Where Intellectual and Environmental Histories Meet: Kashf al-ẓunūn and its Addenda as a Source for Ottoman Environmental History

By M. Fatih Çalışır

Main themes of environmental history

Environmental history is a kind of history that seeks an understanding of human beings as they have lived, worked, and thought in relationship to the rest of nature through the changes brought by time. As a relatively new field, it explores:

1) The influence of environmental factors on human history,

2) The environmental changes caused by human actions and the many ways in which human-caused changes in the environment rebound and affect the course of change in human societies,

3) The history of human thought about the environment and the ways in which patterns of human attitudes have motivated actions that affect the environment.

J. Donald Hughes, What is Environmental History? Second Edition, Cambridge: Polity, 2016, p. 4

Kâtip Çelebi and His Kashf al-ẓunūn

Kâtip Çelebi or Haji Khalifa (1609-1657) was a passionate bibliophile and a prolific Ottoman scholar who wrote, among many other works, Kashf al-ẓunūnʿan asāmi al-kutub wa al-funūn (“The Removal of Doubt from the Names of Books and the Sciences”), a bibliographical encyclopedia giving information on circa 14.500 Arabic, Persian, and Turkish texts in almost three hundred scientific branches. Covering the books written up to the mid-seventeenth century in the Islamic world, Kâtib Çelebi’s Kashf al-ẓunūn was based on the Miftāḥ al-Saʿāda wa-miṣbāḥ al-Siyādah (Key to Happiness and Lamp of Lordship) by the sixteenth-century Ottoman scholar, Ṭāshköprüzāda (d. 1560). Kashf al-ẓunūn became a well-received reference study and the followers of Kâtib Çelebi, including Bağdatlı İsmail Pasha who completed his work in 1910, produced nine addenda (zeyls) for it in the following centuries and thus created the most important single and continuing source to follow scholarly production in the Ottoman Empire from its early centuries up until its collapse during the First World War.

Kashf al-ẓunūn ʿan asāmī al-kutub wa-l-funūn, the authorʼs copy
Kashf al-ẓunūn ʿan asāmī al-kutub wa-l-funūn, the authorʼs copy | Picture: Süleymaniye Manuscript Library, Carullah Efendi, 1619.

Editions and translations of the Kashf al-ẓunūn:

  • d’ Herbelot’ translation into French:
    • Bibliothèque orientale, ou Dictionnaire universel contenant généralement tout ce qui regarde la connaissance des peuples de l’Orient ,… par M. d’Herbelot. [Précédé d’un discours-préface d’A. Galland] A Paris : Par la Compagnie des Libraires, 1697.
  • Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall’s compilation in German based on the Kashf al-ẓunūn:
    • Enzyklopädische Übersicht der Wissenschaften des Orients. Leipzig, 1804.
  • Flügel’s Latin translation with Arabic text
    • Gustav Leberecht Flügel, Lexicon bibliographicum et encyclopaedicum… 7 vols. (I-Il, Leipzig 1835-1837, III-VII, London 1842-1858)
  • Cairo and Istanbul editions
    • Hacı Halife, Keşfu’z-zunûn ‘an esâmi al-kütüb veʼl-fünûn. 2 vols. Cairo: Bulak, 1274/1858.
    • Hacı Halife, Keşfu’z-zunûn ‘an esâmi al-kütüb veʼl-fünûn, 2 vols. İstanbul, 1310-1311/1892-1893.
  • Yaltkaya and Bilge edition
    • Hacı Halife, Keşfu’z-zunûn ‘an esâmi al-kütüb veʼl-fünûn, 2 vols. İstanbul: MEB, 1941-43; Second print İstanbul 1971-1972; and facsimile edition in Tahran h. 1378/1967). The best edition so far.
  • Rüştü Balcı’s Turkish translation (Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 2007).

The addenda (zeyls) of the Kashf al-ẓunūn:

  • Vişnezâde Mehmed İzzetî Efendi (d. 1092/1681), the manuscript is not available.
  • Hüseyn el-Abbâsi en-Nebhânî (d. 1683), El-Tezkaruʼl-Âmîiʼl-Âsâr (Süleymaniye, Yeni Camii, 815)
  • Arabacılar Şeyhi İbrahim Efendi (d. 1775), Zeyl-i Keşfüʼz-Zünûn, printed in the 1857 Cairo and 1892-93.
  • Riyâzîzâde Abdüllatîf b. Muhammed b. Mustafa er-Rumî (d. ?), Esmâuʼl-Kütübiʼl-Mütemmim li-Keşfiʼz-Zünûn, printed in Cairo in 1977 and Damascus in 1983.
  • Hanifzâde Ahmed Tahir Efendi (d. 1802), Asâr-ı Nev, printed at the end of the six volume of Flügel’s Latin translation of Kashf al-ẓunūn. Also published in Cairo in 1977 by Muhammad Altunci.
  • Şeyhülislam Arif Hikmet Bey (d. 1859), İstanbul Üniversitesi, İbnülemin, AY, nr. 2464; TY, nr. 2532; Yapı Kredi Araştırma Kütüphanesi, Y. 835.
  • İsmail Saib Sencer (d. 1940). He made his corrections and additions to a printed copy of the Kashf al-ẓunun and gave it to Şerafettin Yaltkaya.
  • Bağdatlı İsmail Paşa (d. 1920), İzahuʼl-Meknun fi Zeyli ala Keşfiʼz-Zünun an Esmaiʼl-Kütüp veʼl-Fünun, printed in 1945-47 by Şerafettin Yaltkaya and Rifat Bilge.
  • Ahmed Şemseddin, Feharisüʼl-Alami Keşfüʼz-Zunun an Esamiyuʼl-Kütüp veʼl-Fünun. Beyrut: Darüʼl-Kütübüʼl-İlmiyye, 1992-93.
  • Şeyh Ağa Bozorg-i Tehrânî, Zeyl-i Keşfüʼz-Zunun. Tahran, 1387/1947.

