Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Imagining a Trajectory


What:  Faculty Forum
Who:   Prof. Nahyan Fancy, History Department
Where: UB 231/232
When:  Tuesday, February 12, 11:30-12:30

"Imagining a Trajectory of Medical Physiology that Does Not Result in Blood Circulation: Ibn al-Nafis and his Islamic Successors"

Historians of medicine have taken for granted that there is a single trajectory of physiology that leads from Hippocrates and Galen directly to Harvey and modern physiology. In doing so historians have tended to overlook the place and meaning of scientific results within their own contexts, and how the historical actors could have been shaping a trajectory of medicine that may be at odds or different from that in the Latin West which gave rise to modern medicine. In this paper, I would like to explore how this assumption has impacted the way the new physiology and cardiovascular anatomy of Ibn al-Nafis (d. 1288) was taken up by subsequent Islamic physicians. I shall do so by positioning Ibn al-Nafīs, and his new physiological and anatomical understandings that led him to posit the pulmonary transit of blood, not as a point on the path towards William Harvey, and the circulation of blood; but, rather, as a branching point for physiological discussions in the Islamic world. What difference would that make to the kinds of questions we would then ask of his work? And how would we evaluate the impact of his work, once we remove the notion that it must inevitably give rise to Harvey’s theory of blood circulation? I hope this discussion will prove fruitful in both highlighting the ways in which our chronological frameworks restrict our access to the past, and how reconfiguring them can help us also move beyond the categories of analysis (such as “science,” “religion” and “decline”) that have hampered investigations of science in post-1300 Islamic societies.

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