7. Sarton and Arabic science
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In concluding I find it convenient to refer to Professor Sami Hamarneh and quote a few passages from his paper "Sarton and the Arabic-Islamic Legacy". He says;
"The Two ventures that meant so much to Sarton and were a great source of satisfaction to him in their realization and execution were the publication and enthusiastic reception of Isis and the Introduction. To them he devoted the best part of his life's energies, and because of them he is best remembered. From the beginning, Sarton planned that the two publications would "go forward hand-in-hand." It was intended that Isis contain certain articles dealing with the general historical aspects of science and culture, the findings of research, news items, queries and answers, book reviews and systematic critical bibliographies. The latter added new spirit, dimension and organization to this entirely new academic discipline which he worked so hard to establish, and of which he became to outstanding pioneer. So it was that before his passing from the scene, the subject of the history of science had become firmly established as a permanent feature of the academic landscape, not only in the New World but in many countries of the Old as well ."
"Another dream of Sarton's was fulfilled in January 1924 when the 'History of Science Society' in the U.S. was incorporated. Two years later, Isis became its official organ. Although from its incorporation the Society supported Isis, the fact remains that for the best part of forty years, Sarton continued to pay a good portion of its operational and publication costs out of his own pocket. In 1952, after his retirement from Harvard, he relinquished this responsibility, and the editorship of Isis passed to other hands. But it never again reflected the same spirit it had once enjoyed under Sarton's fatherly devotion.
Figure 4: Page from Rhasis philosophi tractatus nonus ad regem Almansorem, de curatione morborum particularium, the latin translation published in Paris in 1534 of Muhammad ibn Zakariya Razi's Kitab al-mansuri fi 'l-tib. (Source).
"It should be explained here that the completion of the exhaustive five-volume Introduction constituted only the first part of Sarton's larger and more ambitious project of a history of science to the end of the 19th century. But the data and preparations needed for continuation were so tremendous that he had to stop at the 15th century - they could not have been completed in one person's lifetime at the same level of scholarship and perfection. The project as envisaged would have been impossible as the sole effort of one person. Admittedly, it would have required a team or even generations of scholars with varied talents and academic qualifications. Sarton himself wrote: "It is already clear that I shall not be able to carry my investigation down to the 20th century." It is hard to explain the scope of his scholarly research. Consideration of their apparatus as of January 1931, for example, will be illuminating. He had consulted some 3100 books; 4000 booklets, monographs and reprints, and about 41000 bibliography cards. By 1947 'the arsenal' had grown into 3400 books, 13500 pamphlets, and 80 000 cards and other documents. Add to these the availability of the Harvard libraries. As it was, Sarton accomplished and enormous intellectual feat with disciplined erudition -a task to which he devoted the best years of his life. His hard 'labour of love', vigorously promoted and increased interest in areas that had been disastrously neglected. And for the periods he covered, this was the first survey of human civilization to the published as completely and accurately as humanly possible ."
Again, Sami Hamarneh writes: "Volume one of the Introduction (1927) took nine years of preparation and covered a two millennia period, 'a kind of wager, the very idea of it', Sarton wrote, 'causes me to shudder,' By September 1930, Sarton had completed the final draft for the second volume (in two parts). Publication was completed by July 1931, after thirteen years of preparations while volume three (also in two parts) took twenty seven for completion. In them he used both analytical and synthetic investigation. His intention was to enable scholars to know as exactly as possible the state of knowledge at the time for each topic. The work contained the first tolerably complete account of medieval science and technology, integrating eastern and western cumulative knowledge into a single synthesis.
Figure 5: Picture of a page from Al-Jazari's Al-hiyal fi 'l-'ilm wal-'amal on engineering. © The National Library of Egypt, Cairo; extracted from The Memory of the World project (UNESCO). (Source).
"By the end of 1947, 103 numbers of Isis (in 35 volumes) had already appeared plus 67 critical bibliographies, and seven volumes of Osiris. With irony Sarton explained: 'If I were to attempt volume four this would take ten to fifteen years (or more). This would be tempting Providence.' Indeed he died in less than nine years from the time of his writing that statement. He therefore preferred to devote 'the rest of his life to shorter (and smaller) undertakings.' He thought of smaller books carrying his investigations of the late medieval period into the Renaissance and the early modern periods. But even here, and at his advanced age he reiterated: 'I was determined to examine everything with my own eyes,' to secure accuracy and veracity ."
It would have been a great blessing for the historians of science and the students of intellectual history, had Sarton been able to bring his Introduction down to the end of the 15th century. For the 16th century has been conceived as an integral part of modern times and as a period of dissolution of continuity with the Middle Ages. As a consequence of this tradition both the teacher and the researcher will find reference works without much difficulty for these later centuries, while for the 15th century the situation is quite different. For that century it is not easy either to gain all-round pictures for that era as a whole or for major aspects of it, or, again, to place its specific problems into sufficiently enlightening backgrounds. A special volume or a pair of tomes as for the 14th century, on the 15th century as a part of the Introduction would have therefore brought this work of Sarton to a much better stopping point, as a reliable guide for students of intellectual history and science historians.
Sarton's tremendous coverage and his extraordinarily wide range of interest transcended of course both the medieval era and the World of Islam to both of which his Introduction shed much light. For both of these needed a comprehensive synthesis even if of an encyclopaedic and eclectic nature. But it may be said that Sarton's Introduction may be characterized as more complete as far as its treatment of the World of Islam is concerned. For it served to bring the Islamic world more clearly into the spotlight as a major phase and stage of the world's intellectual history. And it also helped interested scholars by providing them with a detailed general and reliable guide for the period in which, at least relatively speaking, it deserved such a presentation most urgently. Moreover, there is the all-important question of precursors upon whose works Sarton could build up both as far as medieval Islam and the European late Middle Ages are concerned. But these are big questions which can be taken up in an article as the present one only in a superficial manner.
Professor Sami Hamarneh has the following to say concerning this aspect of Sarton's greatness of achievement with respect to his treatment of medieval Islam. He says:
"For almost a century before Sarton completed his five-volume Introduction, several Orientalists and Arabists had been producing monumental works on the Islamic-Arabic legacy. To name a few, we mention Wustenfeld, Choulant, Ahlwardt, Mueller, Houstma, Fluegel, Suter, Brockelmann, Pertsch, and Meyerhof. But Sarton's contribution regarding the place and relevance of this civilization, its history of science and technology and its universal impact remains unique. He became a worthy successor to these pioneers and scholars. He was the first and most dynamic among them to give a prominent place to Arabic-Islamic science and technology as he did in Isis, the Introduction, and other publications for over four decades of prolific life. These contributions go beyond mere transmission of an ancient and classical legacy leading to new significant observations, conclusions and ideas ."
 Sami Hamarneh, "Sarton and the Arabic-Islamic Legacy", Journal for the History Arabic Science, vol. 2, 1978, p. 302.
 Ibid., p. 304.
 Ibid., p. 305
 Ibid., p. 309.
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by: FSTC, Mon 04 August, 2008