Biennial workshop draws scholars from around the world

Author: Gene Stowe, for NDWorks

Eleventh Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop

A Canadian scholar made a case for Islamic origins of some Copernican ideas at the opening of the University’s Eleventh Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop.

Jamil Ragep, Canada Research Chair in the History of Science in Islamic Societies and director of the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, gave the public address on June 12 in the Hesburgh Library.

The conference, June 12 to 16, attracted some 60 participants, including a dozen from other countries. Events included paper and poster presentations, panel discussions and a trip to the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago.

Organizer Matt Dowd said the conference theme involved the diffusion and transmission of astronomical ideas in history—across cultural, national, amateur-professional, language and other boundaries. Presenters could also choose other topics.

“People come at it from a lot of directions,” said Dowd, who earned a Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science Department in 2003, works as manuscript program manager at the University of Notre Dame Press and occasionally teaches.

“You can come out of the humanities, you can come out of the sciences,” said Dowd, adding that studies can range from exact science to religious and cultural dimensions of astronomy. “We’ve got people from museums. We don’t want to focus in on any one thing. Historians of astronomy are not such a huge group that we can start breaking into little pockets.”

Ragep presented evidence that Copernicus was familiar with the Tusi-couple, developed by a Muslim astronomer in Persian in the 13th century to help explain planetary motion, as an example as an example of how ideas migrate among cultures.

Such complex ideas, he said, are unlikely to arise independently in parallel. “Such devices and models take time to evolve and be perfected,” Ragep said. “The sudden appearance of such models should cause us to suspect claims of no transmission.”

The Graduate Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, the Reilly Center and the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, as well as the Adler Planetarium, help support the conference.