottoman Caliphate: Early Modern Frontiers and the Renaissance of an Ancient Islamic Institution,” in Journal of Early Modern History 19/6 (2015).

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