The Eckstein Albums: “a medical survey of maternal and infant health in rural Anatolia from 1935 to 1939”

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The Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies has launched the Eckstein Albums on Cambridge Digital Library

Exiled by Hitler, Prof. Dr. Albert Eckstein turned his medical expertise to saving Turkey’s poorest children from the curse of infant mortality. More than 1,000 photographs documenting the living and working conditions he encountered and the rural poverty that contributed to Turkey’s high rate of child mortality, have been added to Cambridge University Library’s Digital Library.

Cambridge University Library has covered the Collection here:Saving Turkey’s Children

Eckstein Albums

“The Eckstein Albums document a medical survey of maternal and infant health in rural Anatolia from 1935 to 1939, captioned by a German Jewish migrant to Atatürk’s new Republic (E038). Albert Eckstein was welcomed into Ankara by Refik Saydam, Atatürk’s Minister for Health (E022), through the Emergency Organization for German Scientists Abroad. An eminent pediatrician who fled the rise of Nazism, Eckstein was also a gifted photographer and portraitist. He conducted a survey on maternal fertility and infant mortality as Director of the Paediatric service at Ankara Numune Hospital (E023E024E025) and used the commission to capture the social and economic realities of rural Anatolian villages. He conducted tours of rural Anatolia between 1936 and 1939, photographing villagers in Isparta (A001), Muğla (K017), Sivas (JO35), Niğde (J053), Samsun (A026), Konya (B063), as well as urban life and monuments in İstanbul (G059) and Ankara (E032). 

The Eckstein Albums offer a unique insight into Turkish medical history and the engagement of Jewish migrants in Atatürk’s health and social reforms. These include the campaign for healthy children, a drive for basic health and hygiene education, and major campaigns against specific widespread and debilitating diseases such as trachoma or malaria. The collection provides visual evidence of Turkey’s rural population in the early years of the Republic’s existence, on its ethnographic profile and on family structure, for example, the role played by older children in caring for their siblings (A020A022) and the significance of female labour in farming (J005J017). His photographs situate maternal and infant health in the wider context of agricultural work (K020), village education (K057), and housing (C019). The level of rural poverty documented in the photographs highlights the difficulties the early Republic faced in its attempt to improve the medical conditions and lower rates of infant and maternal mortality.

Albert Eckstein travelled widely across Turkey and elsewhere, and his photographs also convey a keen interest in archaeology (D005) and the natural world (I041). From the Middle East (in Jerusalem (LO22), Baalbek (L048) and Cairo (N006)) to Europe (in Venice (M032) and Athens (M012)), these albums chronicle the several migrations of a Jewish family in the interwar period before their eventual move to Cambridge (N037).”

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