The European Renaissance gets a lot of credit for scientific and artistic advancements, but Europeans owe much to the Muslims of the seventh to 17th centuries, who provided breakthroughs of their own. National Geographic’s “1001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization” showcases the developments that made modern civilization possible. Rich McWalters, director of museum operations, discusses the show.
What did Muslim culture have that the largely Christian culture of Europe didn’t that enabled these breakthroughs?
A lot of it was due to the circumstances, to how things started to break down in Europe. The Romans were pulling out of Northern England and it was becoming like the Wild West in a way. The Muslim world wasn’t experiencing that.
The exhibit covers a large swath of geography, from Spain to China. How does it examine the different cultures represented in Islam at the time?
The exhibit highlights individuals from all parts of the world. One of the historical figures is Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim, who did his own exploration as far as the east coast of Africa. His flagship was five times larger than the Santa Maria.
And this was before Columbus.
Hundreds of years before Columbus. And [his sailors] didn’t get scurvy because they brought citrus trees with them. The European sailors didn’t quite get that, and they ran into some problems.