Classification of sciences and scholarly works (Tasnîfu’l-ʿulûm wa’l-kutub) in Islamic intellectual tradition — major works:

  • al-Kindī (d. 866), Risālat al-ʿilm wa-aqsāmihi (Epistle on science and its divisions)
  • al-Fārābī (d. 950), Iḥṣāʾ al-ʿulūm (Enumeration of sciences)
  • Ibn al-Nadīm (d. 990), al-Fihrist (Index)
  • al-Ḫuwārizmī/Harezmî (d. 997), Mafātīḥ al-ʿulūm (Keys of sciences)
  • al-Tawḥīdī (d. 1023), Risāla fī al-ʿulūm (Epistle on sciences)
  • Ibn Sīnā (d. 1037), Aqsām al- ʿulūm al-aqliyya (Divisions of the rational sciences)
  • Ibn Farīġūn (d. after 955), Ǧawāmiʿ al-ʿulūm (Summaries of sciences)
  • Fak̲h̲r al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1210), Ḥadāʾiḳ al-anvār fî ḥaḳāʾiḳ al-asrār (Gardens of lights at the essences of secrets)
  • Ibn al-Ḳıfṭī (d. 1248), Iḫbār al-ʿulamāʾ bi-aḫbār al-ḥukemāʾ (Tārîḫ al-ḥukamāʾ) (The biographies and the books of the great philosophers / The history of philosophers)
  • Ibn al-Akfānī (d. 1348), Irshād al-Qāṣid ilā asnā al-maqāṣīd fī anwāʾ al-ʿulūm (Guidance to whom aspires to the most radiant purposes in the constellations of sciences)
  • Ibn Ḫaldūn (d. 1406), Muqaddima (Introduction)
  • al-Bistāmī (d. 1454), Mavzūʿāt al-ʿulūm (Topics of sciences)
  • Ṭāshköprüzāda (d. 1560), Miftāḥ al-Saʿāda (The key to happiness)
  • Kâtib Çelebi or Hacı Halife (d.  1657), Kashf al-ẓunūn ʿan asāmī al-kutub wa-l-funūn (The Removal of Doubt from the Names of Books and the Sciences)
  • Muḥammad al-Sāǧqlī (Saçaqlī-zāda, d. 1737), Tartīb al-ʿulūm (Classification of sciences)
  • al-Tahānawī (died after 1745), Kaššāf Iṣṭilāḥāt al-funūn (Dictionary of the technical terms)
  • Ṣiddīq Ḥasan Ḫān (d. 1890), Abǧad al-ʿulūm (Alphabet of sciences)

Kashf al-ẓunūn and its addenda include hundreds of books in more than twenty scientific fields that are in the interest of historians who are attempting to write environmental histories of the Ottoman Empire. These fields include, but are not limited to, medicine, veterinary medicine, mineralogy, geology, geography, municipal management, mining, falconry, cookery, nature, animal husbandry, farming, raining, cadastral survey, seasons, seas, oceans, and botany. Not just the works listed, but how Kâtip Çelebi and his followers (re)defined these fields would help researchers to understand nature-human interrelations and interactions in Islamic societies in a sound manner.


M. Fatih Çalışır is a lecturer at Kırklareli University History Department. Trained in Ottoman and environmental history, he completed his Ph.D. at Georgetown University in 2016. Before his doctoral studies, he studied history at Bilkent University in Ankara and Central European University in Budapest. He also worked as an assistant expert at the Topkapı Palace Manuscript Library and the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology. His research includes science and politics in the early modern Ottoman Empire, Ottoman cultural history, and environmental history. Dr. Çalışır is a member of the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) and the Network for the Study of Environmental History of Turkey (NEHT).


Citation: M. Fatih Çalışır, Where Intellectual and Environmental Histories Meet: Kashf al-ẓunūn and its Addenda as a Source for Ottoman Environmental History, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 20.07.2021, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/29537


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