Compiling Knowledge in the Medieval Islamic World

with Elias Muhanna

hosted by Chris Gratien and Zoe Griffith

readings by Nora Lessersohn

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Classical encyclopedias and compendia such as Pliny’s Natural History have long been known to Western audiences, but the considerably more recent works of medieval Islamic scholars have been comparatively ignored. In this episode, we talk to Elias Muhanna about his new translation of a fourteenth-century Arabic compendium by Egyptian scholar Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, which covers everything from astrological and natural phenomena to religion, politics, food, animals, sex, and of course history. Al-Nuwayri’s compendium, entitled The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition (Nihayat al-arab fi funun al-adab), is rare glimpse into not only the worldview of a 14th century scholar but also the centuries of texts and learning available to the literati of the Mamluk Empire and the medieval Islamicate world.

This episode is part of an ongoing series entitled "History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise."

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PARTICIPANT BIOS

Elias Muhanna is the Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University. He is a scholar of classical Arabic literature and Islamic intellectual history.
Chris Gratien holds a Ph.D. from Georgetown University's Department of History and is currently an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. His research focuses on the social and environmental history of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region from the 1850s until the 1950s.
Zoe Griffith is a doctoral candidate in History at Brown University working on political economy and governance in Egypt and the Ottoman Mediterranean. Zoe is a co-curator of the OHP series on legal history in the Ottoman Empire and Islamic world.   
Nora Lessersohn is a Ph.D. student in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.  Her work focuses on Ottoman Armenians in Anatolia, Istanbul, and the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

CREDITS

Episode No. 282
Release Date: 16 November 2016
Recording Location: Brown University
Editing and production by Chris Gratien
Sound excerpts: from archive.org - Baglamamin Dugumu - Necmiye Ararat and MuzafferKatibim (Uskudar'a Gider iken) - Safiye Ayla
Special thanks to Kara Güneş for allowing us to use the composition "Istanbul" in the intro music
Additional music recordings of Charbel Rouhana (oud) and Samir Siblini (nay), July 2003, courtesy of Elias Muhanna
Bibliography courtesy of Elias Muhanna

click for The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition translated by Elias Muhanna on Penguin Classics website
SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
courtesy of Elias Muhanna

ARABIC EDITIONS OF AL-NUWAYRĪ'S WORK

al-Nuwayrī, Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb. Nihāyat al-arab fī funūn al-adab. Cairo: al-Muʾassasa al-Miṣriyya al-‘Āmma lil-Ta’līf wa-‘l-Tarjama wa-‘l-Ṭibā‘a wa-‘l-Nashr, 1923-97.
———. Nihāyat al-arab fī funūn al-adab. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2004.


MAMLUK HISTORY AND LITERATURE

Allen, Roger and D.S. Richards, eds. Arabic Literature in the Post-Classical Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Bauer, Thomas. “Anthologies A. Arabic Literature; 2. Post-Mongol period,” Encyclopaedia of Islam Three.
———. “Mamluk Literature: Misunderstandings and New Approaches.” Mamluk Studies Review 9, no. 2 (2005): 105-32.
Berkel, Maaike van. “A Well-Mannered Man of Letters or a Cunning Accountant: Al-Qalqashandī and the Historical Position of the Kātib.” Al-Masāq 13 (2001): 87-96.
Berkey, Jonathan. “Culture and Society during the Late Middle Ages.” In The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume 1: Islamic Egypt, 640-1517, edited by Carl F. Petry, 375-411. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
———. The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo: A Social History of Islamic Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Chamberlain, Michael. Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190-1350. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Guo, Li. “Mamluk Historiographic Studies: The State of the Art.” Mamluk Studies Review 1 (1997): 15-43.
Haarmaan, Ulrich. “Arabic in Speech, Turkish in Lineage: Mamluks and their Sons in the Intellectual Life of Fourteenth-Century Egypt and Syria.” Journal of Semitic Studies 33, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 81-114.
Irwin, Robert. The Middle East in the Middle Ages: The Early Mamlūk Sultanate 1250-1382. London: Croom Help, 1986.
Lapidus, Ira M. Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Levanoni, Amalia. A Turning Point in Mamluk History: The Third Reign of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad ibn Qalāwūn (1310-1341). Leiden: Brill, 1995.
Little, Donald P. An Introduction to Mamluk Historiography: An Analysis of Arabic Annalistic and Biographical Sources for the Reign of al-Malik an-Nāṣir Muḥammad ibn Qalāʾūn. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1970.
Martel-Thoumian, Bernadette. Les civils et l’administration dans l’État militaire mamluk (IXe/XVe siècle). Damascus: Institut français de Damas, 1992.
Northrup, Linda S. “The Baḥrī Mamlūk Sultanate: 1250-1390.” In The Cambridge History of Egypt, Volume 1: Islamic Egypt, 640-1517, edited by Carl F. Petry, 242-89. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
———.  From Slave to Sultan: The Career of al-Manṣūr Qalāwūn and the Consolidation of Mamluk Rule in Egypt and Syria (678-689 A.H. / 1279-1290 A.D.). Stuttgart F. Steiner, 1998.
Petry, Carl F. The Civilian Elite of Cairo in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
Philipp, Thomas and Ulrich Haarmann, eds. The Mamluks in Egyptian Politics and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Steenbergen, Jo van. Order out of Chaos: Patronage, Conflict and Mamluk Socio-Political Culture, 1341-1382. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Wiet, Gaston. “Les classiques du scribe égyptien.” Studia Islamica 18 (1963): 41-80.

