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  • Symposium

Translating Science

15th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Orrery Pavilion, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, sixth floor

Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia
Parkway Central Library, third floor

This event has already occurred

November 10-12, 2022
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and Free Library of Philadelphia
Open to the Public

Hosted by: Kislak Center

Astronomical diagram from LJS 57, an astronomical compendium compiled for Pedro IV, King of Aragon, ca. 1361 in Catalonia, Spain, p. 111

Translating Science considers the networks of exchange, transmission, and translation of natural knowledge evident in manuscript culture in the pre- and early modern periods. We will examine in particular the role of the manuscript book in the translation of natural knowledge across linguistic, regional, disciplinary, and epistemic boundaries. How did scholars, physicians, or philosophers use glosses, diagrams, or other elements of mise-en-page to convey information? What does the manuscript record reveal about the diffusion and conservation of knowledge? How does the materiality of the book itself drive the movement and development of scientific knowledge? What was the role of the scientific manuscript in the era of printed books? The symposium is organized in partnership with the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia (view on map).

The program will begin Thursday evening, November 10, 5:00 pm (Location TBD), at the Free Library of Philadelphia in the Rare Book Department, with a reception and keynote address by Elly R. Truitt, Associate Professor in the Department of the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania. The symposium will continue November 11-12 at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts (view on map).

The symposium will be held in person with an option to join virtually. Registration is free and open to the public. Program details and abstracts provided below.

This symposium is funded in part by support from the Department of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Event Series

Program and Speakers

Thursday, November 10, 2022, 5:00 - 7:00 pm

Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central Library, third floor

All registrants are invited to a reception before the lecture. The lecture will begin at 6:00 pm.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, sixth floor

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, sixth floor

Symposium Speakers

Abstracts (in program order)

Accordion Column of Lists

Elly R. Truitt, University of Pennsylvania

In his Treatise on the Astrolabe (one of the earliest examples of an English scientific text), Chaucer engages simultaneously in two kinds of translation— translating a text (or group of texts) from one language to another, and translating highly specialized knowledge into a form that could be more easily understood by non-specialists. These two simultaneous translations are linked to one another by the use of the reader persona of “litel Lewis,” Chaucer’s ten-year old son. Chaucer uses Lewis as the ideal audience (or reader) in order to communicate both aspects of his translation— the language and the knowledge of the astrolabe and its uses. Throughout the treatise, Chaucer consciously signals his work as translator of text and of scientific practice by using repetition, metaphor, simple language, and the instrument itself. I examine how Chaucer’s vocabularies—whether translated or adopted—offer new possibilities for using English as a language for scientific knowledge and for articulating and even creating new communities of scientific readers and practitioners. I explore how Chaucer articulates and emphasizes experience, a concept taken from thirteenth-century natural philosophy, as a necessary component of acquiring natural knowledge: using the astrolabe is as important as reading about it. I demonstrate that at the same time that he maintains the centrality of experiential knowledge to understanding nature, Chaucer also argues for English as a scientific language, ultimately suggesting that the concept of experience and the role of the English language in scientific inquiry are linked.

Shireen Hamza, Harvard University

Studies of scientific translation in the Islamic world often focus on the Greek to Arabic “translation movement” in the Abbasid period. At times, it is described as “cross-cultural,” emphasizing the distance between Hippocrates or Galen and their new readers. As Ahmed Ragab has argued, it was also a time when the “linguistic regime” of Arabic science was established. But how did readers of Galen in Arabic understand their connections with these authoritative writers? And what happens when we simultaneously consider the translations of Sanskrit texts into Persian, from the thirteenth century onward? How did those translators, let alone the readers of Persian translations in South Asia, understand their relation to the authors of classical texts of Ayurveda, for example? In this presentation, I compare authors, readers, and listeners in two different regions and periods of the history of the Islamic world. First, we visit the brilliant and cantankerous physician ‘Alī ibn Riḍwān, whose intellectual scuffles and rags-to-riches story in eleventh-century Egypt has already attracted historians’ attention. As Elaine van Dalen has argued, ibn Riḍwān styled himself after Galen in his writings, autobiographical and medical. However, he also wrote about Greek antiquity from a place of familiarity, relating certain themes to his life practicing medicine in Fatimid Egypt. Next, we move across the Arabian Sea to Gujarat, where several Persian texts of medicine drawing on Ayurvedic knowledge were written or translated in the long fifteenth century. Though we know less about the lives of those who undertook textual translations of Ayurvedic classics like the Aṣtangahridayam, the physician Shihāb Nāgaurī left behind a lively autobiography, including his studies with both a ḥakīm (practicing Galenic medicine) and jogis. Drawing on cultural studies, I offer thoughts on what is at stake in describing these episodes as “cross-cultural exchanges” in the history of science.

