Rethinking the History of Western Science Narrative, Translation, and the Longue Durée
The narrative that dominates histories of Western science describes this in terms of episodes separated by two major “translation movements”: Greek to Arabic, in the 8th and 9th centuries CE, and Arabic to Latin, in the 12th and early 13th. This chain of custody serves simultaneously to certify the connection between ancient Greek thinkers and early modern European ones and to downplay the role played in this history by their counterparts in the lands of Islam. Yet the geography and chronology on which this narrative rests prove to be incoherent, requiring us to rethink the nature of translation, narrative, and the relationship between Arabic and Latin science in the medieval and early modern worlds.
Katharine Park is Samuel Zemurray, Jr. and Doris Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her research and teaching focus on the history of science and medicine in medieval and early modern Europe, and on the history of gender, sexuality, and the body. Her books include The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3: Early Modern Science (co-edited with Lorraine Daston, 2006); and Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection (2006), which won both the History of Women in Science Prize of the History of Science Society and the William H. Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine.