HPS Brownbag- Scott Trigg
Reading the Cosmos:
Commentaries and the Education of an Islamic Astronomer
History and Philosophy of Science Postdoctoral Fellow
Late medieval Islamic commentaries are a potentially rich but little-used source for historians to explore how ideas about science and religion were transmitted, criticized, and revised both in and outside of formal educational institutions. In this paper, I discuss examples taken from the previously unstudied commentaries of Fatḥallāh al-Shirwānī, a 15th c. astronomer and theologian who trained at the famous Samarqand observatory and was associated with the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in Istanbul. In particular, Shirwānī’s commentary on Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkira fī ʿilm al-hayʾa provides a glimpse inside a medieval classroom, introducing the reader to the theory and practice of astronomy while relating anecdotes from Shirwānī’s student days in Samarqand. Thus, the commentary provides an important case study of scientific education in Islamic society during a formative period in the creation of the modern world.