The Istanbul Encyclopedia Archive project is underway

1 18 Reşad Ekrem Koçu’nun <i>İstanbul Ansiklopedisi</i> için yaptırdığı yapı çizimlerinden bir seçki
Fotoğraf: Mustafa Hazneci (Salt)
A selection of illustrations commissioned by Reşad Ekrem Koçu for the Istanbul Encyclopedia
Photo: Mustafa Hazneci (Salt)
Salt and Kadir Has University have launched a long-term archive and research project as part of the cooperation protocol signed by the two institutions to develop joint programs based on mutual learning. Following the three-year project, the printed volumes of historian and novelist Reşad Ekrem Koçu’s (1905-1975) unfinished Istanbul Encyclopedia, along with thousands of related documents, will be digitized and made publicly accessible.

Koçu began compiling “the grand register” of Istanbul in 1944 and continued his extensive research and writing until 1973. From streets to architectural structures, from important or common people and the customs of the city to historical events and urban legends, numerous subjects were recorded through story-like narratives and illustrations. A collaborative work of esteemed historians, literary scholars, academics, and artists of the period, Istanbul Encyclopedia presents a unique blend of the tezkire [biographical anthology] tradition and Western encyclopedism, shaped around Koçu’s personal interests. It is not merely a reference source, a compilation of testimonies, or a massive effort to include everything about Istanbul; it is an extraordinary work that constructs a unique idea or image of Istanbul by processing all the material through certain hierarchies of significance and strategies of inclusion/exclusion. The encyclopedia was only printed up to the letter G during Koçu’s lifetime, which makes up the first 11 volumes, and the fate of the documents constituting the basis for the subsequent volumes has always been a matter of curiosity and debate.

The Istanbul Encyclopedia Archive, acquired by Kadir Has University in 2018 as a collection of approximately 40,000 items, comprises 1,460 publications from Koçu’s personal library and an extensive body of materials compiled, edited, and written by Koçu for future volumes that remained unpublished. The joint project developed by Salt will provide online access to Istanbul Encyclopedia, aiming to shed light on this comprehensive archive and encourage original studies from various disciplines and perspectives.

The Istanbul Encyclopedia Archive is a kind of “media archaeology laboratory” considering the insight it provides into Koçu’s working methods and the production of a multi-volume and multi-authored publication with limited means in the second half of the 20th century. A diverse range of documents in the collection—from photographs, drawings, and excerpts to drafts of articles planned to be included in volumes G-Z, early versions of select articles in the published volumes, and independent texts suggesting that Koçu had also compiled articles based on the material—details the complex and multi-layered process of the encyclopedia’s formation. The joint project of Salt and Kadir Has University aims to pave the way for transdisciplinary research and work methods by bringing experts together with independent researchers. The resulting work, presented through online software, seeks to establish connections between the diverse content and inspire new research topics.