Prof. Dr. Mahmut Ak: "The Digitization of II. Abdülhamid Khan's Yıldız Albums Shows The Horizon of Our State”

İstanbul University Rector Prof. Dr. Mahmut Ak gave an interview to Anadolu Agency about the digitisation project of Sultan II. Abdülhamid Khan Yıldız (Star) Albums. In the video conference interview, Prof. Dr. Ak evaluated the importance and development of the project. Prof. Dr. Ak stated that “II. Abdülhamid Khan's photography collection is a unique project both in terms of World administrative history and in terms of art activities.”

Sultan II. Abdülhamid Khan Yıldız Albums are preserved in the Rare Works Library of İstanbul University. Sultan II. Abdülhamid Khan's Yıldız Photography Collection was digitized under the patronage of the Presidency with the cooperation and support of İstanbul University Rectorate and the General Secretariat of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (National Palaces). Prof. Dr. Ak said that the Collection is a cultural heritage for Turkey. Prof. Dr. Ak underlined that this collection, which is also a rare project in terms of cultural history, is not only an art activity but also a state project in its own right and gave an example from Evliya Çelebi's Travelogue.

"Evliya Çelebi Seems to Have Recorded His Period with A Camera”

"Evliya Çelebi's Seyahatname (Travelogue) coincides with this collection in terms of its philosophy and main concept. Evliya Çelebi did not start his journey in order to write a travel or geography book.” Prof. Dr. Ak said: "Evliya Çelebi's Travelogue is a work which records that period with all its richness, from language to art, anthropology to geography to vegetation, in every aspect as if there was a camera on his shoulder. It is obvious that Evliya Çelebi, who grew up in Enderun and has a high level of culture, did not do this by chance. Today, he has entrusted us with a great cultural treasure that is perhaps unique in the World. Sultan II. Abdülhamid Khan's photo collection is another of these precious relics. II. Abdülhamid Khan planned to record the state of the Ottoman state, considering the great borders of the Ottoman state and the future of the state, perhaps soon. So, at a time when transportation and communication facilities were limited, he brought all the information into his own hands. His subsequent projects, administrative decisions and political views have always been shaped by this material.”

2 Selections From II. Abdülhamid Khan Collection are in the UK and United States of America

II. Abdülhamid Khan's photography collection is a unique project; both in terms of World administrative history and in terms of art activities. Prof. Dr. Ak said, “This large collection has been under the protection of İstanbul University for nearly 100 years. There are 36,585 photographs in 918 albums.” Prof Dr. Ak added that albums are completely different with an element of their original skin. Prof. Dr. Ak said: “A part of this great collection illustrates the superiority of the state in international relations. And as the followers of civilization, the founders of civilization they have been delivered to other countries in order to show who we are. Two selections of the collection have been sent to the British Museum and the United States. It is known that there are 800 photographs in 51 albums sent to England and 1700 photographs in 51 albums sent to America. So, when evaluating this, you must consider 3 collections all together. Because the infrastructure is based on a center and it is within the framework of II. Abdülhamid's project.”

"People Can Trace Their Lineage from This Collection”

Prof. Dr. Ak gave information about the contents of the photographs in the collection as well. Prof. Dr. Ak said, from civil architecture to religious architecture, from official buildings to squares, from couplets to bridges, from caravanserais to schools and from hospitals to roads; a very large content is the subject of the collection. And if a person focused on photographs, hundreds of details invisible to naked eye, could be seen in detail. People from countries that are not within the borders of the Republic of Turkey and that were once within the Ottoman Empire can follow the traces of their own lineage by examining the photographs. Prof. Dr. Ak said, “In the photos we can see everything from clothes on people to shoes, even the types of fabric used.”

“Our President's Interest in Culture, Art and History Has Been a Light to Us”

All these materials have been protected under all kinds of climatic conditions and with assurance for nearly 100 years within İstanbul University. Prof. Dr. Ak said that albums are perfectly preserved: "We thought about how to make it easier to access this collection with the opportunities that technology offers us, and we started the project in 2013. At first, our President's interest in culture, art and history was the greatest light to us and it led us. An institutional protocol was established with the support and follow-up of the speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Ismail Kahraman, and then Deputy Secretary General of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and the current head of the National Palaces Department, Mr. Yasin Yıldız. Like the establishment of the project, its preservation turned into a government project and the albums began to be digitized. Because of this, we are very proud of the Project.”

With Technological Possibilities, Image Loss Was Prevented

Prof. Dr. Ak explained the technical process about the project. Prof. Dr. Ak said that sensitive practices were carried out in order not to damage the works. After cleaning the photos with special brushes, high resolution machines were used. Prof. Dr. Ak said, "The system was established, with Yasin Yıldız Bey's close interest, in the University's Rare Works Library. The work has been carried out in a variety of ways, both through the hands of the personnel assigned by the National Palaces as well as restorers and other technical experts in our structure.” Another important aspect of the project is the use of OCR (Optical Character identification) method. Prof. Dr. Ak said, "With the work done, the accessibility of any desired cultural element has become very easy. After the preliminary, digitization and cataloging stages, we have reached 75,000 square images in 3 different formats. Since these photos have been enlarged and minimized by the technology, when we want to focus on any point, we do not lose an image even though we have enlarged it many times. When we approach the photographs through the eyes of a photo artist, an art historian, we understand that the person who took these photographs did not take them by chance. He told us not only the person in the photo, but the tons of details behind the person.”

Rare Works Library with Hundreds of Years Old Manuscripts

Prof. Dr. Ak said that Rare Works Library, where the collection is stored, always hosts its visitors and even the hall where the albums are found is a historical hall. Prof. Dr. Ak also stated that İstanbul University Rare Works Library building was previously used as “Kadılık Mektebi” (Muslim Judge School) and İstanbul Darülfünun Library. Prof. Dr. Ak said: "In our Library, in addition to very valuable written works, there are also works dating back to 1500s-1600s.

“Our Civilization Is at A Level That Will Guide the World”

Sultan II. Abdülhamid's project to digitize Yıldız Albums shows the horizon of our State foremost. Prof. Dr. Ak evaluated the project as follows: "This valuable project shows that our administrators did not act in narrow patterns, and that they saw that the civilization, culture and opportunities that we have are of value to guide, to shed light and direct the world. Now, the level reached by our country, Turkey is at a point that can tell the World something in every way. These projects are a source of hope for the new major projects. If we have carried out such a large-scale, large-horizon, rich-volume and diverse project, we can do many more today. Our project is a such a different project that gives researchers philosophical ideas and it is also a motivational source.”

“We Work with a Staff Worthy of the Value of Our Works”

In addition to the cultural richness of the Ottoman Empire, the album features photographs showing many cities and natural beauty from Far Eastern countries, especially America, Europe, Japan. Prof. Dr. Mahmut Ak concluded his speech about the project which exhibits 263 artists' works, as follows:

“Just as so many artists put their own skill, manual labor and efforts during the formation of this album, our friends who work on it today are art lovers with the highest level of competence that our country has trained. The artists who work for the works are also capable of restoring the miniaturized works, many of which are in our library and which are single copies. Restoring a miniature requires a distinct mastery. Our artists are capable of restoring miniatures. In this respect, we can say that we work with a staff worthy of such valuable works.”

Click here to reach Sultan II. Abdülhamid Khan Photo Albums Project.

News: Tuğçe AYÇİN
Translated by: Yasemin UĞURLU
İU Corporate Communications Department

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