23 October, 2009

ASMEA Conference

I am having a good time in Arlington, VA at the 2nd Annual conference for the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. I have met some interesting people so far, including Drs. Bernard Lewis and Arthur Goldschmidt, Jr. I have read some of their works and it was nice to chat with them for a moment or two.

I will post more of my thoughts after the conference is over. I just wanted to stop by and say I am having a good time and learning about other areas of the Middle East and Africa.

18 October, 2009

Inside the House

So, what might be found inside the House of Wisdom? I am now officially half way through the book and can say with some certainty that there are many interesting books contained within. These books include:

The Book of Addition and Subtraction According to the Hindu Calculation ~ al-Khwarizmi

The Book of Restoring and Balancing (aka Kitab al-jabr wa'l-muqabala) ~ al-Khwarizmi

The Determination of the Coordinates of Cities ~ al-Biruni (use of spherical trigonometry)

Canon of Medicine ~ Ibn Sina (Avicenna)

The Book of Roads and Kingdoms ~ Ibn Khordadbeh

The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions ~ al-Muqaddasi

Amusements for Those Who Long to Traverse the Horizon (aka Kitab Rujar)~ al-Idrisi

With the exception of the first two, these books are primarily on the broad subject of geography. Human geography (ethnography) seems to be one of the driving forces behind much of the geographical work done during this time (9th-11th centuries and beyond). There is also much use of the scientific method (Question, Research, Hypothesize, Experiment, Analyze, Report), which has its roots to the Arab's quest for knowledge.

It is also fair to say that much of this quest for knowledge - an intellectual revolution, if you will - is based in religion and not just learning. Going back to the astronomy/astrology of a previous post, it was - and is - important to know precisely when the "call to prayer" takes place. This lead to the quest for precise measurements in time further leading to more accuracy in locations around the "known world".

16 October, 2009

Lazy-ness prevails...

I have been a bit lax the past couple of days on my reading. I have been running around trying to get things together for my upcoming trip (leave the 19th) and for my grandma's birthday, which was today. I intend to finish The House of Wisdom over the weekend. Look for a review soon!

09 October, 2009

Origins of Arab Scientific Inquiry

The title of this post may be a little misleading, but there is a reason for it. There are two sources that can be considered the origins of the Muslims/Arabs quest for knowledge: Ptolemy's Megale Syntaxis - or the Almagest as it is called in the West, and Brahmagupta's siddhanta . As astrology and astronomy were hugely popular and relied upon by Muslims, and especially the caliph, both of these texts were highly translated, researched, refined, and improved upon. These texts, rather the experimentation of the writings held within, led to further advances in scientific knowledge such as time-keeping, map-making, and mathematics. One of the greatest Arab mathematicians, al-Khwarizmi, discovered simple arithmetic, improve upon trigonometry - by discovering cosine, tangent, cotangent, secant, and cosecant from the Hindu sine, and quadratic equations - or algebra through the study of these texts.

Simply put, the diving board of Ptolemy and Brahmagupta was in place and the Arabs, specifically al-Khwarizmi, sprung from this board into deeper waters of understanding within the sciences. This deeper understanding soon spread throughout the rest of the world and gave us many of the mathematics and sciences we now use.

Side note: In school we often wonder what use algebra will have for us in the "real world". A few years ago, Charmin came out with a campaign for it's double size rolls - X + X = 2X. If that's not using algebra in the "real world", I don't know what is!!! I just wish I could find a picture of it.

08 October, 2009

Lyons' "The House of Wisdom"

One of the things I am finding in reading this book is that if not for the introduction of paper-making, the House may never have come to fruition. The Chinese introduced this technology to the Muslims around the year 751, according to Arab tradition (p. 57). Whether this is true or mere legend, paper-making generated a demand for the written word among the Arab elite, which in turn led to the creation of libraries or repositories in an effort to preserve these books. Lyons points out the the difference between paper-making in the Middle East and the Christian West lies in the product used: linen vs. animal skins. The Muslims proved that books lasted longer on the paper they made whereas the parchments or animal skins used in the west didn't last as long and were ultimately lost over time (p. 58).

Further reading brought me to a breakdown of what the House of Wisdom might have looked like inside. Held within were a translation bureau (as the translation movement was rampant at this time), a library and book repository, and an academy of scholars and intellectuals (p. 63). This is as far as I have gotten with my reading, which is about halfway through the book. The first two chapters focused more on the Crusades and the coming of new ideas from the East and how the Christian West responded to this new thinking.

01 October, 2009

"The House of Wisdom" by Jonathan Lyons

Photo of book cover taken from Amazon.com.

Well, I received this book from HistoryBookClub.com last week and am almost through the first chapter. So far, Lyons is talking about the Crusades - I think from a more eastern perspective although he doesn't really talk about it as a "jihad" per se. It is definitely holding my interest! I should be finished with it by the end of the weekend as it is a rather small book at around 200 pp. (in comparison to most that I comb through for research). I have done a little research on reviews of this book and they seem somewhat favorable. I think that one of the reviewers expected it to be much more than it is and blasted it throughout his review (I will not put a link to the review or this persons blog here as it is very anti-Muslim and biased).

I am planning a visit to the University of South Florida's Library during the next week to pick up several more texts that may be of help during my early research. I am thankful that while I seem to live in the "sticks" there is a university nearby - a research university to boot! - and that they allow non-students to purchase annual library cards. Yippee! I do, however, miss the library at Michigan State University - c'est la vie! The price to pay for a warmer climate year round and NO SNOW.

I will have a much lengthier review of the Lyons book in about a week...