a1 University of Pennsylvania
During the later European Renaissance, some scholars began to write about the history of scientific disciplines. Some of the issues and problems they faced in constructing their narratives have had long-term effects on the history of science. One of these issues was how to relate scholars from the Islamic traditions of scientific scholarship to those of antiquity and of postclassical Europe. Recent historians of science have rejected a once-common Western opinion that the contribution of these Islamic scientists had lain mainly in their preservation of ancient texts that were then handed over to Western scholars, who mastered them and then moved beyond them as part of the scientific revolution. This article examines the first effort to write a history of mathematics, the Lives of the Mathematicians by Bernardino Baldi (1553–1617), to determine how he treated this issue in his work. Baldi's efforts are especially important here because he was also an early European scholar of Arabic.
An examination of the work shows that Baldi did not share the negative views held by later Europeans about these non-European scientists. However, despite his knowledge of Arabic he had no active contacts with ongoing mathematical scholarship in Arabic. As a consequence, his narrative does follow the chronology of those later Europeans who would limit consideration of these mathematicians to approximately the ninth to the fourteenth centuries. In Baldi's writings, then, we can see the later narrative shape used by Western historians of science until recent years, but not the subsidiary role accorded to non-European scholars.