ISLAMIC ENCYCLOPEDISM

Biesterfeldt, Hans Hinrich. “Arabisch-islamische Enzyklopädien: Formen und Funktionen.” In Die Enzyklopädie im Wandel vom Hockmittelalter bis zur frühen Neuzeit, edited by Christel Meier, 43-83. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2002.
Binkley, Peter, ed. Pre-modern encyclopaedic texts: proceedings of the second COMERS Congress, Groningen, 1-4 July 1996. Leiden: Brill, 1997.
Blachère, Régis. “Quelques réflexions sur les formes de l’encyclopédisme en Egypte et en Syrie du VIIIe/XIVe siècle à la fin du IXe/XVe siècle.” Bulletin des études orientales 23 (1970): 7-19.
Bosworth, C.E. “A pioneer Arabic encyclopedia of the sciences: al-Khwārizmī’s Keys of the Sciences.” Isis, 54.1 (1963): 97-111.
Endress, Gerhard, ed. Organizing Knowledge: Encyclopaedic Activities in the Pre-Eighteenth Century Islamic World. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Heck, Paul L. The Construction of Knowledge in Islamic Civilization: Qudāma b. Jaʿfar and his Kitāb al-kharāj wa-ṣināʿat al-kitāba. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
Hees, Syrinx von. Enzyklopädie als Spiegel des Weltbildes: Qazwīnīs Wunder der Schöpfung – eine Naturkunde des 13. Jahrhunderts. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2002.
Heinrichs, Wolfhart P. “The Classification of the Sciences and the Consolidation of Philology in Classical Islam.” In Centres of Learning: Learning and Location in Pre-Modern Europe and the Near East, edited by Jan Willem Drijvers and Alasdair A. MacDonald, 119-39. Leiden: Brill, 1995.
Kilpatrick, Hilary. “A Genre in Classical Arabic Literature: The adab Encyclopedia.” In Proceedings [of The] 10th Congress of the U. E. A. I., Edinburgh, 9-16 September 1980, edited by Robert Hillenbrand, 34-42. Edinburgh, 1982.
Muhanna, Elias I.  “Why was the Fourteenth Century a Century of Arabic Encyclopaedism?” In Encyclopaedism from Antiquity to the Renaissance, edited by Jason König and Greg Woolf, 343-56. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
———.  “Encyclopaedias, Arabic.” Encyclopaedia of Islam Three. (Leiden: Brill, 2015).
Pellat, Charles. “Les Encyclopédies dans le Monde Arabe.” Cahiers d'histoire mondiale 9 (1966): 631-58.
Rosenthal, Franz. The Technique and Approach of Muslim Scholarship. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1947.
Zakī, Aḥmad. Mawsū‘āt al-‘ulūm al-‘arabiyya wa-baḥth ʿalā rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ. Būlāq: al-Maṭbaʿa al-Amīriyya, 1308/1890.

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