- Knowledge in Translation: Global Patterns of Scientific Exchange, 1000–1800 CE ed. by Patrick Manning and Abigail Owen, and: Global Transformations in the Life Sciences, 1945–1980 ed. by Patrick Manning and Mat Savelli
These two books, along with the previously published Global Scientific Practice in an Age of Revolutions, 1750–1850, round out an impressive array of studies that were originally presented at three major conferences hosted by the World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh following its establishment in 2008 as a “center for research, institutional development, and teaching in world history.”1 As indicated by the titles of the three volumes, each conference aimed to bring together scholars from various subfields, areas of geographical and cultural expertise, and differing methodological approaches, in order to explore and interact within an overlapping zone of contact between a broadly defined chronological era of world history and topics rooted in specific historical studies of the sciences. [End Page 621]
Unlike what one finds in so many such edited conference volumes, the chapter authors in these books make a deliberate and concerted effort to highlight key points of comparison and contrast that both situate and distinguish their own particular findings in the light of those discussed by fellow contributors. While the conceptually omnivorous genius of the World History Center’s founding Director Patrick Manning shows itself explicitly through his participation in the co-editing teams responsible for all three volumes, his co-editors (Abigail Owen and Mat Savelli, respectively) helped him to articulate distinct, ambitiously coherent themes for each book. The clarity and analytical utility of these proposed themes combine to provide a remarkable framework for thinking about the challenges of even thinking about “world histories of science.” Manning and his colleagues should be proud of this collective achievement, especially considering the tremendous diversity and particularity of the scholarly narratives contained, respectively, within each book.
Knowledge in Translation: Global Patterns of Scientific Exchange, 1000–1800 CE explores the role of “translation in cross-cultural communications” (Manning and Owen, p. 1) through historical investigations of how three key categories influenced the nature of knowledge as it migrated and changed across time and place. In his Introduction, Patrick Manning names and distinguishes these categories as: (1) the dynamics of the communication modalities used, (2) prevailing global natural conditions, and (3) the context and practices of translation as an activity (Manning and Owen, p. 11).
Most of the chapters included in Knowledge in Translation deliver not only what Manning here promises, but astonishingly more. In “The Global and the Maritime” (chapter 4), for example, Robert Batchelor illuminates divergent cultural understandings of the pilot-navigator among all the contending powers who converged upon the Indian Ocean in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I had no idea how much borrowing, adaptation, and even direct translation enabled Portuguese (and later Dutch and English colonizers) to supplant pre-established Ottoman, Arab, Mongol, South Asian, and East Asian networks of trade and communication throughout the Indian Ocean, which the late fourteenth century Timurid (Persian) statesman Abdur Razzaq had presciently called the majma’ = “a meeting place, a place of concourse or assembly where messages were exchanged” (Manning and Owen, p. 80). Similarly, Irina Podgorny’s (chapter 8) linguistic dissection of various cultures’ medicinal legends about “the nail of the great beast” reveals a fascinating new lens that will surely complicate how we think about the Enlightenment’s species degeneration disputes. [End Page 622]
Knowledge in Translation culminates particularly effectively with its five chapters on knowledge transmission and transformational practices in astronomy. In particular, I would recommend to all Renaissance historians that they examine and absorb the combined brilliance of Roxann Prazniak’s (chapter 13) study of sources and consequences of thirteenth century scholarship done at the Mongols’ Marâgha Observatory, Dror Weil’s (chapter 15) intriguing...