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Mathematical and other Texts from the Safavid Period

Posted 27/12/2015

Moving between my various work obligations, I spent several nighttime hours searching the digitized manuscript collections of libraries in Iran (Majlis, Malik, Astan-e Quds). The website of the Majlis Library is the best to work with. Malik and Astan-e Quds want to have Iranian mobile numbers, thus excluding me from accessing their digitized manuscripts. Writing emails to them in English or Persian does not help either, unfortunately. Asking Iranian friends for help, simply gets me back to square 1. Maybe I need to try another friend and see whether she can get me registered. The hours I spent virtually in the Majlis Library were very satisfying. I found material which I did not expect to find and I run into one or two little gemstones, which one never can search for in a systematic, planned manner. Despite our bad opinion about the mathematical skills and interests of Safavid scholars, Majlis' collection shows beyond doubt that we err here too. I do not claim that the Safavid period produced great mathematicians. I am certainly not one of those postmodernist academics who believe that positivist historians of science got everything wrong. I do not wish to glorify any scholar in any period. But the negative opinion that mathematicians and historians of mathematics have formed about the scientific life during Safavid rule since G.H.F. Nesselmann published in 1843 Baha' al-Din al-'Amili's (d. 1622) Khulasat al-hisab in an Indian edition is not supported by the mathematical texts copied and often studied by scribes, students or teachers in Shiraz, Isfahan and other Safavid cities. They were more broadly interested, read more systematically again ancient texts in their editions by Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 1274), studied several Ilkhanid and Timurid authors and turned occasionally even to a few of the luminaries of Fatimid or Abbasid times.