03 September, 2009

Master's Thesis Proposal

Working Title: The House of Wisdom: Baghdad as the Intellectual Center of the World

I. Descriptive Summary

Write one or more paragraphs on each of the following:

· The question or issue your final document will address.

The “House of Wisdom” (Bayt al-Hikma) as it pertains to the intellectual history of the Middle East. This “house” is considered a repository of great intellectual works on many different subjects including the maths and sciences, medicine, culture, and religion. The House of Wisdom combined with the Translation Movement of 8th century Baghdad was integral to bringing a wealth of information into the Arabic-speaking world and later to parts of Europe and the rest of the world with the spread of Islam all the while ushering in a golden age in the Middle East. There are many aspects of Middle Eastern history that can be considered when asking what ushered in its “golden age”. However, nothing has proven greater than the introduction of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

· Background about how you came to consider your question.

It was difficult coming up with one topic to address in the Final Document as there are many different areas of Middle Eastern history that interests me. Originally, I wanted to do some kind of a cumulative document of the writing I have already done adding one or two additional major papers to the set. From there, I began looking at different parts of Middle Eastern culture and history to determine what interests me the most right now. I kept looking at the early caliphates at the dawn of Islam. While I didn’t want to focus solely on Islam, the religion, I found that it was one of the dominate themes in my studies thus far. I narrowed down my ideas to the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates. This led me to look at the culture of these dynasties and what they contributed to the world (as they knew it). After several emails between myself and Dr. Daniel Metraux, we agreed upon looking at the “House of Wisdom”. This particular subject is extremely exciting to research because of what it represents: the intellectual history of the Middle East.

· Historical context of the subject.

The House of Wisdom came about during the rule of al-Mamun in 8th and 9th century Baghdad. At the time, the Abbasid dynasty was going through a “translation movement” where the rulers were inviting the educated from around the world to come to Baghdad and assist in translating some of the classic works into Arabic from Persian, Indian, and Greek, as well as other cultures and languages. If not for the translation movement, the House of Wisdom would not have been necessary and the Middle East would not have come into the knowledge of other cultures both near and far. In addition to serving as a place for translating works into Arabic, the House of Wisdom also served as an academy of learning and scientific advancement.

· Major theoretical schools you will draw upon.

For my research, I will draw upon various theoretical schools including hisotrical, philosophical, and religious. I will also try to look into previous scholarship from other areas of the world such as Europe, Russia, and Asia to get an idea of how these societies are the same or differ in their research and inquiry on the House of Wisdom.

· Key research studies or critical works bearing on your study.

One of the key studies I intend to look at deals with the preservation of these institutions. With the current conflicts in the Middle East, many scholars have taken a stand on preserving the House’s of Wisdom for future generations. Much of this goes along with preserving the cultural heritage of the region, but it seems especially important to preserving their libraries. Some of the scholars I will draw upon are Hugh Kennedy, Ruth Stellhorn Mackensen, Michael G. Carter, and Abdul Ahad Hannawi. Hugh Kennedy is considered one of the preeminent scholars in Middle Eastern history and has written many texts on areas of religion and culture in the Middle East. Ruth Stellhorn Mackensen has written several articles on Moslem libraries, which would be great references for looking at the history of the House of Wisdom. Abdul Ahad Hannawi is one that is especially important to look at because of his paper on the introduction of paper to the Middle East. The introduction of paper played a direct role in the creation of the House and the translation movement during the 8th century.

· Discussion of research method(s) you will employ.

The research method for this document will primarily be the historical research method. I will make use of current wisdom from scholarly journals and other secondary sources. I will also attempt to research the types of documents stored within such repositories. I do not intend to use human subjects in my research, therefore I will not be making application to the IRB at this time.

· What your document will include (for example, review of the literature, presentation and analysis of original research, case studies etc.)

For much of the document, I will look to include presentation and analysis of original research. I will also include a review of the current wisdom/literature on the “House of Wisdom” and look to include illustrations where possible (whether from my own personal photographs/illustrations or from the public domain).

· Discussion of the social relevance of your study.

Study of the “House of Wisdom” is currently relevant in many social circles primarily because of the wars in the Middle East. There is much literature pertaining to the preservation of such repositories, but not much on the actual history of these places. If there is to be a major impact on the preservation of Middle Eastern history and these repositories then there needs to be an understanding of their history in relation to the effect of the wars on them. ???