Project (2022)

Water, Agriculture, and Science in Early Modern Istanbul

The authors of the earliest Islamic agricultural treatises extensively discussed the exploration of underground water and the building of water wells. However, between 1500 and 1700 Ottoman agricultural authors, unlike the Arabic classics upon which they drew, did not describe methods of locating underground water and digging wells in their writings. This was certainly not the result of a hiatus in well building after 1500. On the contrary, water well construction is attested in a plethora of Ottoman narrative sources and archival documents. In fact, well building intensifies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in both major urban centers and countrysides in the Islamic world. During my visiting fellowship, I will research why and how knowledge about underground water exploration and well construction moved from agricultural treatises and agricultural science to other bodies of knowledge. How did well construction, which originated as part of Islamic agricultural science and writings, come to constitute a separate science in the mid-seventeenth century? My research will consider a variety of texts: agricultural treatises, biographies of architects, hagiographies of Sufi saints, writings, poetry, travel accounts, and visual depictions of water well construction. This wide spectrum of writings and visual representations could elucidate the perceptions in Ottoman society of the expertise related to the extraction of underground water and its relationship to agricultural theory and practice.