The Art of Science: The Islamic Scientific Manuscript Initiative

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Posted in Bibliography, Cultural Archives & Curation, Major Projects, Projects, Resources, Texts & Languages


Often overlooked after the European Renaissance, the rich world of the rational sciences in Islamic countries is being revealed by the work of Dr. Jamil Ragep and his team at McGill’s Institute of Islamic Studies under the umbrella group “The Rational Sciences in Islam” (RASI). The Islamic Scientific Manuscript Initiative was initially begun by Dr. Ragep and Sally Ragep during a sabbatical year in Istanbul in 1997 and later came to be supported by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Now in its sixteenth year, ISMI has successfully digitized and collected 4000 codices from around the world, and ISMI aims to provide meta-data and data for some 50 000 scientific manuscripts through its database, in subject areas covering such sciences as astronomy, mathematics, optics, geography, mechanics, and related disciplines. ISMI has now entered an agreement with the Berlin Staatsbibliothek to make over 600 codices publically available; up until now, all material that has been digitized by the ISMI team is for private research purposes only. The codices will be viewable using the DivaJS viewer, developed by Dr. Ichiro Fujinaga’s team at McGill’s Schulich School of Music; Dr. Ragep hopes that the entry into the public domain of this corpus will provide a model for future library digitization projects.

Also the Canada Research Chair in the History of Science in Islamic Societies, Dr. Ragep has begun a parallel research stream, Scientific Traditions in Islamic Societies (STIS), which makes use of the manuscripts available through ISMI to change current historical views of the sciences in Islamic culture. While he expects that the database will continue to grow, Dr. Ragep expressed his wish to develop new data extraction techniques for transitive and other queries. This would allow for more complicated associations to be made between manuscripts, such as, connecting information about a person, date, city/place, and institution into a retrievable [and searchable] event. Thus a major goal is to  provide tools for scholars to use for advanced historical and sociological research. Further information for both ISMI and STIS may be found at

Islamic Scientific Manuscript Initiative

PI: Jamil Ragep
Faculty of Arts