Ali Al-Sharafi’s Oeuvre as Something Other Than Simply Local or Global

9 June 2021 | 17:00 - 18:30 (UK Time) | Online via Zoom

In this talk, Sonja will present two atlases and a world map by ‘Ali al-Sharafi, a man born in Sfax and perhaps died in Qayrawan, both towns today belonging to Tunisia. He is famous among experts for his cartographic works but badly understood. The limited accuracy of the data he provided and the imprecise execution of the technical aspects of his maps made him for some a third-grade scholar at best. Others lamented his ignorance of presentations of the New World. A third group pointed to his explicit references to the Malik school of law as his religious and legal home. But the persona that ‘Ali al-Sharafi constructed in his three works is much more complex. The methods and tools that he used are fascinating, even if not completely comprehensible. His usage of classical sources of Arabic geography and mapmaking, Majorcan and Italian sea charts and atlases, formats and ornamentations of North African Qur’ans and Iberian Hebrew bibles, calligraphic patterns of Muslim tombstones of Sfax and many more cultural objects shows him as a versatile master of the multi-cultural world of the early modern Mediterranean.

Attendance is free but spaces may be limited, so please email to reserve a space in the Zoom audience. Please be aware that we will take a recording of this event, which may include any questions and responses delivered by the audience.

Sonja Brentjes is a retired historian of science in Islamicate societies and Christian Europe; she is a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin.

Her research includes the history of the mathematical sciences, mapmaking, institutions, cross-cultural exchange of knowledge and the involvement of the arts in the sciences. Among her recent publications are Teaching and Learning the Sciences in Islamicate Societies, 800-1700 (Brepols, 2018), and Brentjes, S., Edis, T. and Richter-Bernburg, L. 1001 Distortions: How (Not) to Narrate the History of Science, Medicine and Technology in Non-Western Cultures (Ergon, 2016).