1st Edition

Historiography of the History of Science in Islamicate Societies Practices, Concepts, Questions

By Sonja Brentjes Copyright 2023

    This book presents eight papers about important historiographical issues as debated in the history of science in Islamicate societies, the history of science and philosophy of medieval Latin Europe and the history of mathematics as an academic discipline. Six papers deal with themes about the sciences in Islamicate societies from the ninth to the seventeenth centuries, among them novelty, context and decline. Two other papers discuss the historiographical practices of historians of mathematics and other disciplines in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    The central argument of the collected papers is that in addition and beyond the study of scientific texts and instruments historians of science in Islamicate societies need to pay attention to cultural, material and social aspects that shaped the scientific activities of the authors and makers of such texts and instruments. It is pointed out that the diachronic, de-contextualized comparison between methods and results of scholars from different centuries, regions and cultures often leads to serious distortions of the historical record and is responsible for the long-term neglect of scholarly activities after the so-called "Golden Age".

    The book will appeal in particular to teachers of history of science in Islamicate societies, to graduate students interested in issues of methodology and to historians of science grappling with the unresolved problems of how think and write about the sciences in concrete societies of the past instead of subsuming all extant texts, instruments, maps and other objects related to the sciences under macro-level concepts like Islam or Latin Europe. (CS 1114).


    1. Novelty as Cultural Value: Places, Forms and Norms of the Claims to Novelty in Islamic Societies. English version of: ‘La Nouveauté comme valeur culturelle,’ in Sarah Carvallo, Sophie Roux (eds.), Du nouveau dans les sciences, Recherches sur la philosophie et le langage 24, Grenoble: Université Pierre Mendès France, 37–70.
    2. Reflections on the Role of the Exact Sciences in Islamic Culture and Education between the Twelfth and the Fifteenth Centuries, published in Mohammed Abattouy (ed.), Etudes d’histoire des sciences arabes, Casablanca: Fondation du Roi Abdul-Aziz, 2007, 15–33.
    3. What could it mean to contextualize the sciences in Islamic societies of the past?, published in Mohammed Abattouy (d.), Les sciences dans les sociétés islamiques. Approches historiques et perspectives d’avenir, Casablanca: Fondation du Roi Abdul-Aziz, 2007, 15–41.
    4. The Mathematical Sciences in the Safavid Empire: Questions and Perspectives, published in D. Hermann, F. Speziale (eds.), Muslim Cultures in the Indo-Iranian World during the Early-Modern and Modern Periods, Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, Tehran: Institut Français de Recherche en Iran, 2010, 325–402.
    5. The prison of categories - 'decline' and its company, published in F. Opwis, and D. Reisman (eds.), Islamic philosophy, science, culture, and religion: studies in honor of Dimitri Gutas. Leiden: Brill, 2012, 131–56.
    6. Towards a new approach to medieval cross-cultural exchanges, co-authored with Fidora, A., & Tischler and M. M., published in Journal of Transcultural Medieval Studies, 1(1) (2014), 9–50.
    7. Practicing History of Mathematics in Islamicate Societies in 19th-century Germany and France, published in V. R. Remmert, M. R. Schneider, & H. Kragh Sørensen (eds.), Historiography of Mathematics in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Cham: Birkhäuser, (2016), 25–52.
    8. Was there a shift from faith-neutral to faith-based scholarly communities in Islamic societies from the classical to the post-classical period?, English version of ‘Sans Islam dan kerjasama lintas agama,’ in Symseuddein Arif (ed.), Islamic Science. Paradigma, Fakta dan Agenda, Jakarta: Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought and Civilizations, (INSISTS), 2016, 138–55.


    Sonja Brentjes is an historian of science with specialization in Islamicate societies, the late medieval Mediterranean and early modern Catholic and Protestant Europe. Currently, she is a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Her latest books include: Teaching and Learning the Sciences in Islamicate Societies, 800–1700 (2018) and The Routledge Handbook of the Sciences in Islamicate Societies: Practices from the 2nd/8th to the 13th/19th Centuries (2023), co-edited with Peter Barker (associate editor) and Rana Brentjes (assistant editor).