21 November, 2009

Revising the Thesis

Well, I am still not satisfied with my thesis as it stands, so I wrote out a couple of things.


The purpose of this paper/document/text is to provide an historical overview of the translation movement during the early Islamic period; discuss the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikmah) and the importance of the knowledge within; provide an understanding of the new ideas and way of thinking coming out of this region; and provide an overview of the desire of certain individuals, today, to return to this age.

Revised Thesis:

The dawn of Islam not only brought a new monotheistic religion to the medieval world, it brought about a hunger for knowledge, new ideas, and a new way of acquiring these ideas, transforming the way sciences, mathematics, and arts are studied.

I look forward to your feedback!

16 November, 2009

Thesis - Chapter 2 - The Coming of New Ideas

I have been making slow progress on the actual writing of Chapter 2 (Chapter 1 is the Introduction and will be written last). This chapter will be an historical overview of the Abbasid Caliphs - al-Mansur, al-Rashid, and al-Mamun - and how some of the new knowledge found its way into the Arab/Muslim world. I have three pages written and am on the fourth and so far it is sounding fairly good. The true test will be when I submit it for peer and instructor review at the end of the month. Anyway, I think what I will do is post the first paragraph from each chapter within the blog itself. This will show some progress and give my audience an idea of the general direction (I hope) that I am going. Here is the first para of Chapter 2:

It is natural for humans to be curious about the world around them. For that reason, many Muslims in the early years of Islam began to search for meaning in the things around them. Since everything, from a religious perspective, is made from God/Allah/Yahweh[1], then it makes sense that Muslims would be inquisitive on the natural order of things. Howard R. Turner says that motivation for scientific inquiry is not necessarily within the scholar, but through God “…as a means of gaining understanding of God…”.[2] This natural curiosity, along with the pursuit of gaining knowledge about God, helped usher in an age of inquiry during these formative years. One of the first things these early Muslims learned was the art of paper-making, which in turn pushed the Muslim world into an era of book binding further allowing the spread of ideas. Paper was considered “cheap, easy to produce and use, and was to have a major impact on …the Muslim and later the European world”[3].

[1] From this point forward, I will refer to this being as “God” as all three monotheistic religions worship the same entity.

[2] Howard R. Turner, Science in Medieval Islam, p18.

[3] Hugh Kennedy, The Great Arab Conquest, p295.

12 November, 2009

Thesis Outline

I think I may have finally worked out some of the kinks in my outline. Following is a draft (I won't include the thesis paragraph):

I) Introduction

a) This section will be written last

b) This section will organize the paper

II) The Coming of New Ideas

a) The introduction of paper and a new capital city

(1) Around 751 c.e., the Muslims learned the paper-making technique from the Chinese. This led to the increased importance of learning in the Abbasid courts.

(2) On July 30, 762, al-Mansur ordered the construction of the Round City, which would later be called “Baghdad”.

(i) Al-Mansur began the quest for knowledge with the establishment of his Royal Library in 765 c.e.

(ii) In 795, the first paper-making factory was built in Baghdad.

(3) Al-Mansur’s son, Harun al-Rashid, had an affinity toward learning and knowledge.

(i) Love of poetry

b) The House of Wisdom was established as a place of scholarship and translation.

(1) It is also called Bayt al-Hikmah or Dar el-Hikmah, depending on where you are from.

(i) Tthe Qur’an uses the term “hekmah” when speaking about “wisdom” and speaks of Gods call to acquire knowledge

(2) The Abbasid caliph Ma’mun was highly interested in seeking knowledge, therefore he established a special place for the study of knowledge to take place.

(i) Scholars from around the known world were invited to the House of Wisdom in order to translate works into Arabic from their native tongue.

(ii) In 771 c.e., a Hindu delegation visited the Abbasid court bringing with them their system of astrology/astronomy and various texts.

c) Review of the Literature

(1) Jonathan Lyons, The House of Wisdom

III) The House of Wisdom and the Arabic Translation Movement

a) New ways of thinking brought new discoveries in the maths and sciences

(1) Where earlier works were based on theory, the scientific and mathematic works by Arab/Muslim scholars in the House were based on observation and experimentation, making them more useful and sound than their predecessors.

