Book-hoarding, 10th Century Style

April 25, 2013

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me in recent months, whether in real life or in some virtual space, has probably heard me bemoan the state of my office bookshelves.  As the photo above attests, they overflow. Loaded two deep and stacked rather than shelved, there is still not enough room. Worse, […]

Read the full article →

The Art of the Book

April 21, 2013

The Islamic world created illuminated manuscripts that rivaled anything that came out of a medieval monastery: Qu’rans, historical chronicles, stories of the prophets, the deeds of kings, lyric poetry, heroic epics, philosophy, scientific treatises, and romantic tales. Caliphs, courtiers, and wealthy merchants commissioned manuscripts from the ninth century until well into the seventeenth century, when […]

Read the full article →

Ibn Who?

October 9, 2012

If you spend any time studying history in a serious way–whether in school and/or as a dedicated history nerd–you end up with a list in your head of Great Historians of the Past: Herodotus*, Thucydides, Tacitus, the Venerable Bede, Gibbon, Macaulay, Prescott. Even after their historical works were revised or even rejected by later scholars**, […]

Read the full article →

Alhazen: The First True Scientist?

September 19, 2012

Islamic scholar Abu Ali al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham (ca. 965-1041), known in the West as Alhazen, began his career as just another Islamic polymath. He soon got himself in trouble with the ruler of Cairo by boasting that he could regulate the flow of the Nile with a series of dams and dikes. At first glance, […]

Read the full article →

From Here to Timbuktu

August 21, 2012

Timbuktu has been in the news lately as a result of growing control by Islamic extremists, whose narrow interpretation of sharia law has led to the destruction of Muslim tombs, innocent people lashed in the streets, and thousands of refugees fleeing their homes. It’s a good time to remind people of a time when Timbuktu […]

Read the full article →

History on Display: 1001 Inventions

July 24, 2012

Last year, a couple of months before I launched History in the Margins,  My Own True Love and I met up with one of my best history buddies to visit an exhibit at the New York Hall of Science:  1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization. Although the exhibit was obviously designed with children […]

Read the full article →

A Interview with Steve Kemper About A Labyrinth of Kingdoms

July 3, 2012

Sometimes a book grabs you by the throat and won’t let you put it down. I recently experienced that with Steve Kemper’s A Labyrinth of KIngdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa. I got so wrapped up in the story that I broke my long-standing rule about traveling with hardcover books because I wanted to finish […]

Read the full article →

Stranger Magic

May 8, 2012

I’m fascinated by the Arabian Nights. By the stories themselves and the way they fit together into their complicated frame story. By their transformation from Arabic street tales to a established position in the Western canon.* By their echoes in Western culture, from the Romantic poets to Disney. So I was delighted to get a […]

Read the full article →

What Do the Rose Bowl and the Ottoman Empire Have in Common?

March 29, 2012

Marching bands. Beginning in 1299, the elite corps of the Ottoman armies, the janissaries, used military bands made up of wind and percussion instruments to inspire their troops and terrify their enemies. (Not that different from a half-time show, right?) The music they played was called mehter, a stirring mixture of drums, horn and oboe […]

Read the full article →

Al-Khwarizmi Does the Math

February 29, 2012

Quick:  multiply DVII by XVIII.  Before you could work the problem you translated it into Arabic numbers didn’t you? The person you can thank, or blame, for your ability to multiply and divide is the mathematician and astronomer Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (ca. 783-847), whose name lives on in a mangled form as “algorithm.  (Honest.  […]

Read the full article →