Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History of Science
Making Tibb: Medical Exchanges in the Indian Ocean World, 1200-1550 CE

My dissertation project investigates the historical formation of the medical system known as Graeco-Arabic or Islamic Medicine as it moved from the Middle East to South Asia, where it is now practiced. Known today as Unani tibb, this tradition is one of the five traditional medicines sanctioned by the government of India, and is utilized by millions of patients. However, the history of how this tradition came to be in South Asia is little known. My project focuses on the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, when Islamic polities were established in South Asia, in order to understand how this system developed as it moved between different languages, regions and climates. I focus on medical texts written in three cities that were deeply connected by the Indian Ocean trade: Ahmedabad (India), Aden (Yemen) and Cairo (Egypt). My methodology includes careful examination of surviving Persian and Arabic medical manuscripts from this period, many of which bear paratextual clues--such as marginal notations and ownership stamps--that indicate how they were used. Further, influenced by methods in the history of medicine and the material turn, I will attend to how certain materia medica (plants) and diseases took on different meanings in different contexts. This allows for a history of medical practice and everyday experience in addition to a history of ideas. My project will contribute an analysis of the exchange of knowledge between medical systems — a topic limited to the European colonial encounter within the history of medicine. In framing the development of this medical knowledge in terms of exchanges between these Unani tibb and Ayurveda, my project pushes beyond a colonial vision of knowledge-production, in which these knowledge systems belonged to separate "Islamic" and "Indic" civilizations, respectively. The SSRC IDRF would allow me to fully investigate this by providing me access to extant manuscripts in libraries across Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.