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University of Iowa News Release


April 1, 2009

Image: Aristotle teaching, from document in the British Library.

From: Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1976). Islamic Science:An Illustrated Study, World of Islam Festival Publishing Ltd.. ISBN 090503502X <>

UI exhibit, reception, film series to highlight Islamic civilization

A new University of Iowa exhibit and film series, "When the World Spoke Arabic," will showcase the intellectual and scientific achievements of Islamic civilization from the 7th to 13th centuries. The exhibit opens Tuesday, April 7, and the film series begins Wednesday, April 1.

The events examine a time when different cultures interacted through the Arabic language, which would become the premier instrument for scientific, intellectual and administrative discourse of the age, according to Rebecca Routh, UI librarian and exhibit organizer.

"With the Middle East such a contemporary topic, we thought it would be helpful for people to know the history," Routh said. "We also realized we have interesting materials that people are unaware of."

The exhibit will be displayed at the UI Main Library's North Exhibition Hall in a thematic arrangement featuring a number of topics, including the following: the spread of Arabic, the culture of learning in Baghdad and Andalus; contributions in medicine, mathematics and optics; astronomy; geography; and cartography. The exhibit will also feature the art of calligraphy and literature of the period, such as "The Arabian Nights." The exhibit will run through June.

The exhibit will feature library collections that help highlight what happened after the fall of Rome. Even though Europe turned its back on the contributions of classical civilization, the legacy of Greek thought was not completely lost, Routh said. Much of what survived of classical Western knowledge was from the Arabic-speaking Muslim scholars.

A comprehensive 12-part film series spread out over six nights also documents the remarkable history and the most significant cultural, scientific and technical achievements of the Islamic empire, which came to prominence between the 7th and 13th centuries, Routh said. The films will run on April 1, 8, 15, 22 and May 6 and 20 at 7 p.m. in Meeting Room A at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St. Discussions will follow the screenings.

The University of Iowa Libraries, the Iowa City Public Library, the UI Middle East and Muslim World Studies Program and the African Studies Program, both in UI International Programs, and the Medieval Studies Program in the College of Liberal Art and Sciences all sponsor the film series. The series was produced by Films for the Humanities and Sciences.

On Tuesday, April 7, a reception for the events will take place at 4 p.m. in the North Exhibition Hall at the UI Main Library. There will be Middle Eastern food, music and opening remarks.

Routh added that this period of Islamic civilization is not talked about much and learning the history of the Middle East can benefit people today.

"There are so many negative thoughts associated with the Muslim world," Routh said. "We wanted to look at the contributions made by the Muslim world in history."

The exhibit and film series also tie into many UI classes and programs, including the UI International Programs.

"In general, it's a topic I think is of interest to not only University of Iowa students, but to community members as well," Routh said.

For a complete list of films visit

UI International Programs enables UI students, faculty, staff and the public to learn from and about the world. Its offices, degree programs and events provide life-changing opportunities on campus and abroad, heighten intellectual and cultural diversity and give all university constituents access to vital international knowledge. For more information, visit or call 319-353-2700. International Programs is part of the UI Office of the Provost.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Rebecca Routh, 319-335-5838,; Edward Miner, 319-335-5883,; Kelli Andresen, International Programs, 319-335-2026,; Writer: Ashton Shurson