August 1, 2012

Memorials of Zhao Wenhua on Quelling the Pirates

This work is a collection of 28 memorials by Zhao Wenhua (died 1557), a high official in the late Ming period, later disgraced. According to his biography in Ming shi (Ming history), Zhao received his jin shi degree in 1529. While working at the Office of Transmission, he submitted a proposal for a satellite city to the capital. Soon afterwards he was promoted to the Bureau of Public Works. When pirates caused disturbances in southeast China, Zhao submitted seven memorials (project reports, proposals, or admonitions), each containing a plan for dealing with the pirate menace. The first called for conducting a ritual sacrifice to the sea gods. Other memorials proposed relief for the people of the four prefectures in the region and suggested various military measures for dealing with the pirates. The last memorial asked for permission to return to the court. Zhao reached his highest position as minister of the Bureau of Public Works and regent of the prince. During the battles against the pirates, he took credit for military successes. After returning to the capital, he lived extravagantly, arousing the displeasure of the emperor, who eventually relieved Zhao of his post and sent his son to a remote border garrison. Zhao also was found to have embezzled vast amounts of public money. He died as a common man. In this book, his official titles of minister of the Bureau of Public Works and grand guardian of the heir apparent are used, which suggests that it probably was printed in 1556–57, before his disgrace.

August 2, 2012

The Essentials of Arithmetic

Bahaa al-Din al-Amili (1547–1621 AD; 953–1031 AH) is thought to have been born in Baalbek, Lebanon, but his family moved to Herat, present-day Afghanistan, to escape Ottoman persecution. He studied in Isfahan, in present-day Iran, and continued on to Aleppo, Jerusalem, and Egypt, before returning to Isfahan, where he served for many years as the chief judge and where he died. He produced more than 50 titles in fields as diverse as arithmetic, astronomy, literature, religion, and linguistics. Known for his poetry as well as his many encyclopedic works, he also is credited with the revival of Islamic mathematics after a period of neglect. Al-Khulasa fil hisab (The essentials of arithmetic) covers many aspects and characteristics of numbers resulting from algebraic and other basic operations, including multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. The work was considered a standard text until the late 19th century.

Commentary on "The Compendium of Plain Astronomy"

The author of this commentary, Ṣalāh al-Din Musa ibn Muḥammad, also known as Qādī  Zāda (the son of the judge), was born in Bursa (present-day Turkey) in 1364 and died in Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan) in 1436. His first teacher, al-Fanāri, suggested that he move to the scientific centers of the time, Herat in Khorasan (present-day Afghanistan) or Bukhara or Samarkand in Transoxiana, in order to develop his extraordinary ability in the mathematical and astronomical sciences. Following this advice, Qāḍī Zāda presented himself to the Samarkand court of the very promising Ulugh Beg (1394–1449), who was just 17 years old at the time. Ulugh Beg became Qāḍī Zāda’s most talented pupil and assured him the funds for a life of study in Samarkand. Combining research in local facilities (including the famous Ulugh Beg Observatory built in the 1420s) with his educational activity, Qāḍī Zāda wrote a number of commentaries on works of mathematics and astronomy, including the one preserved in this manuscript. Most likely intended as a didactic work, this treatise is an extensive commentary on an astronomical textbook by Šaraf al-Dīn Mahmūd ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Jaġmīnī, Mulahhas fī al-Hay'a Al-Basīta (The compendium of plain astronomy). Qāḍī Zāda's commentary, though widely expanding on the contents of the Mulahhas, tends to follow its structure, dealing with the configuration of the celestial and terrestrial worlds and the divisions of the created bodies, the celestial orbs, and the Earth. The manuscript is enriched by many marginal notes written in different hands, reflecting the high scientific and educational value attributed to Qāḍī Zāda's commentary after his death.

August 7, 2012

A General Chart of the West Indies: With Additions from the Latest Navigators

Captain Joseph Smith Speer was an English mariner who served 21 years on the Mosquito (Miskito) Coast in what is now Nicaragua. He later created detailed maps of the West Indies based on his first-hand knowledge of the region. In 1766 he published The West-India Pilot containing 13 maps, followed by an enlarged edition with 26 maps in 1771. A General Chart of the West Indies, shown here, is a large, detailed map (71 by 117 centimeters). It is based on an earlier map from 1774, “with Additions from the latest Navigators.” English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Danish territories are listed and coded with different colors. The United States, shown in green, does not yet include Florida or any territory west of the Mississippi.

August 9, 2012

Map of the Sea

The Carta marina of the Swedish geographer and historian Olaus Magnus is one of the earliest accurate cartographic depictions of the Scandinavian peninsula. Drafted in Rome in 1539, by one of the more prominent Scandinavian Catholics in higher ecclesiastical service, it contains detail that is lacking in many other early maps of the region. Originally intended for his Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (A description of the Nordic peoples), the map was published some 15 years before the appearance of this majestic work. Olaus Magnus is generally regarded as the first to propound the idea of a Northeast Passage. This is the second edition of this map, published by Antoine Lafréry in 1572.

Early Writings of Carl von Linné

Significant works of young scholars at times can have great impact on the scholarly community, but remain relatively unknown for a broader public. The early works of Carl Linné (1707-78), annotated journals of his travels in Sweden and abroad, in which he laid the foundation for his efforts to devise a nomenclature for natural genera and species, were never published during his lifetime. The account of his travels in Lapland was published in English in 1811. The notes of his early travels in Bergslagen, Dalarna, and abroad were edited and published by Ewald Ährling to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Linné’s death. Linné is also known by his Latinized name, Carolus Linnaeus.