The 2nd International Prof. Dr. Fuat Sezgin Symposium on History of Science in Islam Proceedings Book
What shall We Tell our Students about Ibn al-Haytham?Henk Hietbrink
Replicating historical experiments in the classroom is a way to create an activating learning environment in which participants connect personal experiences to general theory. The method of replication depends on the objectives and the target audience. Replicating an experiment with original materials, devices, and techniques might be relevant in an academic setting. In the classroom, concessions to the ideal of truthful replication are inevitable. Scientific research into the historical experiment is necessary to reveal the true story, and such research may reveal what concessions are acceptable. It need not be a problem to use contemporary resources in the classroom when justified by research that explains the differences. In an experimental design, participants are involved in the execution. Because of the interaction between theory and practice, the participants’ mental processes go beyond reading a textbook or watching movies. All kinds of (practical) questions arise during the performance. By redoing historical experiments, the participants discover all kinds of details that are not mentioned in the original texts, which might have been overlooked, but that turn out to be of decisive importance. In a camera obscura, for example, the size of the hole through which the light enters is important. The thickness of the walls and the finish of that hole also play a role. Redoing, replicating, re-enactment, and reconstruction are performative methods which proved to have a positive impact in understanding history of science, in pedagogy and public outreach. In my opinion, reading and doing go hand in hand to achieve true understanding. It can be of assistance to go from the library to the laboratory and back again. The miniature objects in the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam are a good place to begin experiments in the classroom. Three objects are discussed in this paper. The real marvel is in Ibn al-Haytham’s treatise On the Shape of the Eclipse. It deals with the question, “Why does the image of the eclipsed sun look like a crescent in a camera obscura with a narrow aperture, when the image of the eclipsed moon does not?”. In a one-hour workshop, participants obtained an answer by following Ibn al-Haytham’s scientific principles. Using paper, transparent crescents, and ropes, they constructed the image. Through this, the students will never forget why Ibn al-Haytham deserves a place of honor in the gallery of scientific greats.