Eric Moses Gurevitch, Vanderbilt University

The composition practical sciences – everything from medicine to weather prediction – was at the heart of the reformulation of scholarly life in medieval India that saw Sanskrit come to be one language among many. A new cohort of scholars began composing texts about everyday life in regional languages in a manner that highlighted both their erudition and their personal experiences. A part of this meant rendering recipes, prescriptions, and procedures that had been earlier written in Sanskrit into new languages. But what it meant to be a language was unclear and in flux. The composition of new scholarly texts was central to the boundary work that went into defining new languages. This paper uses this moment to assess how translation has been thought about within the history of science. While many accounts of the movement, adaptation and uptake of sciences link linguistic translation with cultural translation, this paper looks at the moments prior to translation – when it was not quite clear what was a distinct language – to find different uses to which translation has been put.

Persis Berlekamp, University of Chicago

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Persan 174 is an occult Persian manuscript made in Anatolia in the 1270's. Scholars of the occult sciences in the Islamicate world recognize a revitalization of astrology that has so far been seen as a post-Mongol and primarily textual phenomenon. I argue that this manuscript helps us recognize this phenomenon's genesis during the Mongol Conquest, as well as the unusually prominent role of the visual in its early manifestations. 

Alexandre M. Roberts, University of Southern California

Many early Arabic texts gathered under the modern umbrella-term “alchemy” are translations from Greek. The Arabic technical vocabulary of such texts largely parallels the corresponding Greek vocabulary through loanwords and calques. Did this terminological correspondence translate into a similar concept of the science or art that these texts addressed? In other words, was there a stable concept of “alchemy” (whether by that we mean metallurgical know-how, chemical theory, the textual tradition concerned with gold-making or what it called the Sacred Art, or something else) in the transition from the Greek to the Arabic language and more generally from one cultural context to the other? To answer this question, the present paper will first reconsider the modern term “alchemy” itself and propose a new terminology better suited for answering such diachronic questions. It will then consider how medieval practices and thought that we often call alchemical were conceptualized in a selection of Greek and Arabic texts and manuscripts. The paper will conclude by pointing the way forward to a truly integrated diachronic history of the various practices, theories, and textual traditions grouped by modern scholarship, for better or for worse, under the name of alchemy.

Ahmed Ragab, The Johns Hopkins University

Scholars of translation have demonstrated how translation exists across various planes of communication—from the oral to the written, and from natural materials to artifacts. Science and medicine are evidently not an exception. Many scholars have argued for the place of oral medical knowledge and practice in the history of medical and scientific translations. The study of the “Islamic Translation Movement,” which usually refers to the movement of texts from Greek to Arabic in the ninth and tenth centuries, traditionally swung between two poles: on one hand, an overemphasis on orality that often stands for affirming a continuing Greek heritage underneath the Arabic script, and on the other, a fetishization of the written whereby translation is analyzed as a practice of learned elites motivated by one factor or another. In this talk, I look to consider the place of books, as physical objects imbued both with the vestiges of literate knowledge—being the vehicle of said knowledge—and the trappings of craft and orality—as objects worthy of collecting, curating, and exhibiting even if not reading. I ask why books are important, what is entailed in the making of their object-hood, what role they play in thinking about translation, and how book physicality can help us better understand the story of medical translations.

Dominic Olariu, Philipps-Universität Marburg

This paper attempts to present a set of reflections on nature printing as an innovative imaging technique in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century plant studies. It proposes to understand nature printing as the translation of traditional plant imagery, conventionally made using the technique of manuscript painting, into a new type of more accurate plant imagery, created as imprints of natural plants. Traditional paintings and drawings of plants in herbal books were at risk of errors made by the image-makers. Addressing some of the very first plant imprints, I would like to pose the question whether nature printing was introduced as an attempt to overcome the menace of painterly errors in herbal books by employing natural plants in the imaing technique. A second question raised asks whether the described technological translation of the imaging technique was simultaneously the very manifestation of an epistemic translation. I refer to the fact that painted plant illustrations traditionally relied heavily on the use of pictorial templates rather than personal observations. Nature printing, however, used natural plants for creating illustrations, necessarily requiring autopsia, i.e. individual observation. A third aspect will be discussed tentatively. Was the described translation of the imaging technique associated with an artistic translation from didactic to aesthetic plant pictures? My approach to the question of translating science will therefore be threefold: technical, epistemic, and artistic.

Jack Hartnell, University of East Anglia

Over the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, various European communities - both medical and non-medical - created manuscripts that contained so-called ‘Bloodletting Figures’, schematic images of the human body that purported to direct phlebotomical practice. This paper will trace the origins of these figures and consider how their highly varied material qualities and evolving visual strategies build up a picture of complex use, not only within but between cultures: the translation of bloodletting knowledge and the social power of venesection.

