Recommend to your Librarian

Plague, Quarantines and Geopolitics in the Ottoman Empire

Birsen Bulmus

Hardback (Printed to Order)

A sweeping examination of Ottoman plague treatise writers from the Black Death until 1923

Did you know that many of the greatest and most colourful Ottoman statesmen and literary figures from the 15th to the early 20th century considered plague as a grave threat to their empire? And did you know that many Ottomans applauded the establishment of a quarantine against the disease in 1838 as a tool to resist British and French political and commercial penetration? Or that later Ottoman sanitation effort to prevent urban outbreaks would help engender the Arab revolt against the empire in 1916?

Birsen Bulmus explores these facts in an engaging study of Ottoman plague treatise writers throughout their almost 600-year struggle with this epidemic disease. Along the way, she addresses the political, economic and social consequences of the methods they used to combat it.

Key Features

  • Studies the premodern ways in which plague was viewed by Ottoman Islamic thinkers
  • Traces the eventual Ottoman acceptance of quarantines and other modern medical reforms
  • Analyses international debates over plagues and quarantines as a struggle about colonialism and national sovereignty


1. Preliminary Remarks
2. Conceptualizing Plague in Ottoman Islamic Thought
3. Plague & Ottoman Medical Thought
4. Magic & Plague in the Ottoman Empire
5. Hamdan Bin El-Merhum Osman & the Ottoman Quarantine Reform
6. Plague & Quarantines in the Colonial Era
7. Plague, Sanitary Administration, and the End of Empire
8. Towards a New Understanding of Plague and Quarantines in the Ottoman Empire

About the Author

Dr Birsen Bulmus is an Assistant Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at Appalachian State University. Her academic research fields are the history of medicine, Ottoman history, and the history of the Islamic world. This book is an expanded version of her dissertation she submitted at Georgetown University in May 2008. She extensively utilized Ottoman Turkish, Modern Turkish, English and French primary sources in order to complete this project.


'The wealth of primary sources utilized in the book breathes life into these discussions and provides a nuanced approach. This is a fine work that offers new information and new perspectives.'
- James N. Tallon (Lewis University), H-War

‘One of the great strengths of the book is its effort to show the overlap between Ottoman and early modern European responses to the plague. Bulmuş is able to point to striking similarities between Ottoman and European references to cabbalistic, talismanic, and astrological understandings of plague.’

- Michael Christopher Low, Columbia University, Review of Middle East Studies

- Michael Christopher Low, Columbia University, Review of Middle East Studies

'An exceptionally readable work that explains how, from the 1400s, internal and external forces drove Ottoman public health.'

- David W. Tschanz, AramcoWorld

Bulmus provides a truly remarkable synthesis of medical history and the history of European-Ottoman relations. Scientific complexities are clearly explained in the contexts of the rise of modern science and modern European imperialism. Bulmus utilizes a wide range of sources, including previously under-used Muslim sources, to strengthen her analysis.

- John Voll, Professor of Islamic History and Associate Director, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University

You might also like ...