The Mediterranean Connection: Rewriting the History of Medieval and Renaissance Science and Medicine
Katharine Park is Samuel Zemurray, Jr. and Doris Zemurray Stone Racliffe Professor Emerita of the History of Science at Harvard University, where she also chaired the program in Women’s Studies, 1998-2003. Her research focuses on the history of science and medicine in medieval and early modern Europe and the Mediterranean world. Her books include Doctors and Medicine in Early Renaissance Italy (1986), Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (1998, coauthored with Lorraine Daston), Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection (2006); and The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3: Early Modern Science (2006, coedited with Lorraine Daston). She is a recipient of the Pfizer and Rossiter Prizes and the Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society, the Welch Medal of the American Association of the History of Medicine, and the Dan David Prize 2021.
The early history of Western science is invariably taught according to an outdated, teleological narrative: the “Greeks” invented science, the “Arabs” assimilated and transmitted Greek science to the Latin West, and Latin scholars built on it to invent “modern science.” The book I am writing with Ahmed Ragab, which covers the period from the 8th through the 17th centuries, argues that in fact, Greek, Arabic, and Latin science coexisted throughout this period in constant communication with one another. The book is organized chronologically around a series of chapters, each set in a different city and focused on a particular object of scientific knowledge that illustrates the close and ongoing connections between Arabic, Greek, and Latin science. This semester, I am hoping to draft the chapter on the hospital of St. John in Jerusalem (est. 1099), to finish the research on the atlas of maps produced by al-Idrīsī for Roger II of Sicily (Palermo, ca. 1154), and to do some basic sitework for the chapters on women’s medicine (Salerno/Messina, 11th-12th centuries) and the Indo-Arabic numerals and the art of calculation (Pisa, 12th-13th centuries) as it pertains to the career of Leonardo of Pisa, AKA Fibonacci. Chapters already drafted pertain to the elephant and waterclock Harūn al-Rashīd sent to Charlemagne, cinnamon in the context of the trans-Eurasian trade in spices and medicinal ingredients, and the month of March in the Calendar of Córdoba.