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Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560–1660

, 256 pages

30 halftones

June 2010



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Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560–1660

Avner Ben-Zaken reconsiders the fundamental question of how early modern scientific thought traveled between Western and Eastern cultures in the age of the so-called Scientific Revolution.

Through five meticulously researched case studies—in which he explores how a single obscure object or text moved in the Eastern world—Ben-Zaken reveals the intricate ways that scientific knowledge moved across cultures. His diligent exploration traces the eastward flow of post-Copernican cosmologies and scientific discoveries, showing how these ideas were disseminated, modified, and applied to local cultures.

Never before has a student of scientific traffic in the Mediterranean taken such pains to see precisely which instruments, books, and ideas first appeared where, in whose hands, by what means, and with what implications. In doing so, Ben-Zaken challenges accepted views of Western primacy in this fruitful exchange. He shows not only how Islamic cultures benefited from European scientific knowledge but also how Eastern understanding of classical Greek texts informed developments in the West.

Ben-Zaken’s mastery of different cultures and languages uniquely positions him to tell this intriguing story. His findings reshape our understanding of scientific discourse in this critical period and contribute to the growing field of cross-cultural Christian-Muslim studies.

Avner Ben-Zaken is a former Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows .

"Each chapter is meticulously researched and includes a bibliography divided into primary, secondary, and reference sections."

"This book expands the entire field of intellectual history, the history of the book, cultural history, and the history of science."

"Ben-Zaken's book is a wide-ranging examination of the interface between the new astronomy in Europe and the Middle East. It is an unusual and eclectic approach, in places as fascinating as a detective story."

"This book is a bag of gems, some of them rarely seen before. It is both a history of science as well as a detective-like pursuit of ideas, persons, instruments, and texts as they travel and get translated, transformed, adopted, and exchanged across the various European and Eastern Mediterranean communities."

"Ben-Zaken sheds new light on our understanding of cross-cultural scientific exchanges... The book demonstrates... the crucial part played by the ottoman Empire in the fashioning of a global world, not only in terms of its dialogues with the European empires, but also it conflicts."

"A fruitful way to explore how it was that the new scientific theories and methods produced in early modern Europe became the globally practiced science of the 21st century."

"This is a serious, and remarkable, work of scholarship, and as such it very much deserves to be the starting point for further debate. Ben-Zaken does an excellent job of showing how and why the to and fro of information exchange, and of enterprise, results not just in distortion but sometimes in embellishment or enhancement."

"An exciting book that will be the archetype of the new generation of scholarship... Ben-Zaken presents his stories in a robust narrative... and offers many brilliant plot lines that incorporate a very diverse body of scholarship. He goes a long way toward establishing that the Mediterranean was a well-integrated cultural zone and that the main factor that divides the histories of science in this area is language."

"The breadth of this study, geographically and in terms of methodology, constitutes an impressive achievement, infinitely expanding a traditional view of early modern science."

"Ben-Zaken’s book offers an intriguing approach, empirically richer and more innovative... Doubtless Ben-Zaken has demonstrated with much inventive ingenuity that during these first decades of the Scientific Revolution a variety of remarkable encounters took place in the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean."

"This book demonstrates Ben-Zaken to be an indefatigable seeker of historical knowledge as well as an amazing linguistic virtuoso."

"The book offers five case studies, each of which takes the reader into fascinating territory... that underscores the study’s underlying theme of science as textual, material presence, celebrated, promoted, exchanged, copied, bought and sold. Thus the study operates simultaneously as challenging occidental prejudices in the academy (a welcome trend in recent years) and aligning itself with a materialist sensibility now firmly established in early modern scholarship. It offers sociological insights into how the kind of accidental, contingent exchange of knowledge leads to further discoveries –developments whose contingency and localism is flattened out in the writing of history."

"This book is one of those rare works that sehds light on a thoroughly studied area (The Scientific Revolution), making it look fresh and challenging... It invites us to reassess the established views about the origins of modern science and the factors that fuelled its expansion."

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