Teaching about cultural exchanges as a discrete topic of study is relatively new in the classroom, since most historical studies in survey courses used to focus on individual societies or civilizations, their descriptions and accomplishments. The lessons and resources described on this page demonstrate how artifacts, travelers such as merchants and scholars, places, institutions and other categories can be used to study exchanges among societies and make them tangible for students. Particular focus is on the exchanges from Muslim societies to European societies that led to the so-called 12th century Renaissance, the 14th century Renaissance, the Age of Exploration, and the Scientific Revolution. A new resource on the Indian Ocean traces the much earlier origins of many of those exchanges between Islam and the West in the late medieval period.

  • The Transfer of Knowledge from Islamic Spain to Europe is a multi-part jigsaw reading activity at http://www.islamicspain.tv/Islamic-Spain/the_transfer_of_knowledge_from_islamic_spain_to_europe.htm, part of a set of lesson plans and interactive website for the film Cities of Light: the Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain at http://www.islamicspain.tv/For-Teachers/LessonPlans.htm. With maps, timelines, readings, activities, literature, projects and critical thinking exercises designed to enrich students’ understanding of interactions between medieval Muslim and European civilizations, and the intellectual and cultural roots of the European Renaissance.
  • Era 5 Landscape 5.2: Consolidation of the Trans-Hemispheric Networks at https://whfua.history.ucla.edu/eras/era5.php#land contains lesson materials on the transfer of paper-making technology, Arabic numerals, transfers of agricultural crops, food items and customs before the Columbian Exchange, as well as technological and stylistic exchanges in ceramics, metalwork, glassware and hydraulics.
  • Beyond A Thousand and One Nights: A Literature Sampler from Muslim Civilization, by S. Douglass (Council on Islamic Education, 1999), a wire-bound set of reproducible excerpts from writing in science, philosophy, politics, history, law, poetry, essays, stories, travel accounts, and more, with background information on each author and work, and study questions for each excerpt. [Link to come]
  • Emergence of Renaissance: Cultural Interactions Between Europeans and Muslims, S. Douglass and Karima Alavi (Council on Islamic Education, 2000), a collection of teaching resources that links to the wealth of recent scholarship and historical thinking on hemispheric connections in trade, the history of science, artistic influences, literature and architecture, and religious expression that contributed to this formative period in Western and world history. Contains dozens of illustrated texts, activities, literature and primary source readings. Covering learning standards related to medieval and Renaissance world history from virtually every state and national curriculum document, this flexible teaching tool contains material at multiple reading levels from 6-14. [Link to come]

Cities of Light, the Unity Productions Foundation documentary film on Islamic Spain, or al-Andalus, features both online resources on the topic of exchanges and transfer of knowledge such as the 12th century translation effort that began after the Fall of Toledo. The interactive feature on 25 Subjects of Science and Culture gives extensive texts and images on influences from al-Andalus, a fun feature called What’s for Breakfast? and an extensive lesson packet for teachers, among many other online and downloadable resources at http://www.islamicspain.tv.

The British exhibit 1001 Inventions is available in an online, interactive version that highlights transfers of knowledge, technologies and material culture from Muslim and European society. It includes scientific knowledge, inventions, foods, beverages and other common things we take for granted, arranged in a series of categories based on social institutions and spaces from the home to the universe.

  • 1001 Inventions includes a 12-minute video of high quality 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets featuring famous actor Sir Ben Kingsley. The video has nice special effects and integrates well with the other features of the exhibit and reading material on this website. Another link to the film is here, and there are many more links to the video that you can find by searching the title.

The Indian Ocean in World History at http://indianoceanhistory.org traces the movement of people, goods, ideas and technologies from earliest human migrations through the eras from 90,000 B.P. to the present, through the Ancient, Classical, Medieval, First Global, Industrial and Imperial, and Twentieth Century/Globalization Eras. Students have the opportunity to engage with primary sources through text, image and historical inquiry skills.

The University of Maryland Center for Renaissance and Baroque Studies “Crossing Borders, Breaking Boundaries” Summer Teacher Institutes at http://www.crbs.umd.edu/crossingborders/index-all.shtml  differ from most institutes in three ways (1) they involved multi-disciplinary teams of teachers from Maryland and regional middle and high schools, (2) they involved the arts in the full range of the word, and (3) there was extensive follow-up during the next year, with teachers coming back to critique and hone the lessons they developed before they are posted on a permanent lesson plan database.

See also links to Saudi Aramco World Magazine articles on cultural exchange, knowledge, science and can be accessed from the archive index going back decades at https://archive.aramcoworld.com/index/BackIssues2010.aspx.

