Toward diverse global histories of science and technology: new strategies for displaying and interpreting Islamic instruments for wider audiences

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation


On display in the National Museum of Scotland are two important Islamic objects that are both science and art: an eleventh-century astrolabe made in Córdoba, in present-day Spain, and a seventeenth-century celestial globe made in Lahore, in today’s Pakistan. The astrolabe, made in 1026/27, was long celebrated as the earliest signed and dated instrument from the Islamic West. The celestial globe, made in the imperial Mughal capital Lahore in 1663, is significant for the innovative and demanding technique of its facture. Moreover, scholars have good information about the makers of both objects, which is unusual for works of Islamic art and visual culture. The astrolabe’s maker, Muhammad ibn al-Saffar, was an intellectual of medieval Islamic Iberia, while the celestial globe’s maker, Diya al-Din Muhammad, was a key member of a prominent family of instrument makers active over four generations from the sixteenth century, and with ties to the Mughal imperial court. Despite the astrolabe and globe’s origins at opposite ends of a geographic and chronological spectrum, together they illuminate important connections between science and art, craft and intellect, operative in Islamic societies in the past. This paper considers the astrolabe and globe in tandem, and proposes that close attention to specific formal and material aspects of these two instruments suggests new strategies for displaying and interpreting Islamic instruments for wider audiences interested in diverse global histories of science and technology.
Period30 Jul 2021
Event titleInternational Congress of History of Science and Technology: Scientific Instrument Commission Session
Event typeConference
Conference number26th
LocationPrague, Czech RepublicShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • cultural heritage
  • history of science
  • Islamic art and architecture
  • Islamic Studies
  • Museums
  • digital humanities
  • astronomy
  • craft
  • Decolonization
  • diversity