Hande Yalnızoğlu Altınay is a final-year DPhil candidate in Global History at the University of Oxford. She completed her MPhil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies in 2016 at the same university.
Her research sits at the crossroads of medical, environmental, and imperial history and focuses on the governance of epidemics in 19th-century Ottoman Iraq. Her broader research interests are in medical humanities in the Middle East and the governance of health and disease in Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. In 2022, she co-founded CO-HAB, a research collaboration initiative between early career researchers working on history and bioethics at the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities at Oxford. During her MPhil, she was a host and translator for the Free Speech Debate project of the Dahrendorf Programme.
From 2010–13, she was advisor to the Chair of the Turkish Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In this capacity, she drafted a number of assembly reports, including one on the rise of populism in Europe. In 2012, she was responsible for organizing the CoE conference “The Political and Social Empowerment of Women” in Istanbul, which brought together participants from Europe, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean to discuss issues of importance for women at a time of significant political change.
Project: “The Role of Climate in Ottoman Disease Narratives’’
This project focuses on the important role of climate in disease narratives—especially for epidemic diseases like cholera and plague—in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire. Both the perceptions and realities of climate, including features like temperature, winds, and rain, featured extensively in Ottoman physicians’ discussions of disease epidemiology.
This emphasis on climate, which was not yet a well-developed field of research, was embodied in environmental explanations for disease causation in line with humoral theory and was complementary to and sometimes in conflict with the theory of contagion at a time when disease was seen to have many potential sources, both human and non-human. As such, climate was an abstract and fluid concept that could be employed to support a variety of medical arguments rooted in ideological positions.
In an era defined by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, this project aims to open up historical questions on how perceptions of climate informed understandings of disease, health, and well-being in the past and how these can inform our current approach to these issues.