Islamic Art and Sciences

The resources to download and links to explore on this page will contribute to creating cross-curricular lessons. They provide informational texts and activities; image resources and museum exhibits and websites, including Islamic geometric designs, tessellations, architecture, painting, and plastic arts analyzed from a sometimes rigorous but always fun mathematical and scientific perspective. Some are most applicable to advanced students and teacher preparation, but others are very suitable for the classroom. In some cases, math, science, or computer class may be the most productive place to use these lessons to gain maximum benefit, though art classes should not be forgotten either.


Teacher Guides to Islamic Arts and Sciences

  • An educational resource at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore is Integrating the Arts at https://thewalters.org/integrating-the-arts/ (requires allowing Adobe Flash) an interactive website with activities for integrating arts into social studies, language arts, science and mathematics. The link leads to the section on Islam, but there are sections on Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and Chinese arts with the same subject-area integration possibilities. The site includes videos, information segments, and interactive lessons in pdf or online form
  • Artistic Exchange Lesson keyed to the National Gallery Brochure Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World by art historian Rosamond Mack, author of From Bazaar to Piazza (University of California Press, 2003)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Islamic Art and Geometric Design: Activities for Learning is more than a coloring book; it is a challenging set of exercises using compass, ruler, and geometric grid designs that teaches the principles behind tessellated designs. The exercises are available in pdf form, but the complete resource includes color slides from the MET collection and overhead transparencies.
  • Bodleian Library, Oxford Book of Curiosities Teacher Packet is a book of maps and astronomy for which the Bodleian has prepared an extensive guide in color http://cosmos.bodley.ox.ac.uk/store/Teacher_s-Pack-Inside-pages.pdf.


Sciences and Scientists

The links provided here range from biographies of scientists working in Muslim regions to scientific achievements and influences from and upon other societies, with significant detail and evidence provided.

  • The Islamic World to 1600: The Arts, Learning, and Knowledge a site with many departments on Islamic history, these pages provide information on science and scientists, with short biographies of major figures.
  • Muslim Heritage https://muslimheritage.com/ is a library of articles by specialists in the fields, which offers brief overviews and in-depth articles on a lot of specialized topics.
  • Sayyid Hossein Nasr is one of the foremost experts on the history of Islamic Science. Particularly useful is the Introduction to his book Science and Civilization in Islam.
  • A lesson plan from Islamic Networks Group entitled Muslim Contributions to Civilization https://ing.org/muslim-contributions-to-civilization/


Mathematics, Geometry and the Arts Resources

An outstanding website for teachers of mathematics and history both is by James E. Morrison, Janus, a maker and expert on astrolabes. He explains the history and uses of the astronomical device on his website The Astrolabe: an Instrument with a Past and a Future . He has developed materials for using the astrolabe as a teaching device (and making one for the classroom from a downloadable template), to teach astronomy and solving various mathematical problems. In the heyday of the astrolabe, it was the equivalent of a hand-held computer. Morrison has also created a computer program The Electric Astrolabe that functions as an astrolabe, which users can download and learn about at http://vetusware.com/download/The%20Electric%20Astrolabe/?id=13330.

Timothy Mitchell produced a guide Astrolabe; The Missing Manual at http://astrolabeproject.com/downloads/Astrolabe_the_Missing_Manual.pdf

Other resources for educators show how tessellation and geometry relate to science such as crystal structure, chaos theory designs, but also to the design of stained-glass windows and other artistic constructions.


Museums and Virtual Exhibits, Educational Resources

These museum and other gallery websites and educational resources produced by museum outreach departments open the collections of major art collections assembled worldwide during the past two centuries, and now as near as your computer mouse. They can be printed out with their museum tags, placed in inexpensive plastic page protectors for durability (try inserting a piece of light card stock along with the paper printout, and sealing the plastic page protector with a clear adhesive bulk mailing dot). Many of the exhibits in this set are much more than just a series of images and tags; they are dynamic resources that tell stories about art, science, technology and interactions among cultures over time.

  • Gallery Guide: Arts of the Islamic World (Smithsonian Freer & Sackler Galleries)

The Getty Museum Arts of Fire http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/arts_fire/index.html includes metalwork, glass, and ceramics, and their influence on Renaissance art in Europe

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (TOAH), https://www.metmuseum.org/toah, a magnificent and comprehensive resource for all periods and world regions, with extensive access to images, thematic essays such as The Nature of Islamic Art, maps, timelines and search possibilities. Indispensable for integrating art across the curriculum.

  • Museum With No Frontiers/DiscoverIslamicArt, a collection of art by period, dynasty, region and other criteria, bringing together works in many museums with their full information, at http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/.
  • 1001 Inventions virtual exhibition from the United Kingdom at http://1001inventions.com/libraryofsecrets, with interactive features on Inventions transmitted to the modern world through Muslim civilization. The exhibit is built around the school, the market, the hospital, the town, the world, and the universe. A wide variety of common and uncommon objects we take for granted today are ascribed to specific regions, inventors, and scientists and placed in the context of modern life. A book and poster set is available for purchase on the site.