MEM Best Dissertation Prize

Middle East Medievalists is pleased to announce its inaugural prize for Best PhD Dissertation on the Medieval Middle East.

The 2018 MEM dissertation prize was awarded to Ahmet Tunç Şen‘s work, “Astrology in the Service of the Empire: Knowledge, Prognostication, and Politics at the Ottoman Court, 1450s–1550s” (University of Chicago, 2016).

It is the committee’s distinct pleasure to award Ahmed Tunç Şen’s dissertation “Astrology in the Service of the Empire: Knowledge, Prognostication, and Politics at the Ottoman Court, 1450s-1550s” (University of Chicago, 2016) with the inaugural Middle East Medievalists dissertation prize. His excellent dissertation is well-written, using primary sources from Arabic, Turkish and Persian on a largely neglected topic: namely, the role and site of astrology and astrologers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, particularly in the Ottoman Empire but not exclusively. Şen uses largely ignored astrological yearly almanacs, archival documents, literary sources, classifications of sciences, astronomical tables, and many more sources to challenge the sidelining of astrology amongst historians of science and Ottoman historians. Moreover, he uses the examples from astrology to illuminate and draw larger conclusions concerning the intersection of science, politics and culture in the late medieval and early modern period of the Ottoman Empire. The dissertation is very nuanced and takes advantage of recent studies that have challenged: a) the traditional decline narrative of history of science and knowledge production and b) the marginalization of the occult and astrological sciences. He parses numerous works to see how and where astrology was attacked, by whom, and for what purpose, while simultaneously showing how it was taught, cultivated, patronized and transformed as a science. Şen’s pathbreaking work is a strong intervention into the field of medieval and early modern astrology.

Kristina Richardson (Queens College, City University of New York; chair of MEM’s dissertation prize committee)

Committee members: Nahyan Fancy (DePauw University), L. Gershon Lewental (Shalem College, Jerusalem, Israel), Boris Liebrenz (Saxon Academy of Sciences), Stephennie Mulder (UT-Austin).