The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies
THE DIGITAL HUMANITIES AND ISLAMIC – Book Sample
Monolingualism and the Self
Given the weight placed on explicitly religious sources, the digitization of the geographical corpus is noteworthy in its own right, particularly because this corpus developed, in great measure, out of the larger absorption of classical Greek and pre-Islamic Persian models of learning and science.
In part, this presence in the digital field results from the fact that geography has been so thoroughly sacralized and explicitly transformed into an ‘Islamic’ science. Yet, in light of the wide sectarian propensities of the geographers, their inclusion in the digital corpus perhaps reflects more than anything their utility as pragmatic sources of in-formation for classical Islamic history writ large.
Contrast this state of abundance with the almost complete absence of digital material from the massive Greco-Arabic translation movement, sponsored largely by the early Abbasid elite. Largely missing from this digital expanse in Arabic letters is the record of translations that span the entire range of classical learning and include works on agriculture, alchemy, algebra, astrology, astronomy, bot- any, geometry, literary theory, fables and romances, magic, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, meteorology, military manuals, mineralogy, music, optics, philosophy, veterinary science, and zoology.⁴⁸
Many of these titles, which were often translated via Syriac intermediaries, can be found quickly in the searchable versions of Ibn al-Nadīm’s Fihrist, which in its catholicity reaches far beyond the narrowly defined genres of our modern digital platforms. Yet the texts themselves are almost nowhere to be seen. It is true that not all of these translations survive, and of those that do, many remain only in manuscript form, unedited; yet the last century has seen a steady increase in the publication of Greco-Arabica, which is, for the most part, unaccounted for in the massive expanse of the digital corpus.⁴⁹
The digital field produced outside of Western scholarship has also largely overlooked classical Arabic and Persian writings from the diverse fields of scientific learning that developed and expanded beyond the legacy of thescholastic movement of late antiquity, though many of these works are available in modern editions.
In part, this situation is a result of the modern hollowing out of Islamic civilization, which generally excludes the ‘foreign’ sciences from the purview of re- ligious authority and authenticity. As so much of this classical learning no longer proves ‘valid’, having withered under the glare of secular empiricism, its imme- diate relevance to the projects of modernist scientific discourses in Islamic re- form is by no means apparent.⁵⁰ After all, the teleological and wrongheaded narrative of the Western translatio imperii et studii, which claims that the ‘Arabs’ preserved the learning of Greek antiquity only so that the West could then inherit it, is not particularly meaningful in the diverse contexts of Islamic modernity— other than perhaps to nostalgically bemoan the great achievements of the past. Yet ignoring the legacy of science and learning that extended both in and beyond the frameworks of classical religious education risks a further reification of Islamic knowledge as the sole domain of jurists, ḥadīth
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