Account Books of the Imperial WAQFS (Charitable Endowments) in the Eastern Mediterranean (15Th to 19th Centuries)

By Orbay, Kayhan | Accounting Historians Journal, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Account Books of the Imperial WAQFS (Charitable Endowments) in the Eastern Mediterranean (15Th to 19th Centuries)


Orbay, Kayhan, Accounting Historians Journal


Abstract: The history of accounting in the Eastern Mediterranean has not been adequately studied through its primary sources, despite the fact that the Turkish archives house an enormous amount of material for exploring accounting practices in the Ottoman Empire. Ottomanists used the account books as sources for Ottoman socioeconomic and institutional history. They analyzed, fully transliterated and published the account registers of the central treasury, the Istanbul shipyard and the waqf institutions. Nevertheless, accounting historians did not even show interest into published archival sources up until recent years. Owing to a few recent works that were based on the primary sources, nowadays accounting historians are more and more aware of the richness and significance of Ottoman archives for accounting history and for comparative accounting research as well. This study introduces the account books kept in the Ottoman waqf institutions between the 15th and 19th centuries in order to raise awareness of the Eastern Mediterranean accounting tradition and to spark further in-depth and comparative works focused on the history, functioning, role and change of accounting in the Eastern Mediterranean.

INTRODUCTION

During the last few decades, the number of scholarly journals and conferences on accounting history and the emphasis on comparative research have increased, accompanied by a substantial expansion of the research agenda [Carnegie and Napier, 2002; Napier, 2006]. However, the history of accounting in the Eastern Mediterranean during the 'Early Modern Age' has not received the same scholarly interest [Carmona, 2004; Napier, 2007; Napier, 2009, p. 122; Giovannoni and Riccaboni, 2009], though some Ottoman historians touched upon accounting practice in the Ottoman Empire [Barkan, 1953-54; Barkan, 1962-63; Finkel, 1987; Darling, 1996; Sahillioglu, 1999; Orbay, 2007c].

Accounting history research into the Ottoman centuries of the Near East, the Mediterranean and the Balkans has great potential due to an abundance of primary source material. It can enhance this field substantially and provide valuable cases for comparative studies. Research on the Near Eastern accounting system not only fills a gap in accounting history, but it may also reveal essential links between the accounting practices in different geographies and cultures.

Up to now, traditional historians, not accounting historians, transliterated, published and analyzed the original account books, employing them as primary sources [Barkan, 1953-54; Barkan, 1962-63; Barkan 1964; Erdogru 1996; Bostan 2012]. But they were not interested in the accounting system, or the function of, or changes in accounting. Accounting historians, meanwhile, unable to read Ottoman Turkish, could not use original sources.

Recently, because of an increasing interest in accounting history and inspired by the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that it offers, Yayla [2011] has studied Ottoman accounting history. However, not being trained as historian, he was not well informed about the primary sources. By selectively mining the archival material, he frequently misrepresented accounting practice, and overemphasis on methodology and weakness in primary research led inevitably to that empirical facts remained disconnected from the theoretical framework.

Yayla's work [2011] is the first article on waqf accounting with a Foucault-inspired conceptual framework that has been written in English for a wide audience of accounting and deserves attention. He looks at the accounting system applied in the waqf of Suleymaniye. A waqf is a charitable institution formed by a declaration by a person who endows his or her own property to some charitable service in perpetuity. It is the oldest and the most widespread form of institutionalized charity in the Ottoman Empire. The wealthiest waqfs, founded by imperial family members and high-ranking state servants, were endowed with vast agricultural lands and numerous income-yielding urban properties, and included large mosques, public kitchens, higher-education centers and hospitals as their charitable buildings.

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