About a millennium ago, in Cairo, someone completed a large and richly illustrated book. In the course of thirty-five chapters, our unknown author guided the reader on a journey from the outermost cosmos and planets to Earth and its lands, islands, features and inhabitants. This treatise, known as The Book of Curiosities, was unknown to modern scholars until a remarkable manuscript copy surfaced in 2000.
In this talk Prof. Rapoport will give a general overview of The Book of Curiosities and the unique insight it offers into medieval Islamic thought. He will explain how the book helps us to re-evaluate the development of astrology, geography and cartography in the first four centuries of Islam. Early astronomical ‘maps’ and drawings demonstrate the medieval understanding of the structure of the cosmos and illustrate the pervasive assumption that almost any visible celestial event had an effect upon life on Earth.
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Professor Rapoport is a historian of the social, cultural and legal aspects of life in the Islamic, Arabic-speaking Middle East in its Middle Ages, from about 1000 to 1500 AD. He was trained in the universities of Tel Aviv (Israel), Princeton (USA) and Oxford, before joining Queen Mary in 2008.
His work mostly relates to the history of the Islamic Middle East under the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk dynasties. His main focus is the history of everyday life and the relatively unexplored history of women, slaves and peasants. He is also interested in the history of Islamic medieval maps. His current research is on ‘Tribal identity and Conversion to Islam in Rural Egypt and Syria, 1000 – 1500’.