Elaine Leong, University College London

The Pharamcopoeia Londinensis (or the London Dispensatory) is one of key medical works circulating in seventeenth-century London. While past studies have focused on the political and institutional history behind the production of the Latin editions, the fortuna of the work in the vernacular still awaits detailed study. This talk turns to these “afterlives”, bringing together histories of translation, reading and note-taking, and book production. In particular, I focus on a unique interleaved copy of the 1639 edition filled with extensive handwritten translations of key terms and drug formulas. Through examination of these notes, I offer insight into book use, workshop practices, and the intersections between manuscript and print cultures. 

Accordion Column of Lists

Hsiao-wen Cheng, University of Pennsylvania

Zhu (atractylodes rhizome) has been an important medicinal substance in both Chinese materia medica and the Daoist healing and cultivation traditions. Contemporary Chinese medicine distinguishes two kinds of zhu—the dark zhu (cangzhu) and the white zhu (baizhu). Such a distinction only became salient since the eleventh century, when the editors of two major medical compilations commissioned (and printed) by the Song imperial court asserted that white zhu was better than dark zhu and that all references of zhu in pre-Song recipes were white zhu. Around the same time, the Song state established dispensaries to procure raw drug materials, process them based on the recipes that its own commissioned editors compiled, and sell the public processed medicinal compounds.

The distinction between dark zhu and white zhu made during the eleventh century was important because by the twelfth century, commentators observed a surge in white zhu’s market price. Meanwhile, a few practitioners and amateurs began to criticize the popular preference for white zhu over dark zhu. Could this have been an incident where the state’s medical intervention affected both the drug market and medical practice at large? Could the state-sponsored editing, compilation, and publication of medical texts have led to an increasing demand and hence higher price of white zhu? Or, could the imperial editors have asserted white zhu as the better kind and the kind used in all pre-Song recipes because white zhu was already more expensive at that time? To answer these questions, we need to find out how the two kinds of zhu were understood and used in pre-eleventh-century medicine. It is a difficult task because almost all extant Chinese medical texts from before the eleventh century were edited during the Song and mostly by imperial commissioned editors.

In this paper I try to answer the above questions by using two pieces of evidence from the Dunhuang medical manuscripts and paying particular attention to the materiality of zhu and its processing methods in both printed texts and manuscripts. I argue that both kinds of zhu were used frequently in pre-Song medicine, whose practitioners had noted their difference in texture (and hence different processing methods) but did not distinguish their properties or grade. What happened during the eleventh and the twelfth centuries was indeed an event where the state’s medical institutions, the market, and the larger medical practice intertwined. I conclude by noting the ways in which medical writers reinvented zhu during the Song, as well as the ways in which the cheaper and easy-to-get kind of zhu played important roles in Song people’s everyday life.

Montserrat Cabré, Universidad de Cantabria

Over the last decades, historians of medicine have shown how what has been called the process of vernacularisation of European medicine in the late Middle Ages put a significant number of texts into circulation, thus widening the audiences that had access to written forms of healthcare knowledge. Particularly in its early stages, the translation of texts from Latin into the mother tongues was central to that process and was embraced both by medical practitioners and the laity alike. My aim in this paper is threefold. First, I will assess the evidence we have of women’s engagement with medical books in the late medieval Crown of Aragon and the extent to which they were an important force in the production of Catalan versions of Latin texts. Although we have documentation testifying their commissioning and the possession of Romance translations, it has nonetheless not yet been possible to link any of the extant manuscripts directly to a historical woman’s ownership. Second, I will appraise what the actual women’s medical texts that remain in Catalan indicate about the translation processes, looking at the paradoxes that the evidence presents. Finally, I will address the heuristic value of studying in parallel vernacular traditions that were in close contact, such as Occitan, Catalan and French, as there are indications suggesting that translations of medical texts from vernacular into vernacular could also have been underway.

Jennifer R. Borland, Oklahoma State University

In the late medieval illustrated copies of the health guide often known as the Régime du corps, abundant images provide insights into the management of health in the medieval household. Simple scenes enclosed within the compact space of historiated initials show laborers, servants, practitioners, and family members enacting care within the domestic sphere. The Regime du corps was ostensibly composed in the mid-thirteenth century by the physician Aldobrandino of Siena, for the countess Beatrice of Savoy to pass on to her daughters. Composed of brief excerpts from canonical medical sources, the text was likely intended for wider, lay audiences.

While the text of the Régime du corps is grounded in an established canon of medical knowledge, domestic knowledge is also on display in the images – images that construct a richer view of the household world in which the books themselves circulated. In this paper, I explore how these illuminations enhance our understanding of care practices, access to knowledge, and authority in the late medieval household. Although forms of health care in which women were most often involved were often the kind of everyday activities left unrecorded, in the Régime illustrations, many different household members demonstrate access to knowledge and status. Female authority is represented through women administering treatments as well as in scenes of conversation, food and drink production, and other consultations. The images assert forms of knowledge that circulated beyond professional medicine, knowledge that was grounded in the daily care practices commonly overseen by women.

Petros Bouras-Vallianatos, University of Athens

This paper examines various kinds of paratexts in medieval Greek medical manuscripts with the aim of contextualizing their use as conveyors of medical knowledge. Whether added by scribes or later authors, paratexts (e.g. marginal and interlinear notes or diagrams) are often important elements in the transmission and understanding of complex medical theories. They have received very little attention to date and scholars are often perplexed as to how to describe and study the various categories of data involved. The first part of this paper aims to introduce a new categorisation of the available material, which will take into consideration a variety of characteristics, including its place in the folio and the manuscript, the information provided and the language it is written in (e.g. high-register medieval Greek, vernacular etc), when this material was added to the codex, the identity of the scribe, and the provenance of the manuscript. The second part focuses on a recently introduced notion in the study of paratexts, the so-called ‘hidden paratext’, i.e. the permeation of additional material into the main text prior to or at the time of copying. The paper deploys evidence from a large number of medieval Greek manuscripts, including works by both Greek and Byzantine medical authors, but also witnesses of medieval Arabo-Greek medical translations.

Andrew Berns, University of South Carolina

In 1514 Solomon, a newly licensed Jewish physician, left his home in Rome and moved to the tiny village of Morlupo, located in rural Lazio.  Several of his personal letters are preserved in a Hebrew miscellany in Florence’s Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (MS Pluteus 88.12).  These epistles illuminate aspects of the daily lives and professional challenges of rural doctors in early modern Europe.  One of Solomon’s major concerns was the poor health of Lazio’s laboring classes, particularly those who worked on riverbanks.  This physician’s letters reveal several kinds of translation: contemporary medical and philosophical sources on riparian habitats and rural medicine were digested, metabolized, and translated into classical Hebrew.  Just as significantly, Solomon needed to translate the urban medical theory he learned as a university medical student to the realities of rural practice.

Vivek Gupta, University of Cambridge

Intellectuals and bookmakers based in India transcreated several classics of Islamicate science from Arabic to Persian manuscripts. In many cases, these imaginative transcreations (i.e., a translation in both form and content) became a standard Persian text. And, these Persian versions circulated far beyond the subcontinent, forever changing the work’s imprint. Although some technical vocabulary and apparatus carried over from Arabic to Persian, a book’s scale, intertextual resonances, and cultural referents often transformed. Such is the case of al-Jazari’s Arabic compendium of automata, The Useful Synthesis of Theory and Practice in the Mechanical Arts (Diyar Bakr, 1206), which a South Asian scholar known as Da’ud Shadiyabadi rendered into Persian in 1508.

In The Useful Synthesis al-Jazari describes a miraculous elephant clock with a robotic rider (mahout) bearing the “head of an Indian.” Most medieval al-Jazari manuscripts diagram this Indian as dark-faced and fearsome. Yet, when remade in a Persian manuscript, the Indian is no longer darkened and sheds several of its menacing qualities. This paper examines the mutable racialization of al-Jazari’s mahout and demonstrates how its topographical wonder shifts as the work is transcreated in South Asia. By tracking the transmission of al-Jazari’s manuscripts from Egypt to India and the processes of textual and diagrammatic translation, we can better contextualize the choices various scholars and artists made. 

Pamela O. Long, Independent Historian

This talk focuses on Leonardo da Vinci’s Madrid Codex I, a manuscript that Leonardo created in the 1490s that concerns the elements of machines. It will focus on several sheets of the manuscript and discuss the ways in which Leonardo may have been “translating” from ancient and medieval sources such as the pseudo-Aristotelian Mechanics and Jordanus of Nemore.  I will closely analyze several pages as a way of understanding what Leonardo is actually saying on the page, considering the ways in which the images relate to the text. I focus on a page on gears and perhaps one other and use models that I have made as a way of understanding the page.  I will investigate the ways in which Leonardo is transforming the material that he has used which include ancient and medieval texts as well as physical objects. I will argue that Leonardo, unlike his sources, was carrying out a kind of observational mechanics. He investigates how things worked by making models or observing working mechanisms and then recording his observations. In doing so, he has transformed his sources.  

Featured image: Astronomical diagram from LJS 57, an astronomical compendium compiled for Pedro IV, King of Aragon, ca. 1361 in Catalonia, Spain (p. 111), Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection.