Ottoman Court Records Project

The Ottoman Court Records Project, under the direction of Professor Cemal Kafadar, was begun with funding from the Packard Humanities Institute.

Students of Ottoman history have long been aware of the value of the Ottoman court registers (sicils) as a fount of information not only for the evolution of Ottoman legal thought, but also for the social and cultural history of the empire. Mundane issues such as inheritance problems, guild disputes, and routine transfers of property are found alongside more colorful descriptions of kidnappings, thefts, and accusations of witchcraft.

First conceived as a project intended to make these documents more readily available not only to Ottoman scholars outside of Turkey, but also to the wider academic community, particularly those in disciplines such as law for whom the Ottoman court registers would constitute a new and untapped source. Since its inception, though, it has blossomed into an international effort involving the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (Harvard University), the Center for Islamic Studies (ISAM), and Sabanci University Press.

The first goal of this project was to complete the transliteration of several representative court registers from early 19th Century Istanbul. CMES Fellows managed this aspect of the project, with CMES students contributing their expertise to the transliteration and the compilation of a concordance. Close attention was paid to all details: a special font was even created for the transliterations, to assure an aesthetically pleasing result.

The second goal was to publish two companion volumes. The first, Isanbul Mahkemesi, Ser’iyye Sicili No. 121 (Sabanci University Press, forthcoming) together with a Concordance of Ottoman Court Records from the year 1232 – 1816 on CD-Rom. The second, the English rendering of these dense texts.

The intention of the second volume is to use very literal translations in order to give the reader a sense of the language of the Ottoman originals. The reader might thus achieve a more nuanced understanding of the Ottoman conception of justice as reflected in the decrees that documented court proceedings.

A workshop organized by Professor Cemal Kafadar for this project is planned for early fall, 2015.

See also: Turkey