(2) al-Khwarizmi and his work on algorithms, astronomy, and astrology

(3) al-Jabr and his work in mathematics, particularly algebra

(4) Albumazar

(i) The Introduction to Astrology, written in Baghdad around 848, served as the basis for bringing knowledge on the heavens and events on earth to the Latin-speaking West.

(ii) Considered a leading authority in the science of the heavens (as quoted by Lyons on page 139).

IV) The European Translation Movement ~ The Spread of Knowledge

a) The Crusades brought the west into contact with the east

(1) Masons who were also crusaders incorporated much of what they saw into their own work

(2) New knowledge brought to the West was in complete conflict with what the norm was at the time creating heated theological debates as well as banishment and excommunication of leading authorities (i.e. Master Amaury, David of Dinant, etc.).

(3) New writing forms emerged from contact with the east: the framed tale - a story within a story.

(i) Chaucer adopted this style in The Canterbury Tales

b) Adelard of Bath and his translations

c) Stephen of Pisa

d) The monastic scriptoria where monks copied and/or translated important works in math and science

V) Conclusion

a) Why was the House such an important institution?

(1) Significance within Islam

(2) Scientific inquiry/findings

b) Summary of the paper

c) Osama bin Laden, et. al., seeking a return to the Arab golden age

d) Importance of preservation

11 November, 2009

"Lost History"

I began reading this book today (by Michael Hamilton Morgan) and am a bit perplexed. It is published by the National Geographic Society, so I expect some bias in it, however, there seems to be a serious lack of citations. While he does include a rather short bibliography at the end, he does not cite any of his sources within the text itself. I am only about halfway through the first chapter (each chapter is roughly 40 pages long). I want to use this book as a source, but I am finding that I may not be able to due to the citation issue. How can a "scholar" write a book on any subject and NOT cite their sources? While what I have read so far sounds fairly accurate from an historical standpoint (I base this on the previous research I have done in my field of study during my undergraduate education and some classes I have taken), how can I justify using it as a source for my thesis??

09 November, 2009

First Chapter

I have begun the slow process of writing my Master's Thesis and have one paragraph nearly complete. I still have a bit of reading to do before I can really get into the writing, but I do try to write a little when the thoughts start entering my brain. This way the thoughts are in written form and I can move on. As my dad says, I need to clear the cobwebs from my head. In my studies I have found that many scholars write a chapter on Islam to give background on their work. Islam is, in my opinion, a cornerstone to knowledge and wisdom within the Muslim world. I, too, will incorporate Islam into my thesis to give a little background directly pertaining to the pursuit of knowledge during the early years.

One of the books I am reading is Science in Medieval Islam by Howard R. Turner. I have it on loan from the Gary Library (Vermont College) until the end of the month. I am really enjoying this book! It is more of a text on an exhibit put together several years ago with many, many pictures. The reading is going rather quickly, but I decided to purchase a copy through Barnes & Noble for my shelf. Having my own copy will also allow me to make notes within the book, which is my reading style when in the research mode. I am also reading Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists by Michael Hamilton Morgan. This one is also on my bookshelf on this blog (Shelfari).

I am still working on the timeline (previous post) and will probably not have it completed until near the end of the writing process. That only makes sense because I want to use it as an appendix. One of the other things I have decided to do is incorporate, just after the Chapter #, a quote relating to the chapter. For instance, the Introduction will start with the title of the chapter (i.e. "Introduction") and immediately following a snippet from a Beatles song. Then I will write the actual introduction following that quote. I think, and hope, it will add a little something to my work.

I will leave you with that, wondering which song...

05 November, 2009

Timeline of Science and Math

I am currently working on a timeline, of sorts, pertaining to the translations and the improvements/discoveries based on the translations in the House of Wisdom. Once I have completed this timeline, I will post it here. I am also planning to include it as an appendix in my thesis. I think it would be relevant!

04 November, 2009

Lyons Book Review

Well, I finally finished the Lyons book, The House of Wisdom, and what can I say other than it is such a great read! While it seems to be a little dry at first, part way through the first chapter the pace picks up. I found myself not wanting to put it down, but my tired eyes required that I do. Following is the actual review that I submitted as my class assignments:


Jonathan Lyons breaks his book, The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization, into four sections: night, morning, mid-day, and afternoon. Each of these sections represents a specific time in the day of a Muslim – that is a specific time of prayer. In contrast, they also seem to represent a specific time in Muslim or Arab history. The first section, night, represents the end of a “golden age” while at the same time the coming of new ideas into Western Europe from the East. Lyons discusses the Crusades at length during the “night”. His main “character” here, and throughout the book, is Adelard of Bath who was considered one of the top intellectuals from England. Another way to look at the “night” section is “the Dark Ages” as this is the time when Europe and the West were in the throws of the Dark Ages and intellectual life was at a stalemate.

The next section, “morning”, could be equated to the dawn of the new intellectual age in the Middle East. This was a time period when knowledge was being translated from Persian, Hindu, and Greek texts into Arabic. In this section, Lyons discusses the role of the Abbasid Caliph Ma’mun in bringing a plethora of knowledge into the Middle East. He also discusses the establishment of a centralized location where this scholarly work can be accomplished: that being the House of Wisdom. It is because of and within the House of Wisdom the Arabs were able to make a number of scientific and mathematical improvements on existing texts. It is also for this same reason that a new way of thinking began to emerge from the Middle East: deductive reasoning or critical thinking.

The third section, “mid-day”, goes back to the time of the Crusades and Adelard of Bath. Here, Lyons discusses the new knowledge coming into Europe and the welcome it received, both positive and negative. Because Europe relied heavily on the teachings of the church, this new knowledge was not welcomed in theological circles. In academia, however, this same knowledge was highly welcomed. It created new university towns such as the University of Paris and Oxford University. Much of the works in Arabic were translated into Latin so scholars in the West could understand them. Ironically, much of this translation took place in the monasteries by monks.

The final section, “afternoon”, pushes forward with the continuing of translation into Latin those works from the East. Lyons discusses, at length, the patronage of Frederick II to learning all that he could from the Arabs. He brings into his realm learned men such as Michael Scot, Leonardo of Pisa (aka Fibonacci), and even Thomas Aquinas, all of whom were eager to learn from the Arab texts. The primary focus of this section is the theological disputes between Frederick II and the rest of Christendom. Frederick II is said to have taken on a Muslim lifestyle including chanting the five daily prayers; and his court followed his example.

Overall, this book has a lively read to it and the subject matter is crucial to the understanding of Arab thinkers during the Abbasid Caliphate. Lyons does a good job of showing the overall progression of knowledge from Baghdad into the realm of Europe. He also does a wonderful job of explaining not just the initial contact of the East with the Greeks, Persians, and Indians, but of the improvements made upon these works by the Arabs within and without the House of Wisdom.


I formatted as if I would submit it to a scholarly journal in order to get the practice. I am still waiting on feedback from both professors (as I submitted to both classes for different purposes). Next on my reading agenda is a book by Dr. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History, as well as a book by Howard R. Turner, Science in Medieval Islam.

01 November, 2009

ASMEA Conference Update

I really enjoyed attending my first professional conference and learned a lot from the panels I sat in on. There was a good variety of information being presented, as well as an impressive book display (with books based primarily on the topics of the papers presented). I would have to say my favorite part of the conference was meeting the Drs. Bernard Lewis and Arthur Goldschmidt, Jr. What a wonderful wealth of information! It was also nice to see the military/DoD play an active role in the conference. This is quite an unusual thing to get academics and DoD on the same page! Kudos to those who presented!! Here is a pic of some of the handouts and a new book by Dr. Lewis (which he graciously signed):

During my time in the DC area, I did manage to visit Arlington National Cemetery and the opening day of the Falnama exhibit at the Sackler Gallery. I enjoyed my trek through the cemetery, although I do recommend tennis shoes! HA!! The Gallery was not allowing photography in the exhibit, so I don't have any of my own to share. I did purchase the lovely $40.00 book that contains pictures of everything in the exhibit. Maybe the book is their way of getting us to buy something?! Anyway, here are a few pics from Arlington:

Women in Military Service Memorial and Arlington House

The Eternal Flame and Opposite the flame looking toward DC

Bobby Kennedy and Ted Kennedy

Since my return, I have been steadily working on some papers I need to turn in - soon. I am almost finished reading the Lyons book and will begin on the next book immediately following. Look for an update on the Lyons Book Review in the next day or so.