Education was a key factor in the Westernization of the Ottoman Empire. During the peak of its rule in the 15th to 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire covered much of modern day Europe and stretch in part of Asia and Africa. This paper briefly describes the empire then discusses the processes that contributed to its westernization.
The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire began with the reign of Muhammad II in 1481 and lasted for close to five centuries until its collapse in 1918. During the peak of its power in 16th to the 17th century, its territory included present day Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. The empire’s lengthy existence is attributed to its superior military strategies and organization as well as the weakness of the other countries in those times (Briney, nd). Among the most notable leaders of the Ottoman empire were Osman I, Orkhan, Murad I, Beyazid, Muhammad I, Muhammad II, Murad II, Selim I and Sulayman II (Infoplease, 2013).
Education is considered the primary vehicle of Western influences. Davison (2013) enumerated several channels through which Western influences reached the empire. These include the group of highly educated and learned 19th century Turks and formal schools. These learned individuals attained more knowledge through their own efforts such as reading, observations during travel, and interactions with many different kinds of people. They learned French, sociology, philosophy and they are also deeply knowledgeable about their history, culture and people. They were able to decipher the Western influences that would be most useful to their interests. One of the most influential Turkish educators was Mehmed Fuad Pasa, a “scholar and statesman” who was considered a “confirmed Westernizer” (Britannica, 2013). He was Turkey’s foreign minister, grand vizier, and also a leader of the country’s Commission on Education. The second channel is the many different kinds of formal schools like mission schools and foreign schools. The curriculum, textbook, and methods used in these schools shaped succeeding generations of the Ottoman empire. According to Somel (2001), the Young Turks were responsible for continuing the “modernization and Westernization of the empire until its collapse” (np). During the Hamidian period (1878-1908) educational modernization was promoted along with a “renewed stress of Islam.”
Another important contribution to Westernization was the concept of materialism which was promoted through the publication of journals. In these documents, the idea was that the “driving force behind the success of the West” was materialism. The first Turkish president integrated the concepts of materialism in the reforms implemented after the Balkan wars (Hanioglu, 2010, p.185).
The Ottoman empire ruled over Europe and Asia for five centuries because of its superior military strength and the weakness of its adversaries. At the empire’s collapse its leaders turned to education as a tool to modernize the country. The agenda of westernization was also given prominence. The concept of materialism was also regarded as necessary for a country’s reforms, thus journals were published promoting these. In conclusion, education through its promotion of ideas within and outside of educational institutions was a key factor in the westernization of the Ottoman empire.
Davison, R.H. (2013).Westernized education in Ottoman Turkey. In Essays in Ottoman and Turkish History, 1774-1923: The Impact of the West. University of Texas Press.
Mehmed Fuad Paşa. (2013). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved fromhttp://school.eb.com/levels/high/article/35549
Haniuglo, M.S. (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Infoplease. (2013). “Ottoman Empire.” Turkish and Ottoman History. Infoplease, Pearson Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/history/ottoman-empire-history.html>.
Somel, S.A. (2001). The Modernization of Public Education in the Ottoman Empire, 1839-1908: Islamization, Autocracy, and Discipline. Netherlands: BRILL.