Query: Ottoman literacy rates

Candan Badem's picture

Dear Colleagues

In his book Ottoman Population, Kemal Karpat cites incredibly high literacy rates in Ottoman vilayets in 1894, referring to a report by the census department (sicill-i nufus idaresi) to Abdulhamid. I would like to know if there is any substantial criticism of Karpat on this matter in the literature, because I have not come across.
best regards


Candan Badem

Purged Assoc. Prof. of Ottoman History


Categories: Research Query
Keywords: literacy

Dear Candan, dear all,

the most precise discussion I have seen on Ottoman literacy rates is in a PhD by Murat Siviloglu “The Emergence of Public Opinion in the Ottoman Empire, 1826–1876.” (University of Cambridge, 2014). A revised book-version should be forthcoming.

Best, Erdal Kaynar

Dear Candan,

See the book review by Cem Behar, in Population Studies, 40, 2 (1986): 322-323 for a harsh critique of Kemal Karpat's methodology and assertions, including a reference to the 1894 document. For estimates of literacy rate in the fin de siècle Ottoman Empire, see Palmira Brummett, Image and Imperialism in the Ottoman Revolutionary Press, 1908-1911, Albany, 2000; Benjamin Fortna, Learning to Read in the Late Ottoman Empire and the Early Turkish Republic, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York, 2011; Ami Ayalon, The Press in the Arab Middle East: A History, New York, 1995; idem, Reading Palestine: Printing and Literacy, 1900-1948, Austin, 2004; idem, Arabic Print Revolution: Cultural Production and Mass Readership, Cambridge, 2016.

Best wishes,

Liran Yadgar

Yale University

I also included estimates of literacy rates in some of my publications, including my _Ottoman Civil Officialdom: A Social History_. I find index entries for "literacy" referring to pages 52, 86, 139, 142, 174. For the OE as a whole, there would have been variations across both time and space, also across ethno-religious difference once foreign schools entered the region.