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The Need for Teaching a More Accurate and Inclusive History of Science: The Case of Islamic Contributions to Math and Sciences

Wednesday 1 March 2023
Anna van Buerenplein
Anna van Buerenplein 301
2595 DG The Hague

The Case of Islamic Contributions to Math and Sciences

Even though it is not accurate, a Eurocentric history of mathematics and science has been commonly taught in schools.  This distorted version of the history of science, called Classical Narrative (CN) by some, is rooted in colonial times and mindset, and has caused much damage. It ignores or belittles contributions to mathematics and sciences from non-western civilizations, and falsely attributes many scientific discoveries to European scholars. Using the Islamic Civilization, which was directly connected to Europe, as an example we can observe and demonstrate the distorted nature of the CN.  Based on research on primary sources since the middle of the 20th  century, we now know that some of the most fundamental notions of modern mathematics and science come from the medieval Islamic Civilization. Moreover, modern researchers also discovered that Islamic science was influential on Renaissance scholars. However, there is a huge disconnect between the most accurate academic knowledge on the subject and what is being taught, or not taught in schools.  Despite the passage of many decades, accurate knowledge based on primary source research  did not become the common knowledge or part of the school curricula. The purpose of this talk is to  draw attention to what needs to be done in this area, to exhibit some sample activities and resources that can be useful, and to invite the larger community to develop strategies to rectify the current situation.


Noah Aydin teaches a wide range of math and computer science courses at Kenyon College, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, USA. His primary research area is algebraic coding theory.  He has been leading a long-term research program in coding theory with Kenyon students that yielded many publications. Prof. Aydin and many Kenyon students are record holders for dozens of best-known  codes. A senior member of IEEE, Prof. Aydin has a large number of international collaborators and regularly reviews manuscripts for the leading journals in the field. In recent years, his teaching and research interests expanded to include History of Mathematics and Science, particularly in the Islamic World. The fascinating and disappointing things he learned about the field compelled him to undertake a big translation project which has been completed recently.  In the current academic year, Prof. Aydin is visiting Algeria as a Fulbright scholar.

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