Windows into Early Science: Arabic and Persian Scientific Traditions

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Institutional Affiliation : 
Harvard University
Academic Bio: 
Elaheh Kheirandish is a historian of science (Ph.D., Harvard, ’91), with a specialty in early sciences and focus on Islamic lands. Her work ranges from the study of early Arabic and Persian scientific traditions and their impact on later European science, to the applications of new technologies to historical studies. She has been a lecturer at Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Extension and Summer School, and has taught history of science and mathematics in other Institutions. She has been awarded research grants from the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology and National Science Foundation, and serves on the advisory boards of institutions such as Interpretatio and Islamic Scientific Manuscripts Initiative (ISMI). Her publications on various aspects of early mathematical and physical sciences, include a two-volume dissertation, “The Arabic Version of Euclidean Optics”, several articles and reviews in journals and collected volumes and forthcoming books on early Arabic optics and mechanics. Her most recent work has been conducting research on Science and Craft history at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, co-editing a special Issue of the Iranian Studies Journal, and acting as curator of exhibits at Special Collection Libraries at Harvard and Brown Universities.

This paper is an extension of two Exhibits recently displayed by the presenter at the
Special Collection Libraries of Harvard and Brown Universities (“Windows into
Early Science: Historical Dialogues, Scientific Manuscripts, and Printed Books,”
Harvard University: Houghton Library, April-July 2008; and “Windows into Early
Science and Craft: Selections from the Persian Manuscripts of the Minassian
Collection,” Brown University: John Hay Library, March-April 2010). The present
paper exposes sources and approaches behind and beyond those Exhibits, including a
discussion of what is meant by “Early Science” and “Persian scientific traditions.”
The sources include, in addition to scientific works (Book of Instructions: Abū
Rayḥān Bīrūnī; Book of Constellations:‘Abd al-Raḥmān Ṣūfī and Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī;
Book of Construction: Abū al-Wafā Buzjānī, etc.), literary sources in both prose and
poetry that are rarely viewed from the angle of science (Shāhnāmih of Firdausī,
versions of its preface in prose, Vīs u Rāmīn of Gurgānī, and Laylī u Majnūn of
Niẓāmī). The discussions range from the identification of Arabic and Persian
scientific traditions and their distinctions, to the isolation of distinctive features such
as the texts’ linguistic expression, authors’ ethnic associations, subjects’ geographic
locations and other specifications.

Academic Discipline : 
History of Science
Time Period : 

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