A History of Cultural Exchange and Scientific Exploration
I have always been interested in Islamic history as “Al-Andalus is a place of advancement and tolerance”. When I heard this year’s theme - Exchange, Exploration and Encounter in history - I knew my topic would be about Al-Andalus, and not only it would demonstrate the complexities of cultural exchange between different faith groups but would also exhibit the scientific exploration. Realizing that not many people, especially in the US, know about this topic, I selected the rich history of Al-Andalus.
I began my research through the Internet and found many websites that gave me a lot of details. I borrowed some books from libraries and also bought few of them, e.g. “A Vanished World” by Chris Lowney, “The Ornament of the World” by Maria Rosa Menocal, and later “The Moors in Spain” by Stanley Lane-Pool from where I got most of my information and quotes. I also conducted personal interviews with Professor Michael Cook, Medieval Historian at Princeton University, Professor Maribel Fierro from Spanish National Research Council in Madrid, Spain (who happened to be at Princeton in the summer of 2015), Dr. Abu Zyad, an Islamic scholar, Mr. Raymond Scheindlin, Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Adjunct Professor Maud Kozodoy at New York University, Professor Almudena Ariza Armada, Medieval Al-Andalus History Expert from NYU Madrid, Spain, and later Professor Justin Stearns, an expert in Arab Crossroads Studies at NYU-Abu Dhabi. Beside these interviews, I attended a lecture at Princeton University by Professor Michael Barry (an expert of Near Eastern Studies). Furthermore, I watched few documentaries and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in NY where I found some artifacts for my research. This information made me confident about my topic. The difficult part was to get the primary resources for my research, I wish I had the opportunity to visit Spain. Another challenge was to analyze and summarize this topic in 1200 hundreds words.
I selected the website category because I felt that it would be the most powerful display of the vast information I gathered and it enabled me to incorporate multimedia features to further enhance and strengthen my project. I started with the background, origin, and a time line of Al-Andalus, and then discussed how cultural exchange and scientific exploration transformed the shape of Iberian Peninsula under the Islamic rule. Finally, I described the legacy of Al- Andalus.
My topic relates to the theme in many ways. Al-Andalus has a splendid history of unique culture, tolerance, and scientific achievements. It was the exceptional period in the history, probably unique when there was a cohabitation and exchange of ideas between three faiths. Al-Andalus was a journey of scientific exploration and cultural exchange as it let many people share knowledge that crossed many boundaries. Lastly, Al-Andalus’ legacy taught me that when society collaborates regardless of religion, ethnicity, or culture, it can overcome any challenges and leads